How to Save a PDF to Your iPhone or iPad

It's easy to download or transfer a PDF to your iPhone

iPad with PDF image on the screen

 Pixabay / Public Domain

Apple has made it quite easy to work with PDF files on the iPhone and iPad by making it easy to both preview the document or download the PDF to your device. PDF stands for Portable Document Format, and that's never been more accurate than on the web. PDF files are often used for long form content that would be somewhat awkward on a traditional web page such as a product manual.

How easy is it to download these documents to your iOS device? It may be more difficult to decide where you want to save it than to actually download the file. We'll take a look at how to download the PDF from the web, from an email, transfer it from a Mac or download it from a PC.

How to Save a PDF to Your iPhone/iPad From Email or the Web

Screenshot of Share Sheet on iPhone
The share sheet offers multiple sharing options for PDFs and other documents.

The Safari web browser and the Mail app use a similar interface for downloading PDFs thanks to their ability to preview PDF files. These instructions may also work in other third-party apps.

  • First, tap on the PDF file in your web browser or in the Mail app. This will bring up a preview of the PDF.
  • Next, tap the Share button. This is the button that features a box with an arrow pointing out of it. It will be located on the bottom-left in Mail or in the middle of the bottom bar in the Safari web browser.  
  • The Share button will bring up the share sheet, which is a window with different options for sharing the document. The share sheet has several options for saving the PDF file, depending on how you want to view the file in the future. 
  • If you prefer to view the PDF in iBooks, you can simply choose Copy to iBooks. This is a great way to view PDFs, but you may not want to clutter up your eBook library with PDFs.
  • If you prefer to store the PDF in cloud storage, choose Save to Files. The Files app is the Window's File Explorer or Mac OS's Finder window for the iPad. It is how you open and save files to your cloud storage services like iCloud Drive, Google Drive and Dropbox — all in one convenient place. Basically, choosing Save to Files is like doing a Save As on your computer. You can view the file in the future by opening the Files app and navigating to the folder you chose to save it.

    How to Turn a Web Page Into a PDF on Your iPhone or iPad

    These directions are great if you've run across a PDF that you want to save for later, but what if you want to save a web page as a PDF? Web pages are built using a language called "HTML." Here's where it gets really cool: Apple built an HTML-to-PDF converter into the Safari web browser. This means you can use the same instructions to create a PDF out of a web page as you use to save a PDF.

    • Tap the Share button.
    • Choose Save PDF to iBooks in the share sheet that appears on the screen. The web page will be converted to PDF format and saved to iBooks.
    • Bonus: The bottom set of buttons are for universal functions like Copy and Print. If you scroll across to the end, you will find Create PDF. This button will translate the web page into a PDF and display it in the web browser. You can then use the directions above to save that PDF to iCloud Drive or any other location available.

    This method is even better when using the Reader View. This view strips advertisements from the web page and organizes it for easier reading. You can get to it by tapping the button with horizontal lines at the top of the screen just to the left of the website address. Web pages formatted in Reader View are usually much easier to read than the original page.

    How to Download a PDF file to Your iPhone/iPad From Your Mac

    A screenshot of airdropping a file from a Mac
    The Mac makes copying files between Apple devices easy.

    It is not surprising that the Mac has the easiest method for sharing files with the iPhone or iPad. AirDrop is built for wirelessly transferring files between Apple devices. The only requirement is for the devices to be on the same Wi-Fi network. This enables the devices to see each other.

    • First, open the PDF on your Mac. The PDF should open in the Preview app.
    • The Mac has a similar share button to the iPhone and iPad. It features a box with an arrow pointing out the top and is located on the top menu bar in the Preview app. 
    • After you click the Share button, choose AirDrop from the menu.
    • In order for your iPhone or iPad to show up, they need to (1) be on the same Wi-Fi network, (2) have AirDrop enabled in settings and (3) not be in sleep/suspended mode.  
    • You can enable AirDrop on an iPhone or iPad by opening the Settings app, tapping on General and then AirDrop. If you sign into the same Apple ID on your Mac and your iPhone or iPad, you simply need Airdrop on "Contacts Only."
    • When you share the PDF using AirDrop, your iPhone or iPad will prompt you how to open it. You can choose iBooks, Files or any other compatible viewer or cloud storage option you have installed on the device. For example, if you have Amazon's Kindle app installed, you can choose to open the PDF in the Kindle reader.

      How to Transfer a PDF to Your iPhone/iPad From Windows

      The easiest way to transfer a PDF file or any other compatible file from a Windows-based PC to an iPhone or iPad is through iCloud Drive. In order to copy files from Windows to iOS, you will need to turn on iCloud for your iPhone or iPad. You can do this by launching the Settings app, tapping your Apple ID account at the top of Settings,PD choosing iCloud and tapping the on/off button next to iCloud Drive. 

      You will also need to have iCloud for Windows installed on your PC. This will set up a special folder on your PC that syncs the files and documents stored on iCloud with both your PC and your mobile device. You can download and install iCloud Drive for Windows from the Apple website.

      Once you have these features set up, you've already done the heavy lifting.

      • First, open an explorer window on your Windows PC.
      • Navigate to the PDF file you want to transfer to your iPhone or iPad.
      • Right-click the file and choose Copy from the pop-up menu.
      • Click iCloud Drive in the Quick access menu on the left side of the folder window.
      • Navigate to where you want the PDF file stored in iCloud Drive. You can create a folder specifically for PDFs if you are unsure where to store it. You can also store it in the base iCloud Drive folder, but it is generally best to store documents in subfolders to keep iCloud Drive organized.
      • When you have located the destination, right-click the folder and choose Paste.
      • That's it. You can access the file on your iPhone or iPad using the Files app. 

      When you save a PDF file or any other file to iCloud Drive from your PC, the file itself won't actually be downloaded to your device until you select it from the Files app on your iPhone or iPad. If you need offline access, you should navigate to the it in the Files app and open it while you are online to ensure it is downloaded to the device itself.