Aug 17

If you’ve ever been given a pdf file that you want to edit, or a pdf form that you need to complete and return electronically, you’ll realise that it’s not obvious how to edit a pdf file.  For full editing capabilities you would need to get a program like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Acrobat Professional.  The good news is that ‘preview’, the built in OS X pdf reader app, has limited pdf editing abilities.  You can’t change what’s already in the pdf document, but you can add text and graphics. Here’s how. 
If you double click on any pdf file in OSX it will open in an application called preview. You can read the pdf and scroll around etc.

Go up to the View menu and select the menu item called ‘Show Annotations Toolbar. This will give you a toolbar along the bottom of your preview window to help you edit the pdf file.


Note: In Yosemite and El Capitan the ‘Annotations Toolbar’ has been Renamed to ‘Markup Toolbar’  so that it looks like this:

Markup toolbar


After you select  the ‘View: Show Annotations Toolbar’ menu you will see a toolbar across the bottom of the preview window that looks like this:

These buttons will allow you to edit the pdf file. The left three buttons make an arrow, a circle or a rectangle. The fourth button along allows you to add text to the pdf.

If you click on the text box button – the 4th button across,  you can then go up to your document and add in a text box like this:

If you click on the text button you can add a text box to the pdf document like this.


This is a very easy way to fill in pdf files that are forms.

If you highlight the newly added text you can change the font by pressing Apple-T and the font window will appear.

You can’t delete  what’s already in a document, but you can draw a rectangle over it to hide it and type something new over the top.

You can cover over existing text using a rectangle with a white border like this.

You’ll notice you can’t change the rectangle color from being black, but you can put a very fat white border around it so it looks like a white rectangle!

If you want to totally change the images and text on an existing pdf file you will need an application like Adobe Illustrator that can actually edit the content of pdf files, but if you only want to make small changes, the built in preview app will do the job!

79 Responses to “How to edit a pdf document on a mac”

  1. Bud says:

    I have a 2010 MacBook running OSX El Capitan. So I tried your instructions on editing a PDF (Acrobat) and when I clicked 2x on the document, Preview did not open. Am I doing something wrong. HELP.

    • Wayne says:

      It should open, but if it doesn’t, you could try right click and ‘Open with Preview’
      Or you could go into the Applications folder on your computer and find Preview and drag the PDF file onto the preview app icon,
      Or you could choose ‘Open’ from the ‘File’ menu in the Preview application.

  2. Wu Ming says:


    I appreciate your taking the time to put these instructions online. However, they don’t work for me, either– in fact so far all the instructions I’ve found on how online to comment on a .pdf tell me to click on a menu item that does not exist and does not show up when I look at the .pdf in front of me. I have tested all the possibilities in Mac’s Preview and in the .pdf’s toolbars.

    For example, you say that if I go to View in Preview, I will see “Show Annotations Toolbar.” It’s not there.

    I have a 2013 Macbook running Yosemite.

    • Wayne says:

      You are correct, thank you for this.
      It looks like Apple have changed “annotations toolbar” to “markup toolbar” in Yosemite and El Capitan.

  3. Apollonia says:

    Thanks, it was a little tedious, but good.

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