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 it’s not obvious how to edit a pdf file.  NOw for proper editing you need to get a powerful program like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Acrobat Professional, but the good news is that the OSX built in pdf reader app – ‘preview’ – can edit pdf files to a limited extent. You can’t move around or 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.


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!

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

  1. Susan Sims says:

    To markup, fill in forms, and save PDF standard files (that can then be read by any PDF reader), you can also use PDF Studio by Qoppa Software. We are happy to note that half of our users are on Macs.

    • CeciliaBonnie says:

      Why not use an app, I have used a PDF Editor Pro for Mac on Amacsoft. It’s perfect, you can add, modify or delete text in PDF files, whatever you want.

    • Sandy says:

      Just out of curiosity (I’ve got Acrobat Pro), does Skim allow you to change the font/type size of annotations? That’s really the only think stopping Preview from being a good solution in situations like this.

      Another, more involved option is to use something like Pages combined with PDFLab. PDFLab can automatically export the pages of a PDF file as separate PDF documents, then you can drag each page into a Pages document (treating it like an image, and stretching it to fill each page), and then just add standard text boxes for your annotations in Pages.

  2. admin says:

    Yes there are lots of commercial options out there – I was just reviewing this as a free one.

  3. Paul says:

    Not only that, but in Lion you can also sign documents with your signature using the PDF annotation feature:

    1) Open under Lion, Click the Annotations button and select the option “Create Signature From Face-Time Camera…”

    2) Make your signature on a piece of unlined paper and hold it up to your FaceTime camera so that it aligns with the blue line. Click ‘Accept’ when you like the preview.

    3) Once you’ve accepted the signature, you can easily drag it into place anywhere on the PDF you’re trying to sign.

    4) Need to sign more documents? The signature you just entered is now readily accessible as a signature from a drop-down within Preview

  4. Rey says:

    This tutorial is very helpful for me filling PDF applications in.
    Great! :)

  5. Andrew says:

    Warning! Drawing a white rectangle on top of content will not destroy the content. This is a very insecure and sloppy way to modify PDF files.

    • Jim Demers says:

      To save your “sloppy” edits, click on the “Print” command, then hit the “PDF” button. This brings up a menu where you can select “Save as PDF”. This “prints” the image to a new pdf file, obliterating any content you’ve covered up.

      • Linas Lee says:

        Jim, this will not help if you want to cover the text.. Try to select, copy it and paste it to the MSWord. You will find there all covered texts. It looks like it doesn’t flatten the existing layers, so you still able to copy what’s behind. The only chance – is to export it to jpg or other format..

  6. Mrtuga says:

    Nice! Thx!
    Greetings from Portugal!

  7. Conn says:

    My question is too simple: I have a FILE that I want to make a Document, which I can attach to a message. A file will not attach, I find.

  8. Maxim says:

    How to I get rid of the shadow effect when adding a rectangle?

  9. jael says:

    do you know how to remove arrows I’ve already drawn? tks

  10. Mary says:

    What a horrific experience–I love my mac, but I had to go to the office and use the PC It’s too complicated! And, it didn’t work. Was going to convert my office to mac, but after spending 3 days on this and missing a deadline, guess that’s not an option!

  11. Thomas says:

    Sounds nice, but so far I can not get it to work:(

    You inform to:
    “…double click on any pdf file in OSX it will open in an application called preview”.

    If I double click on a PDF in “Finder” (cannot find OSX) it opens up in Adobe Reader.

    Please help.

    • Wayne says:

      Right click and select ‘Open with’ then Preview.

      Sometimes Acrobat Reader when it get’s installed over-rides the defaults.

      • Thomas says:

        Hi Wayne,
        Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately when I right click and select “open with” I get the option to choose between Adobe Reader, Billedfremviser (translates to Picture Viewer) , Safari or Other, but not “Preview” as you mention.

        I have looked under “Other”, but I do find anything called “Preview”.’

        Where to find it?


  12. Thomas says:

    Hi Wayne,
    Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately when I right click and select “open with” I get the option to choose between Adobe Reader, Billedfremviser (translates to Picture Viewer) , Safari or Other, but not “Preview” as you mention.

    I have looked under “Other”, but I do find anything called “Preview”.’

    Where to find it?


    • Sheryl says:

      Hi Thomas,
      In your Finder under Applications there is a program called Preview. Double click to open the program. Then, go to File/Open. It will then open in Preview and you can go on from there.

  13. Toby Montezuma says:

    Ah! A lifesaver! I needed to change like 3 tiny things in a document someone sent me-and now I could. Sooooo many thanks, domo arigato, danke schoen

  14. Yoshuan says:

    Thanks, I’ve been working on changing my own compositions to pdf format on finale but for some reasong, it got rid of the page numbers. so this was perfect to add the lil number. thanks.

  15. Pam says:

    You mentioned we can add graphics to a PDF. How is this done?

  16. Jeffrey says:

    My 10.8.3 Mac’s preview does not have a “show annotations toolbar” menu item, only a greyed-out “show edit toolbar” item. The item sounds good, but its inaccessability is a task-killer. Any idea on how to get the menu item to activate?

  17. Yarin says:

    Just want to point out that another option for free PDF editing is to use PDF Buddy online PDF editor ( In most cases it’s actually easier to use than Mac Preview and it has a number of capabilities Preview doesn’t.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a co-founder of PDF Buddy)

  18. Michael says:

    About half of the pdf files I’ve downloaded will not open later. I get error message 14, the file is corrupted. My Mac is OSX 10.84. My mouse has no “right click” function like I see mentioned here. I’ve always kept my Adobe Reader program updated whenever I get the message to do so.

  19. Jenny says:

    Thanks great help not pulling hair out any more

  20. alexander samuel says:

    I also recommend PDF Pen Pro ( ) – gives you most of the functionality of Adobe Acrobat that most users need for a fraction of the cost. The also do a standard edition as well that is a little cheaper.

    • Wayne says:

      Yes there are lots of paid solutions that do this better, as a google search will show. I was trying to offer a free solution using preview.

  21. Ken Miller says:

    hm…I have the same problem before. then this pdf editor guide helped me:

  22. Shaquane Jordan says:

    Thankyou so much for writing this arcticle. I’ve been trying to figure out how to fill out this form for work that was a pdf for like a few hours until i stumbled across this article. This was truly helpful and saved me money!

  23. Brilliant, just what I was after. Is there anything preview can’t do? You can also reorder pages, delete pages and merge pages from different pdf documents.

  24. Roxanne says:

    I’ve managed to edit my PDF file and saved a copy to my desktop, now when I send it through mail, it appears blank.

  25. Edwin says:

    Wayne, your info. did not describe how to change a font. Yes, I see how the font table opens after typing Apple-T, but then what? how do you change the font?

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