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.


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!

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

  1. Betsy says:

    This helped me so much. Thanks so much!

  2. Trina says:

    Thanks alot for this!

  3. sandy says:

    oh, boy….Thanks! I had been using Skitch to attach notes for my workflow, which I deal with PDFS daily! Thanks a ton!

  4. Julia says:

    Thanks for that… v helpful, but I am still struggling, text seems to delete itself randomly and jump about everytime I try to move to the next line of the form, argh! Am I doing something wrong? Is there an easier way?!!

  5. Connie says:

    Maybe my MAC OS is different. When I open a PDF I do not have VIEW GO TOOLS etc. Instead I see the Apple icon at the far left followed by SAFARI File Edit View. When I look under VIEW there isn’t anything there that saids ‘SHOW ANNOTATIONS’. Your BAR and my BAR are not the same. How do or is it possible to see what you see? Thank you.

  6. Wayne says:

    Connie, that means you are looking at the file in the Safari application, not Preview application. Somewhere along the line you must have chosen to open pdf files in Safari instead of Preview.

    You will need to ”ight click’ (control click) on the pdf file and select ‘Open With’ and select ‘Preview’. Then follow instructions as above.

  7. Colleen says:

    In my version of preview I have a button next to the search field in Preview that looks like a pencil – when i click on this it gives me the toolbar.

    Wayne – THANK YOU! This will save me so much printing/scanning

  8. Michael Dodge says:

    This fix does not seem to work on Yosemiti

    • Mach1 says:

      It looks like in Yosemiti one can
      -in Preview toolbar – select ‘View’ -‘Show Markup Toolbar’
      I think this is a fantastic tool!!

  9. Caroline Edge says:

    Hi! This is a great help. My only problem now is that the text that I enter is formatted to appear central whereas i would like it to be left aligned or even justified. Is there a way of doing this?

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