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In a digitized era, where practically all business is done online, it’s hard to spend a day without encountering a PDF file. After all, it’s the most popular digital document format — interactive, free to use and, crucially, able to preserve original formatting (including fonts, images, layouts, and more).
Developed by Adobe in the 90s, PDF made it possible to present identical documents using different applications and devices. Originally a proprietary invention that was promoted with Adobe software, PDF became an open format in 2008, which meant free use for all, without any lingering ties to Adobe.
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How To Choose The Best PDF Editor For Mac
Today, there are dozens of applications that can read, modify, and edit PDFs. All are different: free PDF editors, PDF modifiers, costly Mac PDF editors, and even a default PDF reader for Mac that comes with your operating system.
If you need to edit a PDF on Mac, it’s important to not go straight to Google looking for a “free PDF editor download.” In the last decade, lots of bad players have been putting all kinds of malware in those free PDF downloads, hoping for people to be enticed enough by the proposition. So you should know exactly which PDF editor app is best for your needs — luckily you have the perfect guide below.
Apple Preview PDF reader for Mac
If you’re looking for a free PDF editor for Mac, you should start with the one you already have — Preview — which is the default application for viewing any images and PDF files.
Although it can hardly be called a PDF editor app, Preview can perform most of the tasks most people need to do every day: looking through the documents, leaving comments, and signing contracts.
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To configure Preview to your liking:
- Launch the app from your Dock or Launchpad
- Select View from the menu bar options
- Set scroll, zoom, and toolbar to what you’d like to see
Then to actually use PDF modifier functions:
- Choose Tools from the menu bar
- Hover over Annotate
- Select from shapes, signatures, notes (comments), and more
When you’re done editing the document, don’t forget to save it (⌘ + S) or export it to create a new file by going to File ➙ Export.
A hidden benefit of Preview that’s not often talked about is its natural integration into the macOS. The app can be easily used within the Apple ecosystem and is quite swift as well.
Adobe Acrobat Reader for Mac
One of the first and hence now widely considered standard solutions for viewing and editing PDF files is Adobe Acrobat Reader. By all accounts, it’s a solid and professional PDF editor for Mac.
There’s, however, one caveat — you can hardly call Adobe Acrobat the best free PDF editor for Mac because to get all of its features you need to pay, a lot. If you subscribe for the whole year, it comes down to $15 a month. Otherwise, it’s $25.
So if you download Adobe Reader for Mac from Adobe’s website, it will only give you a limited number of tools, which are very similar to Apple Preview: comment and sign. To get more you’d need to sign up for the Adobe Acrobat Pro free trial.
Anyway, in case you’re satisfied with Acrobat PDF editor’s limited functionality for the basic version, you can still work with all the PDFs you need:
- Download and install Adobe Reader for Mac from adobe.com
- Open the PDF file of your choice
- To comment or sign the file, navigate to Tools in the top bar of the app
- Choose the tool you want to use and then select a more specific one from the top bar once you’re in the document itself
If you try to choose the tool that’s not available in the free version of Acrobat Reader for Mac, the app will direct you to the website where you can subscribe to get access.
All in all, while the paid Adobe Acrobat Reader for Mac offers you a full toolkit of productivity, its free option is comparable to Apple Preview, with the latter being a bit more lightweight and fast due to its integration with macOS.
But what’s a truly powerful Mac PDF editor?
PDFpen full-featured OCR editor
While the paid version of Adobe Acrobat Reader for Mac is costly and convoluted, PDFpen offers much more in one straightforward package.
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Make any PDF file editable with PDFpen. With in-built OCR support, nothing is carved in stone if you have PDFpen installed on your Mac.
PDFpen lets you edit PDFs by adding text and images, fixing typos, filling out forms, and covering sensitive information. What’s more, the app features an OCR (optical character recognition) functionality, so you can scan printed documents directly into editable PDF files, and even export them to Microsoft Word later on.
Using PDFpen is as easy as Preview:
- Open any PDF document
- In the top bar, find the toggle which lets you switch between text and shapes. These are the tools you can use to enhance your documents. All of them can also be accessed from the Tools dropdown in the menu bar.
One of the most commonly used features with PDFs is highlighting, which is perfectly executed in PDFpen. Just select from the top bar and choose a color. The tool will then switch between a freehand highlighter when hovering over shapes and a structured one when it’s over some text.
Finally, PDFpen’s renowned OCR functionality doesn’t require you to have any specific AI knowledge — it just works:
- In PDFpen, go File ➙ Open (or ⌘ + O) and select your image
- Check all languages that apply
- Turn the image into either an OCR Page or OCR document
- Now you can edit your image freely and export it later
Bonus: Professional PDF Search
When you’re working with lots of PDFs everyday, some things are inevitably going to get lost. Especially, since lots of documents and reports are often dozens or even hundreds of pages long.
Gitkraken diff. Gitkraken has this neat feature that allows to show diff between two commits of any branch. So a natural thing to do is to click on two commits (tip of my feature branch and master). Nice, but given the context I'd like to show only this diff window since I don't need any of the swimlane/commit view. A diff in Git takes two data sets—like files, commits, or branches—and tells you what has changed between them. Watch this beginner Git tutorial video to learn what diffs are in Git and how to view the diff between multiple commits or branches to compare the changes between them. A diff shows what was added or removed from a file. Red is for lines where content was removed whereas greenis for new lines added. GitKraken's diff comes included with the following: 1. Syntax highlighting 3. File mini-map 4. Toggles between Hunk View, Inline View, and Split View 5. Arrows to move between change sets Most importantly, the button allows you to edit this file directly.
In this reality, you absolutely need a tool that will help you retain information at the tip of your fingers. Enter PDF Search. This app doesn’t just search your PDF files for exact matches — it uses the power of AI to check relevant terms, multiple combinations, and even scan PDF files in bulk.
The first time you open PDF Search, it will ask you to index the folder with all your PDFs, which may take some time but will also speed up all future searches. After indexing is complete, simply enter the number or text you’re looking for in the search field, press Return, and the results (including related ones) would instantly appear. Also, check out how to install fonts on Mac.
To recap, when you’re looking for the best free PDF editor for Mac, your options might seem infinite, but it really comes down to what exactly you need to edit. If it’s just viewing documents and making comments, Apple Preview can do the job just fine. But when you need some heavy-duty lifting, nothing beats PDFpen. In addition, PDF Search is recommended for anyone working with large number of PDFs on a daily basis.
Best of all, PDFpen and PDF Search are both available to you on a free 7-day trial from Setapp, a platform for over 200 indispensable Mac apps designed to take your productivity to the next level. All that’s left to do now is just read and edit!