How to Edit a PDF On a Mac

Edit PDFs on a Mac with Preview or a free web-based PDF editor

Illustration of PDF editing on a Mac computer

A PDF editor is just what it sounds like: a program that lets you edit a PDF file. It might let you change the text in the PDF, add or remove images, highlight things, fill out forms, sign your name, and more.

While it can be hard to find a truly free PDF editor for macOS that can do all those things in one program, it’s not at all difficult to find several that can, when used together, accomplish all of those PDF editing capabilities.

The easiest method to edit a PDF on a Mac is to use the built-in Preview program. There are, however, several other options, too, including online and third-party PDF editors that might work better for you depending on what you want the PDF editor to do.

Note: A similar task you might want to do is convert the PDF to another file format, like a DOCX file for use in MS Word, or to an EPUB file to use the PDF as an e-book. Those types of edits can be accomplished with a document file converter, not a PDF editor. Similarly, to convert a different file to a PDF file, you can use a PDF printer.

Edit PDFs With Preview

Preview is a program pre-installed to your Mac that can open and edit PDFs. It’s about as extensive as any other PDF editor with the exception that it can’t edit pre-existing text. However, it has the added benefit that you don’t have to install anything extra to use it — just open the PDF and start editing right away.

Screenshot showing an edited PDF file in Preview on macOS High Sierra

Note: If Preview doesn't start when you open the PDF file, open Preview first and then browse for the PDF from there. You can get to Preview from Launchpad: search for Preview or look for it in the list of programs. Once it's open, go to File > Open... to find the PDF.

It might make sense to think that the Edit menu is what you use to find all the PDF editing tools in Preview, but that’s not the case. Instead, this menu is for deleting pages from the PDF and inserting pages from other PDFs (or making blank pages).

Preview also lets you rearrange pages in the PDF by dragging them up or down from the sidebar. What that means is that you can make the second page the first page, or the last one the second, etc. If you don’t see the sidebar in Preview, you can enable it from the View menu.

Screenshot of the Annotate menu in macOS Preview

Most of the other PDF editing options in Preview are in the Tools menu. It’s there that you can add a bookmark to the PDF or rotate pages. The Tools > Annotate menu is how you highlight text; underline text; strike through text, insert a note, rectangle, oval, line, arrow, and other shapes; type on the PDF (anywhere or in form fields); use speech bubbles; and more.

While Preview doesn't let you edit existing text in the PDF file, you can draw a white box over the text to hide it and then write your own text on top of the box with the text tool. This isn't as smooth as text editing is with some PDF editors, but it's your only option for changing the text in a PDF file with Preview.

Tip: To show the annotate menu all the time for easier editing, you can enable it through the View menu. Depending on your version of macOS, it's called either Show Markup Toolbar or Show Annotations Toolbar.

So long as you have a trackpad or iSight camera attached to your Mac, you can also use Preview to insert your signature into the PDF. There’s also a freehand drawing tool available so that you can draw your signature or draw shapes directly on the document.

Screenshot showing how to export pages from a PDF file in Preview

Although it doesn’t really count as a PDF editing ability, one bonus feature in Preview is the option to make new PDFs out of existing pages from another PDF. To do that, just drag a page from the PDF (in the sidebar thumbnail view) to the desktop. This will make a new PDF with just that one page in it (or multiple pages if you selected more than one). Another easier way to do this is to right-click the thumbnails of the pages and select Export As…, and then PDF as the “Format” type.

Other PDF Editors for Mac

If the features in Preview aren’t what you’re looking for, there’s a really good chance that you’ll find them in another PDF editor — one not built-in to macOS. We keep a list of free PDF editors and most of them work on Macs, too.

Screenshot of the Sejda online PDF editor
Sejda's Online PDF Editor.

Another way to edit a PDF in macOS is to use an online PDF editor. Through that same list linked above are several of these kinds of services. They work by having you upload the PDF to the editing website where you can perform the edits and then download the PDF back to your computer.

Problems With PDF Editors

In a perfect world, a PDF editor for Mac would let you do all sorts of things to the PDF. It would let you not only add shapes and signatures, for example, but also edit the existing text in the document or add more text. Unfortunately, not all PDF editors support all of those features, including Mac's Preview program (you can't edit text with it).

Another issue is that the PDF editors that do support advanced features like text editing, do so through what's called optical character recognition (OCR), which is an attempt by the software to "read" the text from the document and auto-type it out for you, after which you can edit the PDF like any other document. However, these program usually don't convert perfectly, meaning you're left with incorrect translations and odd formatting styles.