Mac OS X is the best operating system in the world for working with Adobe PDF (Portable Document Format) files. Here are 11 of the best Mac OS X PDF tips and tricks we know.

Adobe created the PDF file type, and the PDF format is used for sharing books, guides, and articles all around the world. PDF documents typically contain text and images, although they can also contain video and audio clips.

The PDF file format is an industry standard for tech manuals and many books. This is because PDF documents can be opened on just about any computer or mobile device. They have replaced the physical manual as we know it. So chances are you’ll use hundreds of PDF files in your time.

The PDF format is baked right inside the Mac OS X operating system, so you can preview, open, and edit PDF documents without having to install any other apps. You can open PDF documents in Mac OS X Preview, and it’s packed full of secret and hidden features. Here are some of the best tips we know for using PDF documents in Mac OS X:

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1. Create a PDF in Mac OS X using the print document

Save a document as a PDF file in Mac OS X using the Print menu

It’s easy to create PDF documents in Mac OS X, and you can do it from just about any app using the Print menu. Here is how to create a PDF document from any file:

  1. Open the document that you wish to turn into a PDF.
  2. Choose File > Print (or press Control + P).
  3. Click on PDF in the bottom-left of the Print menu and choose Save as PDF.
  4. Enter a name for the PDF in the Save As field.
  5. Choose a location for the PDF document using the Where drop-down menu (tip: click the arrow to the right of the Save As field to choose any location using Finder columns).
  6. Click Save.

Following these steps saves a PDF of the document in the location you specified. Double-click the PDF document to open it in Preview (or the app of your choosing).

2 Quickly view a PDF with Mac OS X Quick View

You can preview a PDF document in Finder by pressing the Spacebar. Tapping the Spacebar in Mac OS X brings up a Quick Look window, which will display the contents of the PDF. If the PDF has more than one page, you can scroll up and down to move through the pages. Notice that in the top-right of Quicklook is an Open in Preview button (which quickly switches to Preview) and a Share icon, so you can send the PDF via Mail or Messages to another person.

3 Choose to view PDFs in either Mac OS X Preview or Adobe Acrobat

PDF files open in the Mac OS X Preview app by default. We're huge fans of Preview, and it is a much more powerful app than most people realise. But sometimes PDFs work a little better in Adobe Acrobat (especially if you have web links and video in your PDF).

You can download Acrobat Reader from the Adobe website and use it to preview files. Simply drag the PDF to the Adobe Reader icon in the Dock to open it in Adobe Reader instead of Preview.

It is possible to make Adobe Acrobat Reader the default application for PDFs by following these step:

  1. Locate the PDF file in Finder and click it once to select it (but don’t open it).
  2. Choose File > Get Info (or press Command + I).
  3. Click on the Open With drop down menu and choose Adobe Reader from the list of apps on your Mac that can open PDFs.
  4. Click Change All.

From now on whenever you double-click a PDF file it will open in Adobe Reader instead of Mac OS X Preview. We prefer Preview, but some purists and power users feel more comfortable using Adobe’s PDF viewing tool.

4 Highlight, underline and strikethrough text using Markup in Preview

Highlight text and add markup to a PDF document in Preview

You can highlight PDF text in Preview. Click on the Markup icon in the menu bar and click and drag along text to create a highlight. If the original file is locked, Preview will create a duplicate and provide you with an alert. You can choose a different colour for the highlight using the drop-down Highlight menu, and also choose to strike-through, or underline text.

5 Rotate PDFs in Mac OS X Preview

You can rotate PDFs by clicking the Rotate tool to rotate it 90 degrees counter-clockwise. Hold down the Option key and click the Rotate button to rotate the PDF clockwise.

6 Annotate PDFs with the Edit Toolbar in Mac OS X Preview

You can annotate PDFs in Preview with the Edit Toolbar. Click the Show Edit Toolbar button in the Preview menu bar to reveal a set of new controls. These are Text, Rectangular Selection Tool, Rectangle, Oval, Line, Text Note, and Signature.

7 Mac OS X Preview: Add arrows to a PDF

You can use the Line tool in the Edit Toolbar to add arrows to a PDF. Using arrows is useful for highlighting areas on a PDF.

Follow these steps to add arrows to your PDF:

  1. Open the PDF in Preview.
  2. Click the Show Edit Toolbar icon.
  3. Click on the Line icon.
  4. Click on the Shape Attributes icon (three horizontal lines) and choose the arrow option. You can also use this menu to choose a wider width for the arrow.
  5. Click on the PDF at the point you want the arrow to start, and drag in the direction you want your arrow to point at.

Arrows are great for highlighting text. You can also use the Oval and Square shape to draw around objects in a PDF in a similar manner.

9 Add text to a PDF in Mac OS X Preview

Add text and arrows to a PDF in Preview

You can add text to a PDF in Preview. Additional text is great when combined with shapes and arrows to annotate aspects of a PDF. Adding text to a PDF in Preview is particularly handy when you want to suggest alterations to a design. Follow these steps to add text to a PDF:

  1. Click on Show Edit Toolbar.
  2. Click the Text icon.
  3. Use the Line Color, Font and Size tools to change the style of your text.
  4. Click on the PDF and type in the text.

Mac Preview Tip! If you click the arrow next to the Text icon you can choose Outlined Text, Speech Bubble and Thought Bubble.

10 Add notes to a PDF using Mac OS X Preview

Add notes to a PDF document in Mac Preview

You can add notes to a PDF document. Unlike adding text these do not become part of the PDF document, they simply allow you to comment on the document. It’s useful for when you are revising from a document, and for when working on a document with other people (because you can add notes without changing the original PDF). Click on the Show Edit Toolbar and Notes, now click anywhere on the PDF to add notes. The notes you add in Preview will also be visible in other PDF apps such as Adobe Reader.

11 Add a signature to a PDF using Mac OS X Preview

You can use the iSight camera on your MacBook to scan your signature and add it to PDF documents. Write your signature out large on a sheet of A4 paper and click on Preview > Preferences > Signatures and click Create Signature. You can now use the MacBook’s camera to scan the signature from a sheet of paper. The scanned signature can then be added to PDF files.