PDF is a universal format for documents that will work on any platform, whether Windows, macOS or even iOS. But if you want to edit these files, things can seem a bit daunting at first.

Not to worry. macOS has built-in features that make this easy, plus there are a number of dedicated apps that can take your PDF editing to the next level.

In this article we show you how to edit PDFs on your Mac for free.

What is a PDF?

The PDF format was created by Adobe back in 1993 as a way for documents to be shared across different operating systems without losing formatting or quality. It is still a hugely popular format to this day and often found in online forms that are intended to be printed off and completed.

Of course, with so much of life now being conducted on the internet we often prefer to fill in these details on our laptops and tablets rather than resorting to paper. Thankfully this is easy to achieve in macOS and Mac OS X.

Using Preview to edit PDFs

Apple's own Preview app comes included in macOS, and while you might think it's just there to take a quick look at documents you've received in emails, there is far more on offer from this handy utility. (For more proof of this, read How to use the hidden paint app in Preview for Mac.)

To use Preview as a PDF editor you'll first need to open your file in the app. Go to the file in question and right-click on it (or Ctrl + Click) then from the pop-up menu choose Open with > Preview.

How to edit pdfs on mac for free

Once you have the document in front of you go to the icons in the upper right corner of the screen and click on the one that looks like a Toolbox.

This enables the Markdown Toolbar, in which you'll find the various elements needed for editing the document.

Inserting text

One of the most useful features of Preview is being able to insert text into forms. To this click on the icon of a T in a box. A text box should now appear. Move this to the area you want, then start typing.

how to edit pdfs on Mac for free

If you want to change the font, size or colour of your text then click on the slanted A icon at the far right of the options in the toolbar. This will open up the standard formatting option.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

Creating a signature

You may want to sign the document, and this too can be done in Preview. Go to the icon that looks like a scribble and select Create Signature.

A window will appear where you can use your trackpad as a virtual notepad. Either via your finger or a stylus you simply draw the signature and tap any key once you're finished.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

If you don't get it right first time just click the Clear button and try again. Once you're happy click the Done button and your signature will be saved into Preview, ready to use whenever you want to sign a document in the future.

Inserting a signature

To actually insert the signature, click the scribble icon once more, then click on the signature you've created and it will appear on the document in a text box.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

Now drag the signature to the appropriate area, resize it if necessary, then click anywhere else on the document and the box will disappear, leaving behind your autograph.

Copying Text

There are times when you'll want to copy text from one document into another, but this can be awkward in PDFs.

Preview has an easy solution, though. The first icon in the toolbar, which has a lower and uppercase A, enables the text selection option. Click this then find the words you want to save. Highlight them as you would normally then right-click to bring up the Copy option.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

Here you'll also see the Strikethrough feature, which can be used to annotate the PDF if it's a document you're collaborating on with someone else. You'll also find the option in the toolbar as a square with a diagonal line inside.

Creating notes

Another useful feature found in the toolbar is that of Notes. This simply allows you to select an area on the document - text containing errors, say - and highlight it to alert your colleagues, or leave a reminder for yourself.

To access Notes click on the square icon with three lines inside. This will produce a yellow box in the area you have highlighted.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

Now type in any thoughts you have, click on another part of the document, and the box will close into a yellow square.

Whenever you want to see what's in the note just click on it and it will expand.

Creating shapes

Preview also includes the ability to create shapes where you can highlight certain areas that you want to standout.

Click on the icon that has a Square and Circle then select your shape from the menu.

The shape will appear on the document and can be moved and resized as you see fit by dragging either of the blue circles along the sides or ends, depending on the shape.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

Preview is a powerful little app, and there are several other features within it that are not mentioned here. Be sure to take time to explore its capabilities and we're sure you'll be pleasantly surprised.

For more ideas you can also check out our 11 tips for creating, saving, editing, and sharing PDFs on a Mac feature.

Using a dedicated app

Preview is an excellent solution for quickly making changes to PDFs, but if you want to take things up to a professional level then you might consider a dedicated package such as PDF Element 6 for Mac.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

This software has been purpose-built to create, edit and annotate PDFs. It can automatically reflow text and use OCR to turn paper documents or digital scans into editable PDFs; plus there's the ability to create interactive forms out of Microsoft Word docs, and a whole host of other features.

If you frequently use or create PDFs then it's certainly worth a look. There's a free trial version of the software available where you can explore its capabilities, and if it meets your requirements then the prices start at $59.95 (or around £45) for a single-user license.