The Mac user base is underprivileged in many ways. When you compare the number of tools and utilities available for the Windows platform, Mac’s app ecosystem is highly limited. The realm of PDF editors is no different. While there are many solutions for PDF management in Mac OS X and macOS, the choice is not as extensive. However, if you’re willing to allocate a reasonable budget for your PDF software needs, there are several great options to pick from. This is a professional’s review of the 6 best PDF editors for Mac as we head into the middle of 2019. The list doesn’t follow any particular order, and I’ll subsequently discuss why that is.
PDFelement Pro for Mac
Currently available as version 7.0, PDFelement Pro (Mac version) is an emerging PDF editor in a tough and competitive environment. The product is owned by Wondershare, which offers a wide range of software solutions across multimedia and data management, Android and iOS device management, video and DVD utilities, desktop system maintenance, training tools and presentation tools, among others. PDFelement Pro for Mac is one of their premier products in the PDF utility category, and a fitting answer to the ubiquitous Adobe Acrobat, which for a long time has held the position of ‘most used PDF editor in the world.’ Nevertheless, my tests with this versatile tool on my 13” MacBook Pro (mid-2012) indicated solid underlying power in the features and usability areas. Moreover, at this price point, it offers a significant challenge to budget-conscious users who will not compromise on quality and performance.
Right out of the gate, the first thing I loved about this software was its design theme. The flat design coupled with tasteful use of blank space gives it a very appealing look. Under the hood, this is a powerhouse tool that has everything that a professional PDF editor should. The editing and annotation features are comprehensive and easy to use, the conversion speed is definitely the best in its class, form recognition is surprisingly accurate, and data extraction was very simple when working with scanned PDFs. It also offers critical features like OCR, signatures, redaction, password protection and restrictions, and batch processing. It was extremely easy to create a PDF from scratch, but if you need templates, PDFelement Pro for Mac has you covered.
Editing is very straightforward, and I liked the fact that instead of cluttering the interface with tools and buttons, Wondershare has created slide-in toolbars that are customized for the element you’re editing. The only drawback - and this is a minor one for many people - is that triple-clicking text in either paragraph or line mode doesn’t select all the text in that block. That would have been useful, at least for me, because I tend to prefer this over the click-drag method of selecting text. Overall, I would say this is definitely a contender for the top spot considering its speed and its intuitiveness, not to mention that it is a lot more affordable than its chief rival, Adobe Acrobat. Also, it is also available on iOS and Android that providing seamless PDF editing experience across different platforms.
- Gentle learning curve
- Great design
- Superior usability
- No cloud integration, but sharing is available
Adobe Acrobat for Mac
Little needs to be said about the company behind the Acrobat PDF editor. Adobe was a pioneer in this area and remains the company to beat when it comes to the popularity of its PDF apps. However, I think it’s also fair to say that Adobe’s efforts with Creative Cloud and cross-product integrations have pretty much left the design element by the wayside. This mature product can do a lot of things, but you often have to wade through or drill down before you can find a particular feature. Let’s see how it performed in the test run.
There’s no doubt Adobe Acrobat for Mac is a superior PDF editor, but it is sorely lacking in terms of usability unless you’re already very familiar with the software. This is surprising considering that they’ve segregated their PDF tools into Pro, Reader and Document Cloud. That said, from a performance standpoint, there aren’t many PDF editors that can strongly rival Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
The tabbed interface helps reduce the clutter, but you still have a ton of categories so the navigation panel on the right side helps a lot, but only if you know precisely what you’re looking for. This is the biggest drawback with this software, and probably my only gripe. The one thing I really like is how the company has addressed concerns on pricing. Acrobat Pro DC is also available on a subscription basis so you don’t have to shell out a hefty amount up front. From a usability standpoint, the only thing I can say is that if you’re a first-time user, then good luck figuring it out on your first day!
- Reliable tool with comprehensive features
- Strong cloud integration
- Could be complicated for first-time users
- Still expensive as a standalone product if you want all the pro features
Foxit PhantomPDF for Mac
Foxit PhantomPDF for Mac is another mature product that’s definitely worth a look. The CEO of Foxit Software, Eugene Xiong, heads an excellent team that develops enterprise solutions as well as consumer-oriented products for PDF management.
One of the first things I noticed about PhantomPDF is its smooth interface and transitions. The layout is nice, but the tabbed options for different edit modes didn’t appeal to me that much. I would have preferred the toolbar options to change when switching between text and image editing. Right now you have to toggle between two tabs to do this. It’s not a major flaw, but it can get inconvenient when working with objects as well as text. Also, the installation phase is a little long for my liking.
The software is fully capable, no doubt about that. The tools for editing, converting, etc. are comprehensive, and I like the fact that they’ve been clubbed into a dropdown menu in the interest of saving screen space. As a major downside to that, the various options are not immediately accessible in an easy-to-use toolbar. There are lots of conversion options, including standardizing a document to PDF/A/E/X.
- Smooth interface
- Comprehensive suite of PDF tools
- Not highly intuitive
- Long installation time
PDFpenPro for Mac
This versatile PDF utility from Smile Software is targeted at iPhone users who also use a Mac computer. The seamless integration is intentional, and it clearly addresses the “on the move” millennial audience.
From a user perspective, the best feature of this software is the ability to put an entire website on PDF without sacrificing the links. It should be obvious, but don’t try it on a large website with hundreds or thousands of pages. The scan and OCR features are of particular interest because they’re also available as an app for your iPhone, allowing you to use multiple sources and giving you tremendous flexibility. The basic software is quite comprehensive, so you’ll see all the editing, annotation, conversion, extraction, form-filling and other tools you’d expect in a premium product.
A major downside to this utility is that it doesn’t come cheap. It’s not quite as pricey as the market leader but it’s not the most affordable, either. From a features perspective, it does offer a unique twist on traditional PDF utilities, such as the ability to create portfolios of PDF documents or the ability to store it on the cloud and continue where you left off on your iPhone or iPad.
- Good cross-platform integration with iOS
- Full-fledged PDF editor with unique bells and whistles in the Pro version
- A little on the pricey side if you just want a basic but powerful editor
PDF Expert for Mac
This is one of my favorites since I’m a Mac user. It’s exclusively for Mac, and the design elements clearly show that it’s been crafted for best performance in a macOS environment. Installation was quick and the tool is quite responsive. It’s relatively new on the market, being only in its second major iteration since the original release.
PDF Expert for Mac is especially good with form filling and form creation, and its editing tools are second to none. The only problem is that they have very few options for annotations, so if that’s what you’re doing most of the time - reviewing and marking up documents - then it might not be the best tool for you. There’s also no OCR capability and other advanced features like conversion. On the other hand, it’s definitely an affordable alternative to the more expensive ones like Nitro PDF Pro or Acrobat. Overall, if you want a no-nonsense PDF editor with strong basic features and not too many frills, this might be the one you’re looking for. In other words, it’s an awesome PDF reader and a reasonably robust PDF editor.
- Great basic functionality to manage PDF docs
- Comparatively affordable
- Don’t expect advanced tools like OCR
- No Windows version, which affects the hand-off process if you’re working on multiple systems
Preview (Built-in Mac App)
Developed in-house by Apple, Inc., the Preview app is more than just a photo viewer. It has some surprisingly useful PDF capabilities, like being able to easily merge and organize PDF pages from multiple documents. And because it’s a native macOS app there’s no additional installation to eat up your memory. The development cycles have been quite long, but if you’re looking for a robust PDF reader with some annotation and merging capabilities, Preview is all you need.
Merging documents is as simple as dragging and dropping them to the left panel or between two Preview windows. You can save the newly created doc as a new PDF. Editing features are limited because it’s not really designed to manipulate PDF documents at the content level, but all the basic annotation tools are available. And I love the fact that Apple decided to put the annotations toolbar at the bottom rather than clutter up the entire top portion like most other PDF editors tend to do. As a barebones PDF reader with no bells and whistles, Preview is a great free utility to consider. You can annotate, add signatures, merge documents and easily share it with colleagues over multiple channels.
- Comes free with new Mac desktops and laptops
- Excellent PDF reader
- Not a comprehensive PDF editor
- Limited functionality - no conversion, no advanced editing, no OCR, etc.
As I mentioned in the beginning, there’s no such thing as the best editor - each has its own set of advantages. That said, some are clearly better because of the width of PDF tools they offer in a single package. PDFelement, for example, is ideal for any sized office or even a small home office, but it is robust enough to be deployed organization-wide across different locations. Acrobat is, of course, the industry standard, but it’s expensive regardless of how it’s served. From the rest of the batch discussed here, PDFpenPro is probably the best contender for the top 3 but it’s a little bit pricey. The point is, there’s a PDF editor for every need, so once you’re clear about what you’re after, it’s a breeze choosing the right one for you.