PDF is a universal format for documents that will work on any platform, be it Windows, macOS, Android or 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.

We have a round up of the best free PDF editors for Mac here.

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 in the cloud 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 by using the included Preview app.

Using Preview to edit PDFs

You might think that Preview is just there to take a quick look at documents you've received in emails, but there is far more on offer from this handy utility. (For proof of this read How to use the hidden paint app in Preview for Mac.)

To edit a PDF go to the file in question and right-click on it (or Ctrl + Click) then choose Open with > Preview.

how to edit pdf for free on mac

Adding text to a document

Once you have the document in front of you, try clicking on a text field to see if you can type there. If not you'll need to create a text box yourself. 

To do this go the menu bar at the top and select Tools > Annotate > Text.

how to edit pdfs on mac for free

A small box will appear with the word Text inside. This can be moved by dragging and dropping it anywhere on the page, plus you can resize it to fit the layout of the PDF. Once you're happy with the placement, just 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 for free on mac

Creating a signature

You may want to sign the document, and this too can be done in Preview. Go to the icon in the toolbar 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 pdf 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 for free on mac

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 PDFelement for Mac.

how to edit pdf for free on mac

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 £69.97 / $59.95 for a single-user license.