PDFpen 4.5 review

If you work much with PDF files, you may find that Preview isn’t quite powerful enough for your needs. While Preview, especially in 10.6, includes many annotation features (circles, lines, comments, etc.), that’s about the extent of its powers - you can’t easily insert an image into an existing PDF, for example, nor can you modify the text within that PDF.

SmileOnMyMac’s PDFpen not only marks up PDFs, but it makes short work of inserting images and even modifying, to some degree, the text within a PDF. It’s also got one very unexpected feature, especially in a program with a reasonable $50/£30 price tag.

Work with PDFs

The heart and soul of PDFpen is marking up and modifying PDFs, starting with a full set of PDF markup tools. Just as with Preview (the 10.6 version at least; the 10.5 version was more limited), PDFpen lets you easily add notes, text boxes, links to other pages in the PDF or to external URLs, and various shapes and lines to your PDF.

Going beyond Preview, PDFpen includes comment boxes (which can be turned on and off for printing, unlike text boxes) and additional shapes - Preview offers only rectangles, ovals, and lines; PDFpen adds polygons, rounded-corner boxes, and a free-form scribble tool.

Objects can be customized via the Inspector palette. Draw a square, for example, and you can set the fill color and opacity, line color and opacity, and line thickness and type. Depending on the type of object you’re using, some features may not be customisable - I was unable to change the line type on a rounded corner box, for example.

Additionally, I found that changing the color of an inserted note was problematic—occasionally changing the note’s color with the note open would also cause the text itself to change color. This issue has been reported to the company, and it will be fixed in a future minor update.

You can also, in theory, work with images in PDFs - moving, copying, resizing, and even deleting them. In my tests, the usability of the feature depended on the PDF being worked with.

In some documents, attempting to move an image would only move part of it; in others, I could move and resize at will. Sometimes, after moving an image, when I undid my moves, the image wouldn’t move back to exactly where it started. Copying, though, always worked, which made it easy to extract images from PDFs.

You can edit text in PDFs using PDFpen, with certain limitations. The first limitation is that, depending on the document’s font and layout, your replacement text may not be a perfect fit.

In my tests, sometimes I had a near-perfect result; other times, the line and/or character spacing was notably affected, or the font’s appearance was subtlety different (see image).

You can alter text in PDFs with PDFpen.

You can alter text in PDFs with PDFpen.The second limitation is that you can’t replace huge swaths of text and think that PDFpen will reflow your document; it won’t.

For these reasons, the text replacement tool is best used on a few words (or even characters) that you need to replace, and for whatever reason, you only have access to the PDF itself, and not the source document.

I also experienced a PDFpen crash when trying to replace text in one extra-large (40MB) PDF; this was the only PDF I had that problem with, and the company is working on the problem.

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