How to edit a pdf document in OS X

If you’ve ever been given a pdf file that you want to edit, or a pdf form that you need to complete and return electronically, you’ll realise that it’s not obvious how to edit a pdf file in OS X. You can make simple changes to a pdf file using the free built-in Preview App that comes free with OS X. Here’s how.

If you double-click on any pdf file in OS X it will open in an application called Preview.  Preview has a hidden “Annotations Toolbar’ that will allow you to edit the pdf file.  You can’t change what’s already in the pdf document.  But you can do minor changed like adding your own text and graphics, so this method will allow you to complete a form or make minor additions.

For full pdf editing capabilities (for example adding paragraphs of text, moving pictures around on a page etc) you need to get some fully blown pdf editing software like Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Acrobat Professional. But these cost hundreds of dollars. The good news is that ‘Preview’, the built-in OS X pdf reader app, has some basic pdf editing abilities built-in.

Here’s how to use the Annotations Toolbar.

Go up to the View menu and select the menu item called ‘Show Annotations Toolbar. This will give you a toolbar along the bottom of your preview window to help you edit the pdf file.

Note: In Yosemite and El Capitan the ‘Annotations Toolbar’ has been Renamed to ‘Markup Toolbar’  so that it looks like this:

Markup toolbar

After you select  the ‘View: Show Annotations Toolbar’ menu you will see a toolbar across the bottom of the preview window that looks like this:

These buttons will allow you to edit the pdf file. The left three buttons make an arrow, a circle or a rectangle. The fourth button along allows you to add text to the pdf.

If you click on the text box button – the 4th button across,  you can then go up to your document and add in a text box like this:

If you click on the text button you can add a text box to the pdf document like this.

This is a very easy way to fill in pdf files that are forms.

If you highlight the newly added text you can change the font by pressing Apple-T and the font window will appear.

You can’t delete what’s already in a document, but you can draw a rectangle over it to hide it and type something new over the top.

You can cover over existing text using a rectangle with a white border like this.

You’ll notice you can’t change the rectangle color from being black, but you can put a very fat white border around it so it looks like a white rectangle!

Please note, this is more of a hack than a proper way to edit. The original information that you have edited will still be there. It is just covered over. If someone deletes the box they will see the original document.

This is what led the the recent scandal in Australian Politics when all the private phone numbers of Australian politicians were accidentally leaked. The deleted the phone numbers from public documents by changing the colour from black to white. But they didn’t realise someone could still get the numbers out of the documents.

If you want to totally change the images and text on an existing pdf file you will need an application like Adobe Illustrator that can actually edit the content of pdf files. But if you only want to make small changes, the built-in preview app will do the job!

If you’d like to sign a PDF document with your handwritten signature I have a separate article on how to do that.


108 responses to “How to edit a pdf document in OS X”

  1. To markup, fill in forms, and save PDF standard files (that can then be read by any PDF reader), you can also use PDF Studio by Qoppa Software. We are happy to note that half of our users are on Macs.

    1. CeciliaBonnie

      Why not use an app, I have used a PDF Editor Pro for Mac on Amacsoft. It’s perfect, you can add, modify or delete text in PDF files, whatever you want.

      1. Judith

        I just want to remove one comma in a PDF file. Do I have to download more stuff on my computer? I don’t want to spend $$$$ for one small comma Is there any other way? I only put out a small email for my women’s church group several times a year and usually I do all the editing before saving to PDF. This time however, I have one single little “,” that is out of place and would be confusing to the reader.
        If you can help I would appreciate it.

      2. Harris

        CeciliaBonnie, I can answer this question. Author didn’t mention about any third-party app/software to edit a PDF file simply because most of them are PAID. Let me tell you that I’m not against the paid software but these PDF Editors cost from $100-$180, so they all are overpriced. I agree that some apps like Acrobat, PDFpen, PDFelement are excellent and much better than the Preview app when it comes to advance PDF editing features. But hey you have to pay for them.

        Currently, I using the PDF Editor/Creator mentioned here: to create and edit my PDF files simply because this tool offers plenty of features even in the FREE trial version. Also the full version is comparatively cheaper than the other similar PDF editing utilities. But, I have no plans to buy it yet.

        Conclusion: If you don’t need the advance PDF editing features, you should stick to “Preview” app because it’s free.

    2. Sandy

      Just out of curiosity (I’ve got Acrobat Pro), does Skim allow you to change the font/type size of annotations? That’s really the only think stopping Preview from being a good solution in situations like this.

      Another, more involved option is to use something like Pages combined with PDFLab. PDFLab can automatically export the pages of a PDF file as separate PDF documents, then you can drag each page into a Pages document (treating it like an image, and stretching it to fill each page), and then just add standard text boxes for your annotations in Pages.

    3. Sabrina

      Hi, I a newbie Mac user and found this pretty useful. In built “Preview” app is good but it’s not good enough for complex editing tasks. This Apple Stack Exchange question ( ) about ‘How to Edit a PDF File on Mac’ worth a look too. These folks have suggested different useful alternatives to Preview app to edit a pdf document.

      Btw, what’s the main different between Qoppa PDF Studio Standard and PDF Studio Pro? What limitations are there in the trial versions?

  2. Yes there are lots of commercial options out there – I was just reviewing this as a free one.

    1. Connie

      But Preview can meet all my needs to add text to pdf

  3. Paul

    Not only that, but in Lion you can also sign documents with your signature using the PDF annotation feature:

    1) Open under Lion, Click the Annotations button and select the option “Create Signature From Face-Time Camera…”

    2) Make your signature on a piece of unlined paper and hold it up to your FaceTime camera so that it aligns with the blue line. Click ‘Accept’ when you like the preview.

    3) Once you’ve accepted the signature, you can easily drag it into place anywhere on the PDF you’re trying to sign.

    4) Need to sign more documents? The signature you just entered is now readily accessible as a signature from a drop-down within Preview

    1. wayne

      very cool!

  4. Rey

    This tutorial is very helpful for me filling PDF applications in.
    Great! :)

  5. Andrew

    Warning! Drawing a white rectangle on top of content will not destroy the content. This is a very insecure and sloppy way to modify PDF files.

    1. Jim Demers

      To save your “sloppy” edits, click on the “Print” command, then hit the “PDF” button. This brings up a menu where you can select “Save as PDF”. This “prints” the image to a new pdf file, obliterating any content you’ve covered up.

      1. Linas Lee

        Jim, this will not help if you want to cover the text.. Try to select, copy it and paste it to the MSWord. You will find there all covered texts. It looks like it doesn’t flatten the existing layers, so you still able to copy what’s behind. The only chance – is to export it to jpg or other format..

  6. Mrtuga

    Nice! Thx!
    Greetings from Portugal!

  7. Conn

    My question is too simple: I have a FILE that I want to make a Document, which I can attach to a message. A file will not attach, I find.

  8. Maxim

    How to I get rid of the shadow effect when adding a rectangle?

  9. jael

    do you know how to remove arrows I’ve already drawn? tks

  10. Mary

    What a horrific experience–I love my mac, but I had to go to the office and use the PC It’s too complicated! And, it didn’t work. Was going to convert my office to mac, but after spending 3 days on this and missing a deadline, guess that’s not an option!

  11. Thomas

    Sounds nice, but so far I can not get it to work:(

    You inform to:
    “…double click on any pdf file in OSX it will open in an application called preview”.

    If I double click on a PDF in “Finder” (cannot find OSX) it opens up in Adobe Reader.

    Please help.

    1. Right click and select ‘Open with’ then Preview.

      Sometimes Acrobat Reader when it get’s installed over-rides the defaults.

      1. Thomas

        Hi Wayne,
        Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately when I right click and select “open with” I get the option to choose between Adobe Reader, Billedfremviser (translates to Picture Viewer) , Safari or Other, but not “Preview” as you mention.

        I have looked under “Other”, but I do find anything called “Preview”.’

        Where to find it?


  12. Thomas

    Hi Wayne,
    Thanks for your reply. Unfortunately when I right click and select “open with” I get the option to choose between Adobe Reader, Billedfremviser (translates to Picture Viewer) , Safari or Other, but not “Preview” as you mention.

    I have looked under “Other”, but I do find anything called “Preview”.’

    Where to find it?


    1. Sheryl

      Hi Thomas,
      In your Finder under Applications there is a program called Preview. Double click to open the program. Then, go to File/Open. It will then open in Preview and you can go on from there.

  13. Toby Montezuma

    Ah! A lifesaver! I needed to change like 3 tiny things in a document someone sent me-and now I could. Sooooo many thanks, domo arigato, danke schoen

  14. Yoshuan

    Thanks, I’ve been working on changing my own compositions to pdf format on finale but for some reasong, it got rid of the page numbers. so this was perfect to add the lil number. thanks.

  15. Pam

    You mentioned we can add graphics to a PDF. How is this done?

  16. Jeffrey

    My 10.8.3 Mac’s preview does not have a “show annotations toolbar” menu item, only a greyed-out “show edit toolbar” item. The item sounds good, but its inaccessability is a task-killer. Any idea on how to get the menu item to activate?

    1. Maybe the PDF document is locked – try a different PDF?

  17. Just want to point out that another option for free PDF editing is to use PDF Buddy online PDF editor ( In most cases it’s actually easier to use than Mac Preview and it has a number of capabilities Preview doesn’t.

    (Full disclosure: I’m a co-founder of PDF Buddy)

  18. Michael

    About half of the pdf files I’ve downloaded will not open later. I get error message 14, the file is corrupted. My Mac is OSX 10.84. My mouse has no “right click” function like I see mentioned here. I’ve always kept my Adobe Reader program updated whenever I get the message to do so.

  19. Jenny

    Thanks great help not pulling hair out any more

  20. alexander samuel

    I also recommend PDF Pen Pro ( ) – gives you most of the functionality of Adobe Acrobat that most users need for a fraction of the cost. The also do a standard edition as well that is a little cheaper.

    1. Yes there are lots of paid solutions that do this better, as a google search will show. I was trying to offer a free solution using preview.

  21. Ken Miller

    hm…I have the same problem before. then this pdf editor guide helped me:

    1. Yes but… this software costs $50. I was trying to offer a free solution.

  22. Shaquane Jordan

    Thankyou so much for writing this arcticle. I’ve been trying to figure out how to fill out this form for work that was a pdf for like a few hours until i stumbled across this article. This was truly helpful and saved me money!

  23. Brilliant, just what I was after. Is there anything preview can’t do? You can also reorder pages, delete pages and merge pages from different pdf documents.

  24. Roxanne

    I’ve managed to edit my PDF file and saved a copy to my desktop, now when I send it through mail, it appears blank.

  25. Edwin

    Wayne, your info. did not describe how to change a font. Yes, I see how the font table opens after typing Apple-T, but then what? how do you change the font?

  26. Betsy

    This helped me so much. Thanks so much!

  27. Trina

    Thanks alot for this!

  28. oh, boy….Thanks! I had been using Skitch to attach notes for my workflow, which I deal with PDFS daily! Thanks a ton!

    1. Minrrouslly

      pdf files are not editable in iWork (Number, Pages and Keynote). You can import pdf files, portions of pdfs, scale, and mask them but you cannot change the actual contents. If you created the pdf you should modify the contents of the program you used to pront the pdf. If the pdf is from somewhere else then you are out of luck.

      I’ve tried Amacsoft PDF eidtor pro for Mac app, it works!

      1. Judi

        Thank you.

      2. carikan

        The OCR function is quite smart and effective. This is a lightweight and full-featured PDF editor. It’s good enough for common usage.

  29. Julia

    Thanks for that… v helpful, but I am still struggling, text seems to delete itself randomly and jump about everytime I try to move to the next line of the form, argh! Am I doing something wrong? Is there an easier way?!!

  30. Connie

    Maybe my MAC OS is different. When I open a PDF I do not have VIEW GO TOOLS etc. Instead I see the Apple icon at the far left followed by SAFARI File Edit View. When I look under VIEW there isn’t anything there that saids ‘SHOW ANNOTATIONS’. Your BAR and my BAR are not the same. How do or is it possible to see what you see? Thank you.

    1. Nlo

      Mine is just like what Connie describes.

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