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. Connie, that means you are looking at the file in the Safari application, not Preview application. Somewhere along the line you must have chosen to open pdf files in Safari instead of Preview.

    You will need to ”ight click’ (control click) on the pdf file and select ‘Open With’ and select ‘Preview’. Then follow instructions as above.

  2. Colleen

    In my version of preview I have a button next to the search field in Preview that looks like a pencil – when i click on this it gives me the toolbar.

    Wayne – THANK YOU! This will save me so much printing/scanning

  3. Michael Dodge

    This fix does not seem to work on Yosemiti

    1. Mach1

      It looks like in Yosemiti one can
      -in Preview toolbar – select ‘View’ -‘Show Markup Toolbar’
      I think this is a fantastic tool!!

  4. Caroline Edge

    Hi! This is a great help. My only problem now is that the text that I enter is formatted to appear central whereas i would like it to be left aligned or even justified. Is there a way of doing this?

  5. Edith

    The pdf document came up in Preview, but there is no “show annotations” on the toolbar. What now?

  6. Bryan

    Echo Edith’s comment above: no “show annotations”

  7. Pauline

    Hi ok, fantastic. Did all of the above on preview to add some text to a business card which was sent to me via pdf. I saved it. Happy days, it looks great when I reopen the pdf and is now there but…when i go to upload it to Vistaprint its not showing the edited image only original. What am I doing wrong guys?

    1. Interesting. You could try ‘printing’ the file to another pdf and see if that fixes it.

  8. Jonathan

    I can edit and add. But when I want to print, the document comes as it where originally. How can I print it with the edited text I just did?

    1. That’s strange it should print with the edited version, Anyone else had this problem?

    2. Suhas

      Hi, Me too had a Same problem while printing the edited version of pdf, However the solution i figured it out that i exported the said pdf into word and then printed.
      It fixed !

  9. Cathy

    Wayne, thanks for this.
    Is it possible to use the editing features in this way, ie, strike through, highlight, etc? Or can we only use comment boxes?

    Also, can u tell me how to print? When I try to print a 4-pg document, it all goes onto one page. I can’t figure out how to print it like a regular 4-page doc.
    Thanks in advance :)

  10. ID

    Nice! Helped a lot, saved me about $30 for a minor change

  11. Roman

    Super! I did not know the Preview app could do this! The menu option is called “Show Markup Toolbar” in my case.


  12. Sunny

    VERY helpful, thank you so much for posting this simple solution to filling in pdf’s.

  13. Judi

    I opened my pdf in Preview. I opened the annotations toolbar, however nothing appears at the bottom of the window so I cannot add the rectangle. Now what?

  14. Abir El Shaban

    Thank you! This is really helpful…

  15. Thank you for sharing this, it was the only site that provided helpful information FREE and with visuals so the directions were easier to understand.

  16. Gerry

    Thank you so much – this worked great!

  17. Shirah Bell

    I find I am not able to edit or annotate PDF documents that I have gotten from scanning pages from paper or books in Preview (on my macbook pro). Can anyone tell me what is happening there, and recommend how to edit/annotate pages in PDF format that have come from my scanner? I would love to use Preview to do this, but if I have to use other (inexpensive) software to do it that also would be OK.
    Thanks very much,

    1. You need Optical Character Recognition software to do that.

  18. karen

    I did all the above and then saved the additions by exporting. now i have opened the document and the comments are unable to be viewed just yellow note squares. How can I revive the comments?

  19. riddly

    or download acrobat pro for a load of easy and useful tools….

    1. Yes Acrobat Pro is very nice… but it’s not free.

  20. Kim DeMotte

    My white broad borders print out black…wth?

    1. Kim DeMotte

      As a matter of fact ANY color is transcribed as black to the printer. What am I doing wrong?

  21. Bud

    I have a 2010 MacBook running OSX El Capitan. So I tried your instructions on editing a PDF (Acrobat) and when I clicked 2x on the document, Preview did not open. Am I doing something wrong. HELP.

    1. It should open, but if it doesn’t, you could try right click and ‘Open with Preview’
      Or you could go into the Applications folder on your computer and find Preview and drag the PDF file onto the preview app icon,
      Or you could choose ‘Open’ from the ‘File’ menu in the Preview application.

  22. Wu Ming


    I appreciate your taking the time to put these instructions online. However, they don’t work for me, either– in fact so far all the instructions I’ve found on how online to comment on a .pdf tell me to click on a menu item that does not exist and does not show up when I look at the .pdf in front of me. I have tested all the possibilities in Mac’s Preview and in the .pdf’s toolbars.

    For example, you say that if I go to View in Preview, I will see “Show Annotations Toolbar.” It’s not there.

    I have a 2013 Macbook running Yosemite.

    1. You are correct, thank you for this.
      It looks like Apple have changed “annotations toolbar” to “markup toolbar” in Yosemite and El Capitan.

  23. Apollonia

    Thanks, it was a little tedious, but good.

    1. Apollonia

      I forgot to say what system, El Capitan.

  24. Dean

    I have been filling in a lot of forms in PDF using the preview app. I find it very useful and easy to use. From time to time I have needed to strike through some of the text and now and again I have needed to change my mind on some of the text being struck through. Does anyone know how to undo the strike through? If it cant be done its good to know but if it can be done then that would be better. Thanks for your help in advance.

    1. Select the text, right mouse click and deselect strikethrough.

  25. SusanB

    I enter text onto a PDF form for my work using Preview. I save the PDF onto my desktop and it looks fine, the text is seen on the form. I then send the fax to a client using an online fax service and am seeing that the form is appearing blank upon receipt by the client.

    Is there anyway to correct this? I found this online:

    Thank you!

    1. wow – if that’s a know problem since 2010 it’s a wonder Apple havn’t addressed it.

      Try ‘print’ the ‘save to pdf’?

      Try opening in Adobe Acrobat Reader and see what you get.

      Try editing in the free version of adobe acrobat reader?

  26. SusanB


    I did use when printing “save to PDF”. Then I used Adobe Reader to open that file and THEN saved it as an Adobe PDF. This seems to have worked!

    Thank you!!!!!

  27. Maria

    Love it! Thank you so much.

  28. vmp

    For simple editing, try editing PDF online, eg.

    1. This seems to work but does it do anything that Preview can’t do?

  29. Ian B

    The ‘Preview’ method worked fine and did what I wanted to do. However I wasn’t able to alter the height of the text frames so I ended up covering parts of a couple of lines. Any suggestions for next time?

    1. No. The editing is very limited, you can’t actually change the text in the file you can only make annotations. To change the actual text in the file you will need a much more powerful program for example Adobe Illustrator.

  30. Elizabeth Bernardi

    The title of the instructions at the top of this web page read: “How to edit a pdf document in OS X.” Since we are trying to edit a PDF, most people will open the file with Adobe Acrobat Reader, but none of the commands you describe exist in the View menu of Acrobat Reader. If you read between the lines and open the file with Apple’s Preview application, you will find “Show Markup Toolbar” in the View menu, but the tools made available do not allow one to edit the documents as you describe. I am using an iMac running macOS Sierra and Adobe Acrobat Reader version 2017.

    1. Yes that is correct, I am talking about using the ‘Preview’ application, not Adobe Acrobat Reader. Adobe Acrobat reader will not allow you to do any of these changes. But the built in Macintosh application called ‘Preview’ will.

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