Reader’s Note: The following solution is for approximately 80% of problems  with editing PDFs with Preview. There are multiple other fixes depending on a myriad of circumstances. If you need additional support, we’re always here to help.

A client or contact sends you a PDF and you just need to make a couple edits. Should be easy, right? You know how to edit a document.

But then you open the PDF and it’s read-only or Adobe spams you with a pop-up that says you can totally edit this document…if you buy a subscription. Edits or signatures that should have taken you just a few minutes end up taking you half an hour, hours, all day, as you troubleshoot or go back and forth with the original sender asking them to give you permissions or make the edits themselves. This is not conducive to a productive workday. It’s not conducive for any kind of effective system in the 21st century.

Here’s the problem. 

The PDF (Portable Document Format) was created as a way for people to distribute documents without need for printing. They begin in a document editing software and are then exported out in their PDF form. In other document types what you see on the screen is just part of the whole – there is also all the background data as well. The PDF just holds the visual content at its specified resolution. It does its job, which is to optimize data and create a file format just for viewing and output. Essentially, a document that wasn’t meant to be edited.

Here’s the solution.

Macs come equipped with an easy to use and versatile program called Preview. With Preview you can mark-up PDFs, sign, edit images and more. Almost all of your PDF woes solved. Here’s how it works.

Step 1. Open your PDF with Preview. If Preview isn’t set as your default PDF reader, you can double-click the file, choose “Open With,” then select Preview from the dropdown menu.

Step 2. Click the Show Markup Toolbar button at the top of the window, or choose View > Show Markup Toolbar.

Step 3. You thought there’s be more steps? Nope. We told you it would be simple.

Now you are all set to add or edit text, highlight text, add notes, add your signature, edit pictures and share and export. Preview works on other documents too, you an crop photos for trial presentations and preparation and so much more. 

Just like any program, you’ll have to learn the functionalities, but Preview makes it so simple that you won’t have any problems. To learn more about using Preview from Apple, as well as step by step instruction on editing, signatures and more, check out this link

Here are some other tips to know as you familiarize yourself with Preview.

1. The biggest problem most people have with PDFs isn’t editing a document, but signing a document. If you. A stored image of your signature can also help a great deal.

2. We’ve also found that while Preview does a good job of editing, more complex PDFs don’t always get rearranged or saved to Adobe’s liking. Adobe will complain that something is wrong with a PDF generated by Chrome or Preview, even though the PDF works fine outside of Adobe. So, just know that A) Adobe is a bully and B) not all PDFs are created equally.

3. Adobe has a historical habit of getting into a login loop. For some reason, even after you log in, the app just keeps asking you to login. This will eventually be solved (we presume), but it is a big reason we encourage attorneys to use Preview so long as they weren’t using any of the advanced Adobe Acrobat / Creative Cloud features.

4. What we’re trying to get at is that it seems more clients come to have Adobe installed because the courts websites say their documents work with Adobe and provide a link. So, everyone just installs Adobe and never learns about Preview. It’s after Adobe is installed and Preview no longer automatically opens PDFs that the clients get hit with the editing Adobe subscription message. Likewise, folks get frustrated when Chrome automatically opens the PDF preview, but they can’t fill out the form.

We hope your days just got a little easier and you won’t have to deal with the frustrations of sharing notes on a PDF anymore. Got any other IT issues with your Mac? We’ve got solutions.

Luke Kumanchik

Entrepreneur, programmer, backyard farmer & Dungeon Master Extraordinaire.