In some circles, PDF files manipulation is an absolute necessity. It’s very easy to find a free PDF Viewer such as the official Adobe PDF Viewer, but many people think that to edit PDF files, they must purchase the Adobe paid app. That’s not true, and here’s a list of the best PDF editors you can find on Mac.

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1/ Mac OS Preview (Free, built-in Mac OS)

apple-preview-free-pdf-editingThat seems like a “duh”, but many people don’t know that Preview can edit PDFs because they think it’s just a viewer. As a viewer, I think it’s great and fast, but it offers nearly most of the most common features people need:

  • Select and Add Text
  • Add shapes
  • Add notes
  • Add Signature (including via Webcam scan)
  • Fill forms
  • Insert pages
  • Edit metadata
  • Add web links

In addition to the fact that Preview is built-in, it is also faster than the Adobe app. I haven’t tried the older versions, but the current one (from the publication date) works well for the most basic tasks.

Some people have pointed out that it would be great to be able to sign using the touchpad, and I agree, but I have a signature file around, so it doesn’t bother me much — overall, this is the “best” option for most people. Here’s how it looks in action:

2/ PDFescape Online (free for small files, $2.99/mo otherwise)

pdfescape-online

This is not really a “Mac” app, but since PDFescape also works online, Mac users can go for it. It’s an online web editor that lets people create and edit PDF files. If you don’t mind uploading your file to the site, it’s possible to edit existing files too.

The user interface is extremely basic, but it’s one of the cheapest ways to edit PDF files (<10MB), so you can try it for free (ad-supported) if Preview does not do it for you. If you have to pay, the starter cost of $2.99/mo is a low barrier to try out and see if it does what you need: essentially, it would let you upload larger PDF files.

3/ PDFPen ($75, trial available)

PDFPen isn’t free, but it costs less than the Adobe Acrobat PDF editing software. The app can create/edit PDF files and even has an optical character recognition (OCR) function.

PDFPen is one of the closest apps to the official Adobe one regarding functionality, and in recent years, its creators have made it very proficient for a group who care about digitally signed documents. This means that you can verify the authenticity of a PDF, which came to you, and others in your team will be able to verify yours.

PDFPen also supports file attachments and annotations in PDF files and is smart enough to extract them for a quick skimming. It is also possible to add record audio annotations into a PDF you’re that working on. MS Office users will appreciate the high-quality PDF to Word converter.

The PDFPen Pro version offers more options, many of which are mostly related to OCR, form-filling, and automatic field generation – compare the two (official link).

4/ Adobe Acrobat Pro ($13/mo+, trial available)

adobe-acrobat-pro-dcOf course, the most complete and guaranteed 100% compatible with the latest functionalities remains the official Adobe Acrobat PDF Editor. Although many competitors can get close, no-one can claim to be 100% equal to the original. It makes sense because Adobe drives the functionalities, but also the form factor and specifications, so clones will always be one step behind.

I can say that I don’t edit PDF files at a level for which I care, and I suspect that the overwhelming majority is just like me. However, it’s important to realize that there’s a gap, which will always be present. If you always need to live on the bleeding edge of PDF – check the subscription model from Adobe (official site), it will guarantee that you can access the latest version.

5/ Skim (Free, annotations)

Skim is a free (open-source ) PDF reader which lets you add/edit notes and has some cropping functions. It’s not a true PDF “editor”, but it keeps coming back in conversations, so it’s probably a good thing to know that it exists, especially since it’s free.

Beware of freemium offerings presented as free

As I was checking for free PDF editors for Mac, I was a bit disappointed that Google listed many paid apps as “free” in the top results. It’s understandable why it did it, but it’s quite frustrating.

For example, iSkysoft PDF Editor is a paid app, but you can access a trial version, but by the time users get to it, they are already furious for landing on a page about a supposedly “free” app… we do not like this approach.

Wondershare PDF Editor Pro is another one. Listed in the “Free PDF Editor” in Google’s search results, it is a paid app ($69 on Amazon).

The reviews are mixed, especially for the most recent version, but I didn’t like that the company did not make it clear enough that it was a paid app, and that it was trying too hard to get people to download, possibly waste time, and discover that they have to pay.

That said, some folks are really happy with the OCR feature, while many left lower scores on their review. If you want to take a chance, at least you know that it’s out there.

That said, some folks are happy with the OCR feature, while many left lower scores on their review. If you want to take a chance, at least you know that it’s out there.

Conclusion

You may be disappointed by the lack of “great” free PDF editors for Mac. However, PDF editors are complicated pieces of software, and they replace an expensive option from Adobe. If the price is too close to Adobe’s offering, it seems smarter just going for the real thing.

If the savings are substantial and if the replacement gets the job done, there’s no harm in saving a few bucks. If you need to edit PDF files as a one-time task, you may want to check for subscription models from Adobe and others. It may end up being cheaper.

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