3 OF A KIND: Mac PDF Tools apps

Anthony Caruana
26 December, 2012
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App Guide

Created by Adobe to ensure documents look the same no matter where they were printed, PDFs have been around for nearly 20 years. Now that the PDF format is an ISO standard, the number of PDF tools on the market is massive. Here are three of our favourites.





Bundled with OS X, Apple’s Preview is the only PDF app many people use. Not only is it free but it’s incredibly useful.

Aside from viewing PDFs, you can use it to edit PDFs – the Mountain Lion version can detect text areas automatically. You can also use it sign documents by taking a picture of your signature using your iSight camera.

It supports Apple’s push to make iCloud your new hard drive so that PDFs on your Mac can be accessed by your iPad and iPhone. In addition, the new ‘Share’ button makes it easy to email or use Facebook, Twitter or Flickr to share your files.

As well PDFs, Preview can handle most popular image formats and can export to different formats. If we had to quibble, the ‘Reduce file size’ option in the save dialogue is a little too aggressive and makes fine text unreadable. For example, we shrunk an 11MB PDF to 200K but it made one page unreadable.

For a free tool, Preview is excellent.


Acrobat XI



FROM $467

Adobe created the PDF format, so it’s no surprise that it continues to deliver its Acrobat product for creating and manipulating PDFs. Acrobat XI includes features like inbuilt OCR and the ability to lock down documents with advanced security options.

The new version treats documents as a two-way street. Not only can you use it to create PDFs, but it works the other way, giving you the ability to create Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint files from PDFs. For some of us, this represents a significant time saving.

If you share PDFs with colleagues, there are lots of editing and annotation options so your can leave messages and make tracked edits. For teams, these features make it possible to use the PDF as a working file rather than just a static end-point.

As always the Acrobat Reader remains free. Acrobat XI can be purchased separately or comes as part of Adobe’s subscription service, Creative Cloud. There’s a 30-day trial.




Smile Software


PDFPen manages to match most of the features of Adobe Acrobat at just a fraction of the price.

Taking content directly from a scanner, we used it to perform OCR, but had mixed results. It did well on a straight page of text, but when we scanned a table it was impossible to select, copy and paste text. The selection area never correlated with the text and what was pasted was from a random part of the document.

Aside from that, PDFPen has been a great tool. We’ve used it to rearrange and add pages in a PDF as well as edit and annotate. We also liked the ability to easily redact text so that it could be hidden from readers.
Rather than simply covering redacted text, PDFPen deleted the redacted text from the PDF so it couldn’t be recovered.

PDFPen supports saving and reading from iCloud. There’s also an iPad version, and the Pro version ($109.99) lets you fill in PDF forms as well.

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