Blog Post

In Praise of Preview

Often, it’s the quiet utilities you use every day that speed your workflow. Without the bells and whistles of expensive commercial software packages, and lacking hoopla, they simply are there to help your Mac work better. Apple’s Preview application, which comes bundled with Mac OS X and every Macintosh sold, is one of those applications I’ve found myself using more and more for a variety of tasks – rendering other apps, including Adobe Acrobat and PhotoShop, unnecessary.

It comes with no surprise that two of the most resource-intensive, memory-hogging applications on the Mac are Acrobat and PhotoShop. When it comes to creating new documents or making edits, the pair are essential, but Preview is the slimmer alternative, performing basic tasks with ease. Though Preview’s core functionality was once to preview printed documents before they went to the printer or were saved as PDF, the application reads PDF and other image files much faster than Acrobat or Photoshop – so much so that I’ve made it the default system-wide for a wide variety of file types.

Even more impressively, Preview has evolved to act as a swiss army knife of graphics converters. While over the last decade, I’d relied on Lemke Software’s excellent GraphicConverter to modify file types, I can open images and save them as new directly from Preview, including GIF, JPG, PNG and more. Additionally, when working on PDF files, I can utilize the Quartz Filter to reduce PDF file sizes or save as black and white. This is especially important when working on PDFs from Apple’s Pages program, where PDF files can measure in the megabytes rather than a few hundred kilobytes.

Preview is also increasingly taking on Adobe’s Acrobat by offering annotation abilities and the option to add bookmarks. Quietly, under our nose, Preview has expanded beyond the level of such storied apps as SimpleText and Calculator to become a serious business app.

26 Responses to “In Praise of Preview”

  1. Preview is good, but it won’t display text from PDFs exported directly from Photoshop, which is very annoying since preview is so widely used, it makes exporting PDFs from Photoshop a right pain.

  2. Preview’s PDF support improves significantly with every Mac OS release. Preview never will match Adobe Reader feature for feature but as someone pointed out Preview handles 95% of the PDF’s you are likely to encounter. With Leopard that might be more like 99%. Like I said, it gets better with every release….

  3. Feh. I use a Mac at work and read a good number of PDFs from various sources throughout the day. And I use Acrobat.

    Granted Preview is in many ways more elegant and feels “lighter.” But the showstopper failing for me is that full text search utterly fails in some PDFs, just zero hits in cases where Acrobat will find multiple hits. It’s like the Adobe software can just find the text better.

    Disclaimer, my Mac uses 10.3.8, my Acrobat Reader is 6.0.1. It’s possible Preview has improved in this regard.

  4. Preview is awesome, it’s PDF done right. Acrobat is incredibly slow, and the ONLY time I use it is for forms work.

    Preview is set to open all PDFs on my macs.

  5. Couple comments regarding image resizing vs. image rescaling
    You can’t resize an image file in Preview. You’re only able to rescale how it’s viewed. It was not the intent of Preview (iPhoto, Photoshop etc can take care of that with various degrees of control).
    Preview’s image viewing size options are very clunky. For example: I just opened an image and it’s “Actual size” came out to 74.9%, (and yes, my prefs are set to “Default Image Scale: Default Size”) when I scaled it up (command +) I end up with 105.9% – all i want is the image 100%! I find this not only odd, but annoying. Why would any image app make it a manual effort to type in 100% just to see an image at it’s actual 100% size? Any web browser can do that. Thumbs Down.

  6. I agree… Preview rocks. I rarely open PDF or other image files in Photoshop or Acrobat unless I have some serious editing to do. Preview is so speedy that there isn’t any need to use anything else.

  7. No size adjustment?

    So what is the option “Auto-scale” in its preferences for then?

    Besides, I haven’t found yet that control+mouse-scroll-wheel won’t work for *any* screen content.

  8. I might agree except for Preview’s lame performance in displaying a pdf in Safari with no size adjustment so that it is readable. I don’t want to download every pdf I see just to take a look at it. Fix that and I could give up Reader.

  9. Between the built-in features of the OS X print panel to turn anything into a PDF and Preview’s ability to read PDF files there’s no need for Acrobat. Good riddens to bloatware!

  10. I’ve been a Mac user since the debut of the original 128k machine in 1984. I run an all-Apple business, but I’m no fan of Preview. I much prefer the way Adobe Reader opens and treats pages. I have Preview buried in some folder and have set Adobe Reader as my default app for opening pdf files.

  11. I have issues with both Preview and Acrobat (paid version)
    Preview (free):
    – Doesn’t show the content of filled out forms correctly (Returns are ignored in entries like an address)
    – Annotations are burnt in the file permanently and non-editable.
    Acrobat (paid for junk)
    – Editing a form borders on the ridiculous, e.g. Forward delete doesn’t work. Cursor keys don’t work the way you’d expect on a Mac
    – Opening takes eons.
    – Has problems printing pdf files that Preview prints without a problem.

  12. If Preview didn’t act so buggy and clunky for any task other than … previewing tiny jpegs and pdfs, I might agree more.

    Couple comments, mostly regarding Photoshop (note: lower case “s”):
    -Acrobat Reader is slow the first time you launch, for me it’s a tiny issue since I have it open all day. Other than that, it’s solid Adobe software. (My only knock is being able to add crop marks when printing.)
    -As for being a memory hog…how much RAM are you running? (if you’re running 512MB, you’ll have performance issues with everything.)And compared to what? Last I checked Safari was my biggest memory hog and Firefox a close second.
    Not to mention, if you’re using big files, Preview really shows how underpowered it is. It usually takes its sweet time opening anything over a few Megs. My files can get big(over 5 Megs), and Preview chokes on them more often than not.
    If you’re using Photoshop more than once a week, you would benefit from establishing a Scratch Disk. It minimizes some of the ‘memory hog’ issue you mentioned. Nicely detailed in their documentation.
    -Controlling the image size in Preview (e.g. actual size), IMHO, is down right clunky. Not to mention I’m unable to see and control the DPI the image is…essential if I’m converting/resizing something.
    -The most often knock I’ve heard from casual users about Photoshop is the (initial) cost. And in today’s scheme of things, it’s expensive. However, if you’re using it professionally or often enough, it’s worth every penny. If you own Photoshop, I can’t think of a good reason why anyone wouldn’t use it. It can do everything except butter your toast. And if the learning curve still looks steep from where you are, there are TONS of resources (online and print) for mastering any facet. Again, it’s one of those applications that’s survived 15+ years because it’s that good, and gets updated regularly. Not because IT installs in on your machine and it’s corporate policy to use – like Office.

    Preview, like Apple’s Mail, is good for very basic and low level use, but is anemic beyond a certain point.

    My $.02
    And no I’m not an Adobe employee or stock holder. : j

  13. agreed… preview is one of my always open apps… for viewing images and pdfs i rarely need anything else.

    cm, i would disagree that preview is bad for viewing images… at least i’ve never had a problem with it. in any case, google “picturepoppro” and download that. it is a contextual menu plugin for the finder, universal for ppc or intel. once installed you can control click or right click and quickly browse a folder of images in a variety of ways. it’s a tad tricky at first but once you get the hang of it i’d say it is VERY nice. also plays quicktime files too. in fact, it’s probably a good taste of what is to come with leopard’s quickview.

  14. Preview is amazing for PDFs. After switching, I use them frequently now to store documents, instead of word documents. Acrobat was always too slow for me to find the PDF useful.

    Preview is bad, however, for viewing images, in my opinion. Windows Picture and Fax viewer has side buttons to scroll through photos in a folder. OSX needs a better image viewer.

  15. Preview is useful and vastly improved over the Jaguar version, but it’s laughingly naive to say Acrobat will become obsolete. That betrays ignorance of what Acrobat can do. I use Preview as much as possible, but when I get a PDF that uses features beyond what Preview is capable of, like tracking annotations of multiple types (like replies and text insertions) and multiple reviewers, I have to fire up the real Acrobat. Maybe Apple will get that far someday, but that doesn’t seem to be Preview’s focus as a base level viewer. Preview is also always one step behind the current version of PDF. Granted, most people only read basic PDFs and they’d never notice the difference. For them Preview is great.

    And Preview bookmarks are incredibly lame. They don’t travel with the document, last time I checked. They are located on the machine. That means you can’t mark something up and pass it on to a friend. I would love for Apple to give us an Apple solution for PDF’s true range of features that most Mac people don’t know about because those features are mostly implemented by corporations and governments who don’t use Macs. Maybe we’ll see a better Preview in Leopard.

  16. I’m also a fan of Preview. It’s quite useful for a “freebie”, much the same as TextEdit.

    One thing does bother me though…the, uhmm, hyper-sensitivity of the Image Correction sliders. Exposure, contrast, brightness…even very modest mouse drags can produce drastic changes to an image. Has anyone else noticed this behavior? It would be great to use Preview for quick edits of Jpeg’s if not for this issue. An ability to resize an image would also be useful.

    Aside from that…

  17. Preview’s come a long, long way – even on my 700 Mhz G3/640 MB RAM iBook it’s very responsive and fast even when it’s running alongside Word, Excel, Mail, and Camino, among the countless other UI addons I usually run in the background.

    Preview in Jaguar was downright terrible – even when running by itself opening 7-8 page PDFs just with text would make it choke and lock up my system; it was one of the worst OS X apps I’d ever used by far.