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Lion 101: Working with PDFs in Preview

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Preview (s aapl) is definitely one of the under-appreciated gems of OS X. Preview actually has two main uses: one for graphics and photos, and another specific to PDFs(s adbe). There are certain handy capabilities in Preview that are only available when working with PDF files. Here’s how those features work and what they offer.

Using fillable forms

With certain PDF files known as fillable forms, you can enter information and either save or print your changes. You can’t create fillable forms in Preview (you need Adobe Acrobat Pro or Smile’s PDFpenPro to do that), but you can fill out someone else’s PDF form, like any of the forms and publications from the IRS. Simply open the file, click on one of the fillable form fields, and enter your information. Once you’ve filled out the form in full, go to File > Save or File > Save As… to save the info you added or create a filled duplicate of the original form with a different file name.

Fillable Forms

Making annotations

When reviewing a document, I like to take notes directly in the document. This is particularly useful when interviewing job candidates, for instance. Using Preview, you can highlight, underline and strike through text; add notes and text boxes; and even some draw some limited graphics like lines, boxes, circles and arrows in PDF documents. To access the annotation toolbar in Preview, click on the Annotate button in Preview’s toolbar. In Snow Leopard, the annotation toolbar will appear at the bottom of the window. In Lion, a redesigned annotation toolbar will appear at the top.

Annotation Toolbar

Managing signatures

A new feature in OS X Lion’s version of Preview is the ability to manage signatures. This is great if you don’t have a scanner or fax machine handy. You can even create and manage a collection of various signatures. Create a new signature in Preview by following these steps:

  1. Open a PDF in Preview and click on the Annotations toolbar button.
  2. Click on the Signature button on the Annotation toolbar and select “Create Signature from Built-in iSight…”
  3. Hold up a signed piece of paper to the camera and align it with the blue line.
  4. Click “Accept” to add it to your library of signatures.
  5. Add it to your PDF document from the Annotation toolbar the same way you would an arrow, text box or note.

Capture Signature

Creating a duplicate

Since you’re technically editing the PDF file when adding annotations, saving a copy of the original as a new file might make sense. But if you’re using Lion, you can simply create a copy of the document by selecting “Duplicate” from Preview’s File menu. This is a lot easier than finding the document in the Finder, creating and renaming the file before opening, or even using the “Save As…” command.  If you have already made changes to the document before you duplicate, you will be presented with an option to revert your changes in the original, and create a duplicate copy that has all of your changes intact.

Any other tips for using Preview with PDF files? Share them in the comments.

7 Responses to “Lion 101: Working with PDFs in Preview”

  1. my MBA is Lion. So far no problem on printing to pdf from Preview.
    2 days ago, not sure related to update iCloud, update my iPhone to iOS5, now my MBA at Preview cannot print to pdf, it just quit, any suggestion please.
    Many thanks

  2. Susan Sims

    To create annotations that are readable on other platforms, you can use PDF Studio. For under $100, you gain the ability to add all sorts of comments, arrows, digital signatures, bookmarks, and more.

  3. PDF_Sue

    For marked up files to be readable on other platforms, you may find buying PDF Studio a great idea. For under $100, you’ll get the ability to annotate with text, arrows, shapes, images, and much more, including digital signing.

  4. Is it just me, or is there a very important CMD-DELETE feature missing in the 10.7 (Lion) version of

    In previous (Snow Leopard and Leopard at least) versions of, if you are viewing an image or PDF, you can quickly delete it by pressing CMD-DELETE. This is really helpful if you’ve downloaded a PDF from a website (perhaps it was a restaurant menu) and you don’t need it any more. Rather than find the file in the Finder and delete it, you used to be able to delete it directly from the while you are viewing it.

    Can anyone confirm that this feature is missing? is there a super-secret cool “defaults write” option to re-enable it?

    • Lech Staniszewski

      I have the same question. It was a great option, I always used it. Opened an invoice, looked at it and deleted it. Now it seems the CMD+DELETE is missing. Pls help

  5. I would like to share one thing about preview… while applying for free OSx Lion update, apple website asked for invoice copy in .jpg format. By mistake i scanned as PDF. With the help of preview i changed the PDF format into JPG format… Preview app is awesome….!!!

  6. Agreed, it is very good although I have found that some annotations and even lines, such as arrows I have drawn on don’t appear correctly when the PDF in viewed on a PC. The same file opened on a Mac is fine but on a PC the text is either missing altogether or it’s squashed up. Seems to be a compatibility issue or bug possibly with when viewing in Windows