Exploring Mac OS X Preview PDF Annotator

Exploring Mac OS X Preview Hidden Features

Exploring Apple’s PDF Annotator

In a previous post, Mac OS X Preview: Unlocking Previews Hidden Features, I point out some of the hidden features for managing your PDF’s in Preview. In this article I would like to point our some of the more advanced annotating and markup features hidden within Preview. Preview usually launches as you default image and PDF viewer and we close it sometimes as quickly as it opens. What you are missing is that Preview is a fast and efficient way to share comments and to mark up a PDF, even more effectively than working with Adobe Reader.

If you go to Preview’s Tools menu you will find sub-menus for Mark Up and Annotate. Mark Up allows you to highlight, strike through or underline selected lines within a portable document file. Annotate enables you to draw graphic and comment based elements such as rectangles, ovals, notes and links (hyper-link style).

Using Mark Up
To use the Mark Up tool start by selecting the text that you would like to either highlight, strike through or underline. Next to Previews menu at the top and select Tools > Mark Up and select you desired formatting type.

Add Shapes
Using the Annotation features such as oval and rectangle tools is simple.

  1. Select the Annoation Tool you would like to use: Circle or Rectangle
  2. Click anywhere in the PDF.
  3. A colored shape will appear in the document.
  4. Move, drag and size to your specifications.

Notes and Links
Using Add Note or Add Link annotation features are done in a similar manner as with the shapes. Simply select the annotation tool you would like to use: Add Note or Add Link. Click anywhere in the PDF where you would like to relate the note or the link.


  1. A box will appear in the side-margin.
  2. Double click into the box to edit.
  3. An annotations tool box will appear in the upper corner of your screen. You can also open this window by holding down Command+I.
  4. You can change the color of your note using the Inspector Window.


  1. Select the area within the PDF you would like to Hyperlink. You can drag the link square to any size you like.
  2. Double click into the box to edit.
  3. An annotations tool box will appear in the upper corner of your screen. You can also open this window by holding down Command+I.
  4. In the Inspector Window you can Link within the PDF or you can create a URL.

If you make annotations regularly you can add them to your Preview Toolbar. To add them select View > Customize Toolbar… from Previews menu. Drag the tools that you use the most to Previews toolbar.

Mac OS X Preview

Mac OS X Preview

Exploring Mac OS X Preview Hidden Features

Mac users are familiar with Mac OS X Preview mainly because it is your default PDF and digital image viewing software. It typically launches automatically after you download a PDF or digital image file. Preview can identify most digital image formats like BMP, PNG, SGI, TGA and MacPaint as well as your usual suspect JPEG, TIFF, GIF, PSD and PICT images. But what you might not know is how to take advantage of some of it most useful features and unlock some of its hidden potential using Automator. Here are my favorite five Preview features.

Browsing Multiple Image Files at Once
Launch Preview from the Applications folder (Macintosh HD > Applications > Preview ). In the Finder select all the images you would like to see at once. Drag them onto the Preview icon. Preview will open a display window with a Thumbnail Drawer on the side. If you don’t see the drawer there is a Sidebar button at the top that will open it. You can navigate through your images by using the Back and Forward buttons in the Menu Bar at the top or using the up and down arrow keys. If you want a full screen experience press Command-Shift-F key combination and you can access a contact sheet of all your images, navigate, play them as a slide show or add them to iPhoto. To quit either click the “X” at the bottom to quit or press the “ESC” key.

Converting Image Formats
Converting images from one format to another is overlooked action by some users when including images in emails or when posting the to the web. Most email and web software does it for you but there are occasions you might need to perform this action the old fashioned way. Here’s how:

  1. 1. Open the image in Preview.
  2. 2. Go to File > Save As…
  3. 3. Select you desired output format (JPEG, GIF, JPEG 2000, MS Bitmap, OpenEXR, PDF, Photoshop, PICT, PNG, SGI, TGA and Tiff).
  4. 4. Set the desired Quality from Least to Best. (Preview shows you the estimated file size)
  5. 5. Click Save.

Manipulating PDF Pages
You can use Preview to arrange pages, remove unnecessary pages, or even move pages from one PDF file to another. You can also add a blank page if you need to.

To delete a page:

  1. 1. Select View > Sidebar.
  2. 2. Open the Sidebar and choose Thumbnails from the pop-up menu at the bottom.
  3. 3. Select the page to delete.
  4. 4. Choose Edit > Delete.

Move a PDF page:

  1. Choose View > Sidebar.
  2. Choose Thumbnails from the pop-up menu at the bottom of the sidebar.

Using the Sidebar drag the page to its new location.

Combining Multiple PDF Files (10.5 only)
Use Preview to merge two PDFs into one document, start by opening the tow PDFS in Preview.

  1. 1. Choose View » Show Sidebar (or click the Sidebar button at the top of the window).
  2. 2. If possible make sure both PDFs are visible on the screen at the same time, resize if nessary.
  3. 3. In the Sidebar you will see a graphical representation of the pages in each PDF.
  4. 4. Simply drag the page, or pages (use Comand to select multiple pages) from one Sidebar to the Sidebar of another.

Adjust Spotlight Search Zoom Level
When searching for a PDF using Spotlight your resulting PDF file opens up in Preview with your search term highlighted all the way through the document. Although useful the PDF is displayed at 280 percent allowing you to view your term easily, but it is overall this is not very practical. To reduce the overall resulting sizes try making this modification.

  1. 1. Quit Preview if running
  2. 2. Launch Terminal (Applications > Utilities > Terminal).
  3. 3. Type the following after your username prompt:

    username$ defaults write com.apple.Preview Preview -dict-add PVPDFSpotlightSelectionSize 10

  4. 4. Press Return.

The 10 at the end corresponds to a 100% zoom level. To return to normal, replace this with 28 (280% zoom).

Check out my additional tip on batching images using Automator and Preview.

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