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What Is Preview (and Why You Should Use It)
Pages: 1, 2, 3

Simple PDF Editing Tools

Preview also includes several new tools for making some annotations and edits to PDF files.

Tool Mode control Tool Mode control

The Tool Mode Toolbar control is probably the simplest way of switching from one tool to another, although not everything considered a "tool" is contained within it. More tools are available under the Tools menu.

Making annotations Making annotations

For example, you can use the Select tool mode to draw a rectangular shape over any part of a PDF, which you can then crop with the Tools -> Crop menu item, or just by hitting Command+K. It's exactly the same as the command for cropping image files, but comes in very useful for some PDFs too.

These days, a lot of official forms can be downloaded and filled in as PDFs. Assuming the files have been created professionally, and have form fields in place, it's ready to be edited quickly in Preview.

From the Tools menu, choose the Text Tool, then just click in one of the form fields and type away. In this mode you can also select contiguous chunks of text for copying to the system-wide clipboard.

Searching a PDF Searching a PDF

The Annotate tool lets you add your own notes to a PDF. There are two kinds of annotation you can make: a simple oval to encircle an item of note, and an equally simple "sticky note" text box into which you type some comments. You might not be able to make edits to the PDF itself, but you can say exactly how you want it changed.

Preview includes an impressively fast search tool, which will find words within even a very large document in seconds (RAM and processor oomph allowing). Powered by Spotlight, it works much like a Finder search, incrementally finding a string of characters as you type them.

Automator Actions

Digital photographers might be interested in some of Preview's standard Automator Actions (which are included as part of Mac OS X Tiger). You can use these actions as part of batch processing to automate mundane tasks such as scaling, rotating, and flipping images. If you have a folder full of JPEGs, for example, that you want to convert to PNGs, don't convert them one by one; rather use the "Change Type of Images" action in Automator to process the entire folder full of files. In the meantime, you can take a break and enjoy a cold drink.

Automator Actions
Automator Actions

Similar types of actions are available in Photoshop 7. CS, and CS2. But many amateur photographers can't afford the professional version of Photoshop. Now with the Preview/Automator tandem in Mac OS X Tiger, you can enjoy automation without the hefty price tag.

Know the Limits, Enjoy the Speed

Despite all these cool (and we suspect little-used) features, Preview does have limitations. While it does an excellent job of displaying large documents fast, it doesn't support all the bells and whistles that some modern PDFs might include. Some of the more fancy interactive PDFs still require Adobe Reader to display as they were intended, which throws a spanner in the concept of a "portable document format."

But Preview's strengths are speed, robustness, and ease-of-use. The way its printing smarts have been integrated into the system, allowing pretty much any document from any application to be previewed for print with ease, and converted to PDF with a couple of clicks, was a piece of very smart design by Apple's developers.

In its youth, PDF had a reputation as a format that only professionals messed with. They created the perfect product, and all we were allowed to do with it with our simple reader applications was, well, read it.

Preview brings simple PDF manipulation to the rest of us, offering a whole bunch of useful features that many users will never have realized they were missing.

Giles Turnbull is a freelance writer and editor. He has been writing on and about the Internet since 1997. He has a web site at

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