Use Preview, Not Adobe Reader or Acrobat

One of the beauties of owning a Mac is Preview. Preview is a simple application for viewing images and PDFs in Mac OS X. Preview uses Apple’s implementation of Adobe’s PDF specification.

The crazy thing is I’ve found a lot of people either don’t know it exists, don’t know it works with PDFs or they are using Adobe Reader/Acrobat instead. Probably mostly the latter. Personally, I’ve always found the Adobe PDF products to be really bloated and heavy-weight for such a simple task as reading and highlighting PDFs.

I’ve also heard a number of people complain about how they can’t copy/paste text from some PDFs using Reader/Acrobat because the PDF is locked. I’ve heard a couple students in my classes say this about Harvard Business Review cases they’ve paid for and downloaded. I downloaded the same cases and had no trouble with copy/paste when using Preview. I have run into trouble before on other PDFs that were locked with a password, but none of my HBR cases have given me any grief when I use Preview. Tip of the day: Stop using Acrobat or Reader. USE PREVIEW.

There are a lot of other nifty things you can do with Preview that I think are worth mentioning. One of the most important using Preview to preview documents and images without actually opening the application. Novel idea, right? All you do is navigate to the text file, Word doc, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint/Keynote presentation, image or whatever it is you want to preview and press SPACEBAR. Preview will render the file in pop-up. Press SPACEBAR again to kill the pop-up. Pure genius.

Another one of the most basic use cases is to use the Rectangular Selection tool to outline the section of an image you want and then crop it (Cmd+K OR Tools >> Crop). Most of the time you probably don’t need to open Photoshop to do that. And instead of cropping screenshots, just use Cmd+Shift+4.

You can use gestures to zoom in (pinch-in and -out). You can also rotate images or pages (rotate your finger + thumb). One of my cases had horizontal text, so instead of turning my head or my computer, I simply rotated the page.

You can manipulate the brightness, contrast, saturation, exposure and other elements of photos (Cmd+Alt+C OR Tools >> Adjust Color…). Granted, Preview isn’t as powerful as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop, but it gets the job done for simple projects you don’t care about getting professional with (e.g. publishing a picture to the web for a blog post or sending a photo in an email to the fam).

Adjust Color in Preview

Adjust Color in Preview

Preview will also allow you to view all the Exif data/information about a photo through the Inspector tool (Cmd+I OR Tools >> Show Inspector). This is perfect for comparing aperture f-stop, shutter speed and ISO for the photos you just took. Just whip out the SD card in your camera, plug it into your MacBook, launch Preview and compare the photos. Or maybe it’s been a while since you took the shots and you want to see what made the difference between two photos of the same scene.

Inspector in Preview - Exif Data

Inspector in Preview - Exif Data

Another cool trick you can read about is creating a digital signature based on your written signature for digital documents using the camera on your Mac. You can read about how to create signatures using Preview from the Mac Observer.

One final thing worth noting is that with the release of Mac OS X Lion (10.7), Preview saves files in versions and the “Save As…” functionality no longer exists strictly speaking. Instead you have to duplicate a file and then save it with a new name. This might seem confusing and silly, but versioning is actually kind of cool, once you get the hang of it. I won’t discuss how to get around it, but you can read more about how to bring back “Save As” in Lion from Mac OS X Tips.


  1. thank you. Your comments make perfect sense. I recently had to install the latest version of Reader to interactively fill in forms for a government agency – big hassle there, so I wondered what the advantages/disadvantages were. I had no idea that Preview had so many other uses! I think that I will go back to having Preview being my default application.



  2. […] lot has been said elsewhere why that should be the case, e.g. here and here. I am going to keep this short and highlight two key features that stand out for me personally, […]


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