Preview is one of the few apps that are installed on all Mac systems. It is the all-round app for viewing and making basic edits to images or documents and offers a number of useful functions. But while Preview has great support for PDF documents, it is not everyone's first choice.
The preview is great 90 percent of the time, but at some point you run into quirks, limitations, or obstacles that can lead you to wonder if there are any good alternatives.
The following preview alternatives provide a great PDF reading experience. Most importantly, they are all available for free.
Skim is a lightweight, no-frills PDF reader with all of the core functionality you'd expect. It supports basic adjustments and settings and is very fast.
Skim's developers designed it with academic and scientific work in mind, so its greatest feature is the ability to annotate documents. You can add and edit notes, and highlight text. That doesn't sound like a lot, but these features are important and easy to use. Skim's user interface presents everything without ever getting in the way.
Other notable features include support for AppleScript and Apple Remote Control, taking document snapshots for reference and revision control, and displaying pages in presentation mode with transitions.
Download: Skim for macOS (free)
Foxit Reader is arguably the most popular PDF reader currently available and even beats the best PDF readers for Windows. When you first load it you will understand why users love it so much. It's pretty, it works, and it's fast.
We list it in second place, but it's a very close second. In fact, depending on what you need from your PDF reading app, Foxit Reader may be the better alternative for you. It has a tabbed interface that is especially useful when you are editing dozens of documents at the same time.
If Skim didn't exist, we'd use Foxit Reader. There is absolutely no competition. It might not offer much in terms of customizability, but the PDF reading experience is top notch. Highly recommended.
To edit PDFs you have to pay a subscription, but Foxit PDF Reader is completely free.
Download: Foxit PDF Reader for macOS (free)
Everyone has used Acrobat Reader before. Like Flash, it is maintained by Adobe and, like Flash, is known for bloating and security flaws. But a lot has changed, and Acrobat Reader isn't that bad these days, especially on a Mac.
As with Foxit, Acrobat has a tab-based user interface that makes it ideal for keeping multiple documents open. The biggest function of Acrobat, however, is the Document Cloud, which is why it now has "DC" in its name.
With this function, you can securely store your files on Adobe's servers and access them from anywhere with any Acrobat Reader app, including the mobile versions.
Upgrading to the Pro version ($ 15 per month) also offers additional features such as the ability to search the text in scanned documents, export PDFs to various Office formats, fill out and sign forms on mobile devices, and much more.
Download: Acrobat Reader DC for macOS (Free premium version available)
Our last recommendation is a little different. Web browsers have evolved and expanded their scope over the years. The three main macOS browsers all have built-in PDF viewing and can open PDFs hosted online or from your local computer.
The big difference between them is that web browsers are understandably focused on the display. They don't even provide the most basic tools for annotating or taking notes.
As a Mac user, you already have Safari installed, so it's a reasonable default. Like all of the presented PDF readers, Safari offers single-page or double-page views. Basic zoom functions are also included. But there is very little beyond that.
In particular, Safari does not display page thumbnails. This is likely because Apple is encouraging you to use the preview and Safari provides a shortcut to open the current PDF.
Google Chrome offers a thumbnail view in addition to standard zoom and layout options. It also allows you to toggle all of the annotations in the displayed PDF, although you cannot add your own.
Download: Google Chrome on macOS (free)
Firefox has a few additional minor features again. It allows you to view the entire PDF horizontally instead of vertically if you so choose. The thumbnail browser is also the prettiest of the three, displaying pages in a useful 2D grid instead of a vertical list.
Download: Mozilla Firefox on macOS (free)
For the simplest PDF display, web browsers now do a very good job as an alternative to a standalone app. You will likely choose the default browser anyway. But we are most impressed by the functionality of Firefox. Finally, it's worth noting that these browsers have a rich ecosystem of extensions and third-party utilities can enhance their standard PDF display.
Paid PDF solutions for Mac
If you want an app that not only reads PDF documents, but also creates and edits them, you have to spend a good chunk of the money to get one that is actually worth it. While there are free PDF editors out there, they tend to be lacking in terms of ease of use and quality. Editing PDF is complex and you don't want to skimp on this.
iSkysoft PDF editor costs $ 50 for the standard version (editing, commenting, watermarking, creating, inserting, forms and format conversions) and $ 100 for the professional version (OCR for scanned documents, file compression, further conversion options and password protection for documents). Both versions come with a free trial.
PDF studio is more expensive, costs $ 90 for the standard version (create, scan, comment, forms, password protection, watermarks, bookmarks and table of contents) and $ 130 for the professional version (OCR for scanned documents, text editing, content editing, digital signatures, splitting and merging, batch processing and optimization). Both versions come with a free trial.
For serious PDF work, you can't go wrong with either.
Which preview alternative do you prefer?
There's one more app that deserves a Honorable Mention: Okular. It is actually one of the best free and open source PDF readers out there, but it suffers from one major problem: it is difficult to install and set up.
You need to install KDE (with Homebrew on your Mac) and then compile Okular from the source code. This stuff isn't easy, so beware of tech-savvy people.
Given the availability of alternatives, it probably isn't worth wasting all your efforts getting Okular up and running. Skim and Foxit Readers are easy to use and loved by many. Try them out if you haven't already.
The best free and paid PDF editors for Mac
Do you need to edit PDF on your Mac? Here are your best options, both free and paid.
About the author
(1534 articles published)
Joel Lee has been Editor-in-Chief of MakeUseOf since 2018. He has a B.S. in computer science and more than nine years of professional writing and editing experience.
Posted by Joel Lee
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