Calling Preview on the Mac a hidden gem is a bit of an understatement. Like many of Apple’s stock apps, there doesn’t seem to be anything special about it when you first use it to view an image or a PDF.
Pay a bit more attention, explore the menus, expose the Markup toolbar and you’ll find that Preview is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It’s an unassuming app that can do the job of half a dozen standalone utilities. It’s time you got acquainted with this silent ninja.
1. Open Documents, PDFs, Images, Photoshop, RAW, and More
Preview for Mac is a versatile app for viewing all sorts of different content. The sheer breadth of file formats Preview can open for viewing is surprising.
Got a PowerPoint file you just want to see? Don’t go downloading Office. Just right-click, open it in Preview. It will open in this nice, easily scrollable interface. The same goes for Word documents. You can even view Photoshop and Illustrator files in Preview.
And of course, Preview can work with a variety of image files. Between PNG, JPEG, BMP, RAW and GIF, you’re covered well.
2. Quickly Convert Files
Not only will Preview files from the formats listed above, it will even help you convert a file into different formats. So you can do things like open an Illustrator file in Preview and export it as a PNG, without the need for the Illustrator app.
What you’ll probably end up using Preview for most often is its file conversion to and from PDF. Open the file in question, select Export from File menu, choose your format and hit Save.
3. Create a New Image From Clipboard
If you’re viewing an image in Preview or another app and you want to export a part of the app into a new image (without cropping the said image), Preview is here to help. Select the part of the image and copy it.
Then in Preview, use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + N to create a new image from clipboard. This will create a new untitled file with just the image part you pasted over.
4. Get Metadata for an Image
Preview’s built-in Inspector tool will give you metadata information for the image you’ve selected. You’ll quickly learn about the resolution of the image, the format, size, color model and more. Go to Tools > Show Inspector or use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + I to bring it up.
5. Sign Documents
It’s mind boggling just how many documents still require a “real life” signature. Instead of printing the document, signing it, then scanning it again, just use Preview to sign in. Preview has a cool feature where you use the trackpad to create your “real” signature that Preview then saves and inserts wherever you want.
Click on the Markup icon (one that looks like a briefcase) and then click on the signature icon. You’ll get an option to create your signature using the trackpad or by scanning it using your camera (I recommend using the camera option, it’s much more accurate). Once it’s saved you can reuse it.
After selecting your sign, it will be dropped in the document. You can move it around and resize it. At the end, export it as a PDF instead of saving it to make the signed version a different PDF file.
6. Basic Image Editing
Preview is the only image editing app I need when it comes to basic image manipulation. From the Markup section, you’ll find options for cropping and resizing the image.
7. Adjust Color or Auto-Enhance Image
I do enjoy using Photos app’s image editing tools. But usually, getting a picture into and out of the Photos app is a big hassle. Preview’s Adjust Color feature does basically the same without the hassle.
Click the Markup icon and then click the Adjust Color icon. You’ll now get an option to adjust the exposure, contrast, saturation and more. You can also directly adjust all levels.
My favorite option is to just click Auto Levels and it takes care of everything on its own. The feature is similar to Photos app’s Auto Enhance.
8. Export Individual Pages From PDFs and GIFs
One of the weirder use cases for Preview, at least for me, has to be its GIF extract feature. I mean, it’s not even a feature. Just like PDF, GIFs open as a list of all the images, individually. And just like a PDF, you can select a page from the left sidebar, select Export from File menu and export a single frame as a PNG or JPEG file.
For me, this is super useful because I can extract important frames from a GIF someone’s made for an app UI.
8. Add to and Merge PDFs
PDF editors are generally confusing. Which makes me think Preview is made of pure magic.
Want to delete a page? Select the page’s thumbnail preview from the sidebar, press the Delete button, and its gone. For a better view of all the pages, click on View > Contact Sheet.
To insert a page, click on Edit > Insert. Then choose a file or just a blank page.
Want to move a page around? Click and drag it to where you want it to be. You can also drag in a page from another PDF. Preview is actually a very capable PDF editor, read more about using it to merge, split, edit and convert documents.
9. Annotate, Highlight, Add Notes to Images and PDFs
You can also get some basic image and PDF annotation done in Preview. Preview might negate the need for a specialized PDF application. You can highlight text using different colors, take notes and annotate PDFs quite easily.
Click the Markup icon to get started. Click the T icon to insert a text box and click the shapes icon to get a selection of shapes like rectangle, circle and more. Yes, you also have an arrow tool to precisely point at things.
Once you’ve entered the text, you can switch the type, color and size. You can manually resize the shape as well.
If you’ve got a PDF with selectable text, right-click after selecting some. Now choose a color and it will be highlighted. From here you can underline and strikethrough text as well.
To add notes to a PDF, click the Note button from the Markup toolbar. It will show up a floating block you can move around. You can change the background and edit it whenever you want.
10. Turn Image Backgrounds Transparent
Preview can help you remove the background in an image. This works best in an image whose background is mostly white. Click the briefcase icon and then select the dotted rectangle icon. From the drop-down select Instant Alpha.
Now drag your cursor over the part of the image that’s white. The app will select the image and it will turn red. Click on Delete, and it will be gone (you will need to convert the image to PDF if it isn’t already).
While the feature is in no way a replacement for Photoshop’s superior background removal tools, this feature serves as a quick way to remove a white background in things like logo images.
Bonus: Fill Forms
Preview is smart enough to recognize blank spaces even when a PDF isn’t designed as a form. Once recognized, click on blank areas and an empty text box will appear. Type away and the text box will stay true to the blank space. But you’ll have to manually change the text font, size and color to match the rest of the form.
Preview: A Great Mac Citizen
Being a built-in app, Preview does what every good app should do. It supports Split View, has a sharing mode, works well with drag and drop and has a search functionality that lets you swiftly search through text in PDFs.
What are your favorite hidden gems when it comes to the Mac? Do you use the Mail app extensively? Or iTunes? Share with us in the comments below.