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mountain lion preview appGetting on the paperless trail these days couldn’t be easier (see Aaron’s new guide The Future Is Here - Your Guide to Having a Paperless Life Today The Future Is Here - Your Guide to Having a Paperless Life Today Paperless – a term that is used quite often now days. But what does it mean? And to what extent does it apply? Certainly we all still use paper to some degree despite the advancements... Read More on the subject), with so many excellent desktop and mobile apps. Well, with the latest Mountain Lion 5 Highly Useful Productivity Apps And Features In The New Mountain Lion 5 Highly Useful Productivity Apps And Features In The New Mountain Lion We covered some of the cool new features in Mountain Lion when it was first released to developers at the beta level back in February. I've had a chance to go beyond a first look... Read More update, Apple must of took a hard look at other PDF applications and decided its Preview application is due for some major improvements. Don’t forget though, if you’re looking for more info about Mountain Lion, to check out our OS X Mountain Lion guide.

Preview is a default application for Mac OS X. If you click and open an image, screenshot, or PDF file, typically Preview is the application you will view those files in. Most novice Mac users may not have noticed the almost hidden features Preview has to offer. I wrote an article How To Use Your Mac's Preview Application To Edit Photos How To Use Your Mac's Preview Application To Edit Photos Read More  about how to use it for photo edits, but now Preview includes several enhancements for those of us who like to annotate PDF documents as we read. The new tools in Preview are nearly unnoticeable, but they are very handy for marking up documents.

Saving Documents as PDFs

First off, Preview can only open PDFs and image files, not text documents saved say in Word or Pages. But you can save nearly any document or webpage as a PDF. In the recent update of Safari 6, if a PDF opens in the web browser, you can now put your cursor toward the middle bottom of the window, and a window will pop-up allowing you to open the PDF straight in Preview or download and save it to your Downloads folder.

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This little time saver keeps you from having to use the traditional File > Print > Save as PDF menu selection.

Viewing Features

After you open a PDF in Preview, you have several viewing and navigation features that may not be visible by default. Under View in Preview’s menu, you can preview and navigate thumbnail pages of a PDF, from either the side bar or as a Contact Sheet. If the PDF has a table of contents, you can also view it in the sidebar. Unfortunately, you can’t have the thumbnail and table views open at the same time.


mountain lion preview

Also in the updated Preview, you can now view a bookmark list of your highlights and notes. More about that later.

Annotation Tools

Preview’s annotation tools are not open by default. You can access them from the application’s menu bar, but if you frequently annotate documents, you might as well open them under the toolbar: View > Show Edit Toolbar. The tools include a Rectangle and Oval, Line and Arrow, Speech and Thought Bubbles, Note, Signature, Color and Line Attributes on the left side; and Text and Rectangle Selections, and Crop to Selection on the right side.

mountain lion preview

These tools are pretty standard, but Apple adds a little eye candy to the marker tool. Like the highlight tool in iBooks, the highlights made in Preview resemble how real handheld markers look when making page highlights – soft rough edges, instead of a straight rectangle.

mountain lion preview

You can right- or Control-click on a highlight and append a note to it, change its color, change it to an underline, or delete it all together. The bubble tools are another cool useful tool for adding notes and keeping them visible on the page.

On the other hand, the sticky notes tools – which also has a realistic look – closes after you type a note. You click to open it back up. The Text tool is for making in-line notes on a page, without any boxes or backgrounds. You can use the Font tool to change the font and size of notes.

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You can of course click on any annotation to delete it. You can also select an annotation, click on the Color tool and change the note’s current color.

new preview app mountain lion

If you simply want to select some text to say copy and paste, select the “A” icon on the right side of the menubar.

Crop & Magnifier Tools

Though the Crop tool is traditionally used for cropping images in Preview, you can also use it to crop out any text on a page you don’t want to keep. You first select the Rectangular Selection tool on the right side, and then draw a selection around the text you want to keep on a page. When you click the Crop tool to the right of the Rectangular tool, content outside the selection will be removed.

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Unfortunately, it appears as though the crops are permanent to a document as it is saved, so you probably will want to make a copy of the PDF before making the crops.

If you’re reading say a manual in which parts of the text or images are tool small, Preview’s Magnifier can be real handy for this purpose.

Magnifier tool

Bookmarking Pages

The biggest shortcoming to Preview when compared to say Skim Skim - An Alternative PDF Reader & Note Taker for Mac Skim - An Alternative PDF Reader & Note Taker for Mac Read More , is that though you can bookmark pages in a document, those bookmarks can’t be managed into folders. Thus if you do a lot bookmarking, you get a long growing list of bookmarks that appear under Bookmarks in the menu.

Bookmarking pages

View Notes & Highlights

Under View > Highlights & Notes, you get a list of your highlights including the text you highlighted. However, in terms of notes, only the yellow sticky notes get listed – not the bubble or in-line notes you make.

Notes highlights

Saving Documents & Edits

As with Apple’s other text-based applications, Preview now saves documents to iCloud, as well as to the Finder. You can also rename the title for a document (as well as duplicate or relocate it) by clicking on the title in the toolbar.

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If a PDF will not allow you to save annotations on it, Preview will make a duplicate of the document and ask if you want to save the annotations on it.

Let us know what you think of the new Preview and its annotation features. Are you a regular user of Preview? What additional features would you like to see included?

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  1. Stephan Goetschius
    March 26, 2013 at 8:08 am

    Do you know of a way to export (for print) your notes and highlights?

  2. Mac Witty
    October 11, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    Rarely use Preview for pdf but maybe it is time to start now. Have always used Skim as it was quicker or Acrobat as it had more tools

    • Bakari Chavanu
      October 11, 2012 at 10:19 pm

      Same for me, Mac Witty. But since I got the iPad, I read most of my documents on there. iAnnotate and Good Reader are way better than Skim and Preview. Still nice to see the improvements in Preview, though.

  3. Chris Habgood
    October 11, 2012 at 4:27 am

    The ability to annotate .pdf documents is great but I notice that inline notes don't show up when viewing the edited document on my iPad (iOS 6). Is there an easy fix for this behaviour?

    • Bakari Chavanu
      October 11, 2012 at 10:17 pm

      Hmm, Chris, I'll need to check into this one. I doubt if I can figure it out, but I'll look into it.

      • Chris Habgood
        October 17, 2012 at 9:10 pm

        I found a work around although it's very clunky. Print the annotated .pdf to a new .pdf file. The new file works fine when viewed on the iPad.