4 Best Free Mac Preview Alternatives for Reading PDFs

Joel Lee 07-10-2016

I love the Preview app that comes installed on all Mac systems. It’s pretty much the catch-all app for viewing and making basic edits to images or documents, and it comes with a bunch of nifty features 10 Tips You Need to Know About Mac Preview Read More that are useful. But even though Preview supports PDF documents, it could be better.


This seems to be the case for many of the default Mac apps A Complete Guide to Default Mac Apps and What They Do Here's a complete guide to Mac default apps so you know what's on your system and which apps are worth using. Read More , at least in my experience. They’re great 90 percent of the time, but eventually you run into quirks, limitations, or hindrances that may prod you into wondering if any good alternatives exist out there.

So I did some searching and testing and found a handful of free Preview alternatives that felt better to use for PDF reading — and I’m confident that you’ll like at least one of the options in this post.

1. Skim


This is my preferred PDF reader of choice by a long shot. It has all of the core features that you’d expect, including some basic customizations and settings to tweak, and it’s extremely lightweight and fast. It’s all the good of Preview without any of the weird quirks that put me off.

Skim is actually designed with academic and scientific papers in mind, so its greatest feature is the ability to annotate documents. You can add and edit notes as well as highlight text, which doesn’t sound like much, but the key is the easy-to-use interface that never gets in the way.


Other notable features include support for AppleScript and Apple Remote Control, creating document “snapshots” for reference and revision control, viewing pages in presentation mode with transitions, and more.

2. Foxit Reader


Foxit Reader is arguably the most popular PDF reader currently available, even beating out SumatraPDF (which is my preferred reader of choice on Windows). When you load it up for the first time, you’ll understand why users love it so much. It’s pretty, it works, and it’s fast.

I’m listing it as second in this post, but it’s a very close second. In fact, depending on what you need from your PDF reading app, Foxit Reader may indeed be the better alternative for you. It comes with a tabbed interface, which is especially useful when you’re dealing with dozens of documents at the same time.


If Skim didn’t exist, I’d be using Foxit Reader. There’s absolutely no contest. It may not offer much in terms of customizability, but the PDF-reading experience is top notch. Highly recommended.

3. Acrobat Reader DC


Everyone has used Acrobat Reader at one point or another. Like Flash, it’s maintained by Adobe, and like Flash, it has a reputation for being bloated, messy, and full of security vulnerabilities. Why Flash Needs to Die (And How You Can Get Rid of It) The Internet's relationship with Flash has been rocky for a while. Once, it was a universal standard on the web. Now, it looks like it may be headed to the chopping block. What changed? Read More  But things have changed and Acrobat Reader actually isn’t so bad these days, particularly on a Mac.

As with Foxit, Acrobat has a tab-based interface that makes it great for keeping multiple documents open. But Acrobat’s biggest feature is the Document Cloud (which is why it now has “DC” in its name). With it, you can store your files securely on Adobe’s servers and access them from anywhere using any Acrobat Reader app, including the mobile variants.


Upgrading to the Pro version ($15 per month) also grants extra features like being able to search the text in scanned documents, exporting PDFs to various Office formats 9 Rare Office File Formats You Have to Know Have you ever come across strange file formats in your office suite? We'll give you a quick primer on rare, yet useful office file types and what you can use them for. Read More , filling and signing forms on mobile, and more.

4. Haihaisoft PDF Reader [No Longer Available]


Haihaisoft PDF Reader is a super-lightweight reader for those who don’t want any bells or whistles. In a sense, it’s the complete opposite of Acrobat Reader. It doesn’t try to make your life easy, and it doesn’t even have a Preferences panel. It simply loads and displays PDF documents (including ones protected by DRM-X).

And you know what? For most people that’s perfectly fine, and if that sounds like the kind of app you want, don’t let anyone convince you to switch to Foxit or Acrobat. Haihaisoft PDF Reader is for minimalists and for those who have aging hardware who favour lightweight software for performance reasons.


Haihaisoft PDF Reader also prioritizes security and privacy. It never connects to the internet, not even to check for updates. You have to manually run the version check from the menu.

Paid PDF Solutions for Mac

If you need an app that not only reads but also creates and edits PDF documents, you’ll need to fork over a good chunk of cash to get one that’s actually worth using. Free PDF editors do exist, but they tend to fall short in usability and quality. PDF editing is complex and you don’t want to skimp here.

iSkysoft PDF Editor costs $50 for the standard version (editing, annotating, watermarking, creation, insertions, forms, and format conversions) and $100 for the professional version (OCR for scanned documents, file compression, more conversion options, and password protection for documents). Both versions come with a free trial.

PDF Studio is more expensive, costing $90 for the standard version (creation, scanning, annotating, forms, password protection, watermarking, bookmarks, and table of contents) and $130 for the professional version (OCR for scanned documents, text editing, content redaction, digital signatures, splitting and merging, batch processing, and optimizations). Both versions come with a free trial.

For serious PDF work, you can’t go wrong with either of these.

Which Preview Alternative Do You Prefer?

There’s one more app that deserves an honorable mention: Okular. It’s actually one of the best free and open source PDF readers out there 5 Easy & Effective Ways to Edit PDF Documents on Linux How can you modify PDFs on a Linux system? Well, you might pay for commercial-grade software and support, or opt for a free alternative. Let's take a look at what's out there. Read More but suffers from a huge problem: it’s difficult to install and set up. You need to install KDE (using Homebrew most likely How to Install Mac Apps in Terminal Using Homebrew Did you know you can install Mac software in the Terminal? Here's how to use Homebrew to install Mac apps easily. Read More ) and then compile Okular from source. This is advanced stuff, so non-techy folks beware.

And considering the availablity of both Skim and Foxit Reader, I wouldn’t bother wasting any effort with Okular. Skim and Foxit Reader are easy to use, free, and beloved by many. Give them a try if you haven’t already.

What do you use for reading PDFs on Mac? Is Preview good enough or have you settled on an alternative? Share your thoughts with us in a comment below.

Related topics: macOS Sierra, PDF, Reading.

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  1. Mio
    October 7, 2016 at 3:14 pm

    I myself like you use Skim.
    However, incompatibility between Mac Sierra OS and PDFKit forced me to go back to El Capitan. In Mac Sierra OS I was not able to make new annotations and editing existing ones was quite difficult. The issue does not seem to be resolved yet.
    I'm waiting for that glitch to be fixed to go back to Mac Sierra.
    If someone else has to add something on this issue, I'd appreciate.