10 Tips You Need to Know About Mac Preview

Simon Slangen 11-12-2012

mac previewOf all the default applications that come with the Mac OS X operating system, Preview might be the one I use the most. As picture viewers (and PDF readers) come, it’s an amazingly slick and powerful tool, doing everything you’d come to expect, and then some.


That’s one of the most crucial issues with these kind of  apps – you take them for granted, and think you know them inside out, but the chances are you don’t.

Rather more likely is the fact that Preview is still hiding some succulent feature beneath its surface, because however lightweight it feels, make no mistake – it’s riddled with features. Below, we’ve listed ten Preview-related Mac tips Switched: The Convert's Guide to the Mac and OS X Thinking of switching from your Windows-based PC to a Mac? Learn everything you need to know in order to make that transition painless. Read More and features that you definitely need to know about.

1. Open Multiple Files In One Preview Window

Preview is very apt at handling multiple files at once. You can open one file after the other, creating a separate preview window for each file, but it’s much easier to work with multiple files in a single preview window.

mac preview

To do this, just select multiple files in Finder using your mouse or the shift and cmd keys, and open them. By opening all these files at once, they will show in a single Preview window, with a file overview in the Preview sidebar.


2. Delete Files

If you have multiple files open in a single preview window, you can use Preview to move one or more of these files to the trash. This is great for culling the bad pictures from a big selection of photographs or screenshots.

Select the files you’d like to delete among the thumbnails in the Preview sidebar, right-click and select Move To Trash, or press cmd+backspace.

3. Create A File From The Clipboard

Since Mac OS X automatically renders files from your screenshots, this feature isn’t often highlighted. However, if you copy a picture from a website, or copy a selection of another picture to your clipboard, it’s a great tool to have in your toolbox.

To create a new file from the clipboard, just select File -> New from Clipboard, or press cmd+N.


4. Manage & Merge PDF Files

You probably already know of Preview’s ability to read PDF files, but it can do much more with those PDF files than just showing them to you. Most of the tips above and below that apply to pictures also apply to PDF files. However, the one feature that stands out is Preview’s ability to manage and merge PDF files.

preview mac os

Rearranging PDF files in Preview is as simple as dragging the pages around in Preview’s thumbnail sidebar. You can even select multiple pages before rearranging them. Deleting a page works just as described for pictures above, you select one or more pages and press cmd + backspace to delete them from the PDF. Finally, to merge two PDF files, just open one file and drag another in Preview’s thumbnail sidebar.

5. File Sharing

It’s very easy to share your pictures or documents to friends and colleagues right from within preview. This includes emailing, using iMessage, AirDrop, Twitter, Facebook and Flickr.


preview mac os

To share a file from Preview, just press the share icon at the top of the document (which looks like a box with an arrow inside), and select one of the sharing options. You can also add the picture to iPhoto the same way.

6. Annotation Tools

Preview comes with a wealth of annotation tools. You can draw shapes, arrows and text boxes on any kind of document, with varying color and line width. When you’re browsing a PDF document, you can also use Preview to highlight individual sentences.

preview mac os


The full array of annotation tools becomes visible when you press the annotation icon next to the search field, or select Tools -> Annotate.

7. Select & Cropping Tools

You don’t need a copy of PhotoShop for rudimentary photo manipulation. One of the things that Preview does almost as well is extracting elements of an image. When you press the annotation icon (left of the search field), a number of selection tools appear to the right of your screen. These include a rectangular selector, elliptical selector, lasso selection, smart lasso and instant alpha.

about mac preview

Using smart lasso, click in an area and slightly drag your mouse in any direction to specify the amount of tolerance that should be used in marking out the boundaries of that area’s selection. You can then copy that selection to your clipboard and create a new document as outlined above, or press backspace to make that part of your image transparent.

8. Color Management

A different kind of photo manipulation is provided through Preview’s built-in color management. Again, you can view this option by pressing the annotation button next to the search field, or by selecting Tools -> Annotate.

about mac preview

Pressing the prism icon in the annotation bar will open the Adjust Color pane. Hear you can tweak the picture’s levels, exposure, contrast, saturation, sharpness, and more.

9. Built-In Version History

In later versions of Mac OS X, Preview comes with built-in version support. This means you can go back in time and go through a number of different iterations of your file, Time Machine-style.

about mac preview

To do so, go to File -> Revert To -> Browse All Versions, or press the little disclosure triangle next to a file’s name in the title bar and select Browse All Versions.

10. Lock That Document

As you’ve seen above, Preview provides a lot of ways to manipulate a document. Sometimes we’re looking for exactly the opposite: keeping it safe from careless hands. Luckily, Preview is able to lock a document on your request.

mac preview

To lock a document, press the disclosure triangle next to the document’s name in the title bar as show above. In the ensuing drop-down menu, select Lock. This is also where you’ll be able to later unlock the document.

Do you know of any other exciting Preview tricks? How about any other useful Mac tips A Complete Beginner's Guide to macOS: Get Started in Just 1 Hour Our complete guide to macOS will show you everything you need to get started and comfortable with a brand new MacBook or iMac. Read More and tricks? Let us know in the comments section below the article!

Related topics: File Sharing, Image Editor, PDF, PDF Editor, Screen Capture.

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  1. Nirav Varma
    February 26, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    WOW! Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Ron Burtonz
    December 31, 2012 at 11:44 pm

    Thanks, I've been frustrated with not being able to delete image files while viewing in Preview. However, it appears that it still does not solve the problem when only one image is being viewed.... or have I missed something?

  3. Sonal Khodiyar
    December 14, 2012 at 7:13 pm

    i wish it had capability of traversing though files in same folder...

  4. Damien Garcia
    December 12, 2012 at 1:41 am

    When i purchase my Mac il come back to this article.

  5. Chew Jian Yue
    December 11, 2012 at 2:02 pm

    I didn't knew I could do so much!