6 tricks to master Preview on the Mac


6 Secret Features in Preview
Make the most out of the app you use all the time without a second thought.
Image: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

You might only use Preview on the Mac when you need to read a PDF or zoom in on a picture, but there’s much more than meets the eye. It’s a pretty robust editor, too.

I’m going to show you the six features that will let you make the most of Preview, a handy tool that’s an overlooked benefit to the Mac. I have three tips for working with documents and three for editing pictures.

6 tricks to master Preview on the Mac

Keep scrolling to read, or you can sit back and watch our video:

1. Combine PDFs in one document

Adding a photo in the middle of a document
Drag anything — photos, pages from other documents — into the middle of a PDF.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

If you have two or more documents you need to combine, a page or a picture you want to add to the middle, you can freely combine different files in one document. Make sure you have the document thumbnails turned on — click the menu button on the left of the toolbar and click Thumbnails.

Then, you can just drag and drop pages from a different PDF or add images mixed in with the rest of the document. Save or close it and it’ll bundle all the pages together in one file.

2. Form filling and signing

Form filling a document
Type to fill in a form or drop in a signature.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

This feature is new in macOS Sonoma — when you open a PDF form, it’ll look for all the text boxes and blank lines and make it easy to fill in. Click the Form button to the right, next to the search button. With the Text tool, you can just click on a field, type in, and hit Tab to jump ahead.

To sign your name, you can click the Signature button. Click Create Signature and you have a few options: You can try drawing a signature with your finger on a trackpad or your iPhone, but even as a pretty skilled graphic designer, I have a hard time making this not suck.

I recommend clicking Camera. You sign your name on a white piece of paper and hold it in front of your Mac’s camera to scan it. It’ll best capture your real signature. Drag it on top of a signature line and resize it to fit.

3. Redact important information

Redacting the faces of various animals in a document
Finally, a way to censor photos of savannah wildlife.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

If you need to censor any part of a document, click the icon that looks like a black box — the Redact tool. This will delete all of the content below, so it can’t be recovered or seen.

You can click and drag over text to select it and turn it black, or you can click and drag a rectangle over any other spot. You can make edits as long as the document is open, but as soon as you close it, it’ll be saved and everything below the black will be deleted.

4. New from clipboard

File > New from Clipboard
Open up whatever’s sitting on your clipboard in a jiffy.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Here’s a quick one: If you copy a picture from the web, there’s a quick way to open it in Preview to hold onto it — just hit File > New from Clipboard (⌘N).

5. Markup toolbar with editing

Markup toolbar in Preview on a photo of a Macintosh Classic
You have a lot of tools at your disposal.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

Click the pen icon to bring up the Markup toolbar. From left-to-right:

You have two different select tools. Sketch lets you scribble with the mouse or trackpad, and it’ll automatically detect if you draw a shape or an arrow.

Shapes will let you add in a variety of preset shapes, a highlight box or a magnification bubble. Text adds a simple textbox that you can set the width of. Signature works the same as it does in the aforementioned form-fill toolbar. Adjust Color gives you advanced sliders for brightness, saturation and more; Adjust Size will resample the image to a different resolution.

Shape Style adjusts line thickness. You can make the outline dashed or textured, add arrow heads or a drop shadow. The next two buttons edit the line color and fill color. Text Style, inexplicably very far away from the text button, adjusts the font, color and alignment. Image Description lets you add alt text to an image for accessibility.

6. Remove background

Removing Background from a picture of a cat on a bed
Hit “Remove Background” and the background will be… removed.
Screenshot: D. Griffin Jones/Cult of Mac

It’s easy cutting or copying the subject out of a photo without the background on an iPhone — how do you do it on the Mac?

It’s really easy. From Preview, just hit Tools > Remove Background (⇧⌘K). It isn’t perfectly precise as it leaves the edges somewhat blurry and choppy if the images aren’t perfectly crisp and high-resolution, but it does work practically instantly if you need it fast.

More tips for the Mac

If you learned something here, be sure to check out other articles on our pro tips for the Mac:


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