PDF software - thoughts?


Just wondered if Preview (and other PDF apps for that matter) are considered “stable” at the moment?

I know the story above is from some time ago, but still in 2022 I have editing issues in all my PDF applications where markup gets screwed-up, with even Preview being continually unreliable for marking-up documents that need to be accessed and used days/weeks/years after their creation.

I don’t author docs as PDF, just save from other apps or from scans done on a (ScanSnap) doc scanner, which I then use ‘markup’ tools in each app to add additional text or whatever as needed. Even with my very modest needs, issues remain.

Just some of the regular problems I get (typically after saving & reopening a doc):

  • text colour changes from a colour back to black when re-editing.
  • font changes entirely for no reason.
  • text moves slightly out of place, ruining the layout.
    …and more.

I’m not a developer so have no real understanding of the various backend ‘engines’ that make these apps work – presumably that info may be commercially sensitive, hence apps don’t make it clear, unfortunately.
So any info on what seems to be a quality, reliable, stable, apps would be great. :man_shrugging:

Apps I have include:

  • Preview - engine: PDFKit (presumably?)
  • PDFpen (via Setapp) - engine: Kofax
  • Nuance Power PDF For Mac (via ScanSnap iX1500 purchase) - engine: Kofax
  • iOS/iPadOS built-in markup tool - engine: PDFKit (presumably?)

Other popular apps:

  • PDF Expert
  • GoodNotes
  • Notability
  • LiquidText / LiquidText Pro (although not a typical edit and save type app)

It seems to me users are caught in a bit of a trap here. While Adobe giveth in open-sourcing PDF format years ago, they then taketh-away, as ultimately they have (reliable!) control of PDF editing software compared to every other app out there. And seemingly they know it, as the price they continue to charge for using Acrobat remains excessively high years later… even Standard DC is $13/mth, while Pro DC is just 2 bucks more at $15/mth (both provided you take an annual commitment), so even if you only need the Standard tools it’s $156 (making $180 for Pro little more!) – but that’s PER YEAR, so pretty expensive for average users.

(EDIT: Standard DC is Windows only. So Mac users are forced to Pro anyway. You also need Pro if you want to use the app to do your OCR-ing, too.)

Surely given the importance of the format in today’s world, there has to be some alternative(s) to this near monopolistic PDF editing reliability situation?

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Adobe Scan is free and might be worth a try:

Howard Oakley at EclecticLight.co has a set of articles on PDF issues and manipulating PDF files. The articles were written in 2019, but are still relevant. Two in particular highlight viable alternatives to Adobe, and may be of interest. I found the comments after the articles are worth reading as well:

The full series (26 articles) can be found by searching for “PDF without Adobe” at EclecticLight.co:


I’m simply copying the text from textbooks, and I find Preview to be of limited use. When trying to select the text of a homework problem, Preview often seems to select stuff at random off the page. So I have to keep Adobe Acrobat on hand to deal with this.

I rarely edit or mark up PDFs, but if Preview can’t handle a basic task like selecting text in the right order, I imagine there are a lot of other bugs lurking as well.

Even then, I still use Preview as the default app to open PDF files just because I find Acrobat annoying to use.

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Many thanks. I’ll have to read these when I have time over the weekend.

Yep, this whole PDF markup editing seems fraught with caveats and gotchas, TBH.
I’m still surprised at how little Apple seem to care here. PDF is the main text distribution format in the world – so wouldn’t you want your main app for dealing with said format to work properly; seemingly not?! :slightly_frowning_face:

I haven’t used Adobe products for years, but I vaguely remember when I was using Acrobat Pro to create documents I had the option of controlling the ‘flow’ of text. I know it affected ‘form fill’ fields, but I think it could also affect flow of text if I chose to (which I never did). This didn’t affect how it looked, but rather the order in which it was created, thus the order in which it could be selected. When I use Preview to select text in a PDF document and it doesn’t select it in the order I expect I just chalk it up to the document being created in that order, whether or not the author knew it was happening or intended for it to be that way (very unlikely). I agree that it can be surprising and frustrating if you can’t select what you want.

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For this issue, maybe the user could use their iPhone and capture the image using Apple’s new Live Text camera feature. No doubt there are other utilities out there already that do similar. But yeah, column text can sure be a pain in PDF.


I recently learned about how to set the order of elements on a page in Acrobat Pro to make documents accessible for students. I think that’s what you’re referring to. I doubt this problem is related to that because I’m using a PDF of a textbook, and publishers are required to make these documents accessible. Also, older versions of Preview worked correctly with this file.

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It has been a long while since I worked with PDFs programmatically, but at the time, most were a mess internally. Before throwing stones at various viewers, a nod and some sympathy towards ‘garbage in - garbage out’ might inform your perspective. Just as there are many apps that purport to view PDFs, there are many more that create them, with equally varying results.

One viewer I think that’s not been mentioned so far is the generically named PDF Viewer, built on PSPDFKIT, used by many apps.


Apple’s PDFKit has essentially been out of date (broken) for many years. Forms filled out by Preview are unreadable or corrupted when opened elsewhere or in Acrobat. The problem is magnified in environments where you do not have a standard OS image (ie. Universities where students pass documents to instructors.) It is a total mess.

That being said, my PDF viewer/notator of choice on macOS is Skim. It is free, open source, fast, lightweight and has many customizable features. Skim started in the scientific/education/research area but is very useful for daily PDF wrangling. Unfortunately, it is dependent on PDFKit, so do not use it for editing and sharing important forms (that should always be done in Acrobat Reader or Pro).

Skim is a PDF reader and note-taker for OS X. It is designed to help you read and annotate scientific papers in PDF, but is also great for viewing any PDF file.

The current version 1.6.x is native on Apple Silicon and supports back to OSX 10.10 Yosemite. Older versions support Mac systems back to OSX 10.4 Tiger (see the “System Requirements” section on the sourceforge wiki below).


Here is a quick example of the Note/Highlight tools I created by right-clicking on words:


My first post here - hello! Thought I’d mention that if you hold down the option key while selecting text in Preview you can control the text being selected. It creates a rectangular selection box as you drag and only text in that box will be selected.


I have to admit my first interaction with support re. PDFpenPro since their acquisition from Nitro was less than satisfactory. I was attempting to edit a form originally created in Acrobat Pro by adding a new form field and found myself unable to edit the field’s border (or for that matter, any of the previously created form fields’ borders). I’ve tried 3 times now to submit a ticket on their support page; each time you submit the form you are directed to a page with 3 button options - User Guide, Knowledge Base, and Community Forum.

In other words, there is apparently no active support by Nitro staff for a particular issue. I find this worrisome re. the future of this application. Anyone have a better experience?


Yes, that’s the link in my previous post, and completing the form (which does NOT include a field for describing the question/issue) does NOT generate an automated response or ticket number - it simply takes you to a page with the 3 options illustrated above.

Thanks for this VERY helpful comment re selection rectangle!

And welcome, you will get nothing but civility and helpfulness here. :innocent:

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If you select one of the options, does it get you further along or are you stuck in faqs with no way to contact them?


Alas, more or less “stuck in faqs” - User Guide option takes you to software user guide, Knowledge Base to faqs, Community Forum to the community forum. No ticket assignment, no contact from any support team member.

I’ve always respected Smile. With your post, that means I won’t consider PDFpenpro in the future unless they improve.

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Smile sold it. They are no longer developing it.

Exactly. It’s no longer Smile, hence my response.

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