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For viewing PDF files and images of all sorts, Mac OS X comes with the Preview application (path: /Applications/Preview).

Preview can be launched by either double-clicking a supported file, or by selecting a group of files and then dragging them onto the Preview icon. Preview is also integrated into the Mac OS X printing system, so clicking Preview in any Print dialog box starts it.

When you open an image or PDF document in Preview, it shows up in a window with a toolbar across the top, as shown in Figure 3.26. The following options are located in the toolbar. (These change slightly depending on whether you're viewing an image or PDF; this is an all-inclusive list):

  • Drawer (Command-T)—Opens and closes a drawer that displays thumbnail images of the pages or files open in the current Preview window. Clicking a thumbnail image shows it the main viewing area.

  • Back and Forward—If you've viewed several pages in a multipage file out of sequence, you can page back through in the order you visited using the Back/Forward arrows.

  • Page—When you're viewing a multipage TIFF or PDF file, Page Number enables you to enter a page number to jump directly to that page.

  • Page Up (Command-left arrow) and Page Down (Command-right arrow)—If you're viewing a multipage file, you can move through the pages sequentially using the Page Up and Page Down arrows. Unlike Back and Forward, Page Up and Down move between multiple documents that you may be viewing.

  • Zoom In (Command-+) and Zoom Out (Command--)—These two options enable you to view a larger or smaller version of the selected image or PDF. If the image is larger than the Preview window, scrollbars appear.

  • Scroll tool (Tool Mode, Command-1)—The Scroll tool can be used to grab the image and move it around the page. This is a convenient way to handle horizontal as well as vertical scrolling.

  • Text Mode (Tool Mode, Command-2)—The Text Mode tool is used with PDFs to select the text within a PDF for copying and pasting.

  • Selection Tool (Tool Mode, Command-3)—The Selection tool can be used with images to select a portion of an image for copying, pasting, or cropping (Command-K).

To get information about the active PDF document or image, choose Window, Document Info, as shown in Figure 3.27.

Figure 3.26Figure 3.26 The Preview window includes a toolbar where you can easily alter the viewing style of your files or move between pages.

Figure 3.27Figure 3.27 The Document Info feature displays extended information about the image or PDF you have loaded.

PDF Text Selection and Searching

The Panther version of Preview has a number of new features for manipulating PDFs. First, the Text tool can be used to highlight text within a PDF and subsequently copy and paste it into another application.

Preview can also search through the PDF text much like you can search through a word processor document. To search, open the Preview drawer. A Search field is displayed at the top of the thumbnail list, as shown in Figure 3.28.

Figure 3.28Figure 3.28 Search the text content of your PDF files.

To search, type a text string into the Search field and then press Return. The results are returned in the drawer. Each page is listed, along with each instance found on the page. Click on a search result line to highlight that line in your document. To clear the search results, click the "X" icon at the end of the Search field.

Image/PDF Manipulation and Viewing Options

Images and PDFs can be manipulated using the View menu. If you're viewing backward or upside-down images, Preview has simple controls to help out.

  • Actual Size (Command-0)—View the image at its actual size, not zoomed in or out.

  • Zoom In (Command-+)Zoom in (enlarge) the image/PDF in the viewing area.

  • Zoom Out (Command--)—Zoom out of the image/PDF in the viewing area.

  • Zoom to Fit—Zoom the image or PDF to fit the size of the Preview window.

  • Zoom to Selection (Command-*)—Zoom the area of the page marked with the Selection tool to fill the Preview window.

  • Rotate Left (Command-L)—Rotate the PDF page or image to the left.

  • Rotate Right (Command-R)—Rotate the PDF page or image to the right.

  • Flip Horizontal—Flip the image/PDF about a vertical axis, reversing it horizontally.

  • Flip Vertical—Flip the image/PDF about a horizontal axis, reversing it vertically.

  • Continuous Scrolling—When active, the scrollbar scrolls through all the pages of the PDF sequentially. If disabled, you must jump from page to page using the Forward/Backward controls and then use the scrollbar to scroll through the contents of a single page.

  • Full Screen—Display the image or PDF in a full-screen mode against a black background. Press Esc to exit full-screen mode.


Many of these controls can be added to the toolbar by using the View, Customize Toolbar feature.


Images can be exported to a variety of formats using the File, Export option.

Preview Preferences

The General pane of the Preview Preferences, shown in Figure 3.29, allows you to choose how Preview uses the thumbnails it displays. You can choose a size, whether to show thumbnail images and/or their names, and whether to load all thumbnails or wait until they are needed.

Figure 3.29Figure 3.29 The Preview Preferences pane.

In the Images and PDF preference panes, you can choose the default size at which images and PDF documents are opened—fit to screen or some other size. You can also choose rendering options, including disabling antialiasing for PDFs.

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Last Update: November 17, 2020