The 4 Best Free Mac Preview Alternatives for Reading PDFs

Preview is one of a handful of apps that come installed on all Mac systems. It’s the catch-all app for viewing and making basic edits to images or documents, and it comes with a bunch of useful features. But even though Preview has excellent support for PDF documents, it’s not everyone’s first choice.

Preview is 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.

The following Preview alternatives offer an excellent PDF reading experience. Most importantly, they are all available to start using free of charge.

1. Skim

Skim is a lightweight, no-nonsense PDF reader with all the core features you’d expect. It has support for basic customizations and settings, and it’s very fast.

Skim’s developers designed it 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. This doesn’t sound like much, but these features are vital and easy to use. Skim’s interface presents everything without ever getting in the way.

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

Download: Skim for macOS (Free)

2. Foxit Reader

Foxit Reader is arguably the most popular PDF reader currently available, even beating the best PDF readers for 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.

We’re listing it in second place, but it’s a very close second. In fact, depending on what you need from your PDF reading app, Foxit Reader may well 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, we’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.

To edit PDFs, you need to pay a subscription, but Foxit PDF Reader is completely free.

Download: Foxit PDF Reader for macOS (Free)

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 bloat and security vulnerabilities. But lots has changed and Acrobat Reader 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.

Using this feature, 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, filling and signing forms on mobile, and more.

Download: Acrobat Reader DC for macOS (Free, premium version available)

4. Safari, Chrome, and Firefox

Our final recommendation is a little different. Web browsers have advanced over the years, expanding on their remit. The main three macOS browsers all offer built-in PDF viewing and can open PDFs hosted online or from your local machine.

The big difference you’ll notice between them is that, understandably, web browsers focus on viewing. They don’t even offer the most basic commenting or note-taking tools.

As a Mac user, you’ll already have Safari installed, so it’s a reasonable default. As with all the PDF readers presented, Safari offers single-page or dual-page views. Basic zoom functionality is also included. However, there’s very little beyond this.

In particular, Safari does not show page thumbnails. This is probably because Apple encourages you to use Preview, and Safari provides a shortcut to open the current PDF with it.

Google Chrome does present a thumbnail view, alongside standard zoom and layout options. It also allows you to toggle any annotations present in the PDF you’re viewing, although you won’t be able to add your own.

Download: Google Chrome on macOS (Free)

Firefox has an extra few minor features again. It allows you to view the entire PDF horizontally, rather than vertically, should you feel the need. Its thumbnail browser is also the nicest of the three, displaying pages in a useful 2D grid rather than a vertical list.

Download: Mozilla Firefox on macOS (Free)

For the most basic PDF viewing, web browsers now do a very good job as an alternative to a standalone app. You’re likely to choose whichever browser is your default anyway. But Firefox’s feature set impresses us the most. Finally, it’s worth pointing out that these browsers have a rich ecosystem of extensions, and third-party utilities can improve their default PDF viewing experience.

If you want 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 but suffers from a huge problem: it’s difficult to install and set up.

You need to install KDE (using Homebrew on your Mac) and then compile Okular from source. This stuff is not straightforward, so non-techy folks beware.

Considering the availability of the alternatives, it’s probably not worth wasting any effort trying to get Okular up and running. Skim and Foxit Reader are easy to use and beloved by many. Give them a try if you haven’t already.

Author: Joel Lee

Source: Joel Lee.” The 4 Best Free Mac Preview Alternatives for Reading PDFs”. Retrieved From

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