For years, there has been a silent but current arms race between Apple’s Preview application and Adobe’s Acrobat Reader for PDF supremacy. The conflict arises when a user needs to open a PDF file on their Mac and work with it. The long-running suggestion for both Mac and Windows users is to download and install Adobe Reader.
Apple’s Preview app has come a long way with its PDF support and for most people it provides all the necessary tools. Adobe Acrobat may be the better app if you regularly work with PDFs. Let’s take a look at the main differences between Apple Preview and Adobe Acrobat for PDF processing.
Apple’s Preview application is free and bundled with macOS. It started out as a small, handy all-round graphics app and has become much more useful over the years.
We used version 11.0 of Preview under macOS Monterey 12.4, which comes with editing tools that allow for fairly basic formatting of PDF files, as mentioned in this Apple support document. Some of the edits you can make to PDFs while using Preview include:
Easily delete or rearrange individual pages in a multi-page PDF file
Merge and add pages
Annotate and highlight specific text
Add shapes and text boxes
Fill Fillable PDF Forms
Sign documents by creating a signature with your mouse, trackpad or stylus
It’s not the perfect editing tool for editing PDFs outside of Adobe Acrobat, but it gets you there most of the time and obviates some of the need to sign up for Adobe’s subscription-based service.
Plus, Preview loads quickly and opens just about any file format you can think of, including some surprising formats like Adobe Illustrator, EPS, FAX, Microsoft PowerPoint, Adobe Photoshop, RAW, and TIFF. Many of the edits you can make to PDFs with Markup can also be done in image files, and there are other image editing tools such as color adjustments (exposure, contrast, saturation sharpness, and more) that can be used.
Preview is an excellent tool to open and export files to almost any file format. For example, you can open a TIFF and convert it to a JPEG. While Preview does not currently open the .webp graphics file format (and neither does Adobe Acrobat), this can be circumvented by removing the “webp” file extension in the filename and changing it to “jpg”, “gif” or whatever file format is best works for you.
Adobe Acrobat Reader DC, Standard DC and Pro DC
Adobe offers three apps for PDFs. Acrobat Reader DC, Acrobat Standard DC, and Acrobat Pro DC. First, here are brief summaries of each app, then we dig deeper.
Acrobat Reader DC: This app is more like Apple Preview, but has a smaller number of features. It allows you to read, comment, sign and print PDFs. It also keeps feedback notations. That is it. It is free.
Acrobat Standard DC: This app had more creation tools than Reader DC, such as editing tools, export tools and more. $13 a month.
Acrobat Pro DC: Even more creation tools than Standard DC, including comparison tools, conversion of scanned documents to PDFs and more. $15 a month.
Although Acrobat Reader DC and Acrobat Standard/Pro DC are associated with Adobe’s subscription programs, there are many good things to say about them. Reader speed has improved in recent versions, and while Reader brings back memories of absolutely having to download and install Adobe’s Creative Cloud software in order to open a critical PDF file, current versions of Reader DC and Acrobat Standard can /Pro DC open and export to a stunning array of file formats, including Microsoft Word documents, text files, HTML files, Corel WordPerfect files, OpenOffice and StarOffice files, 3D files, Autodesk AutoCAD files, Microsoft Project files, and various video formats.
However, Adobe has an annoying subscription request warning no matter which Acrobat DC app you’re using. When you open your first PDF file in Acrobat, and unless you make a decision and click the “Don’t show this message again” box, Acrobat DC will make an effort to make itself your default application for opening and working with PDF files, the follow-up ads promote subscriptions to the Adobe Acrobat DC platform to access editing, formatting, exporting, and security features for your documents. This built-in advertising can drive users crazy.
A subscription to Adobe Acrobat Standard or Pro DC is designed to neatly mark up and edit PDF files and be part of a suite that works well with other Adobe programs such as Illustrator, Lightroom, InDesign, and others. Your subscription fee gives you access to features such as PDF editing, adding comments, text recognition, file conversion to PDF format, and signing features such as requesting signatures, creating parts of a PDF file that can be signed, and creating forms that have become staples of web-based business.
If your rare need for PDF editing tools makes Adobe’s subscription cost seem excessive, there are other apps that allow extensive editing of PDF files and offer a one-time software payment. Skim functions as a free, open-source PDF reader and editor, and Smile Software’s excellent PDFpen software adds a comprehensive set of PDF editing and formatting tools for a one-time fee of $80.
What it comes down to:
If your PDF needs are limited to filling out forms, signing documents, and other basic functions, Preview should suffice and on any Mac. Adobe Acrobat Reader DC is free, but has a smaller feature set than Preview.
But while Apple has adopted and adopted much of the functionality of Adobe Acrobat in recent years, Adobe has made itself an iconic brand name for professionals. If your PDF needs are more production-oriented and frequent, you can use the tools offered in Adobe Acrobat Standard or Pro DC.