Changing the Default PDF Viewer on a Mac

This tip is for everyone out there that uses their Mac to view, edit and create PDFs. The default PDF viewer on a Mac is a built-in application called "Preview". Preview is great for just viewing PDFs, but as soon as you want to do anything beyond quickly viewing the PDF, Preview starts to fall short. I use a Mac at work and one of the forms that I fill out for travel requires me to use Adobe Reader in order to complete and submit the form. I absolutely MUST use Adobe Reader for this task, but unfortunately when you install Adobe Reader it makes it your default PDF application. This mean that anytime you open up a PDF document on your Mac it is going to use Adobe Reader to do it. Adobe Reader is extremely sluggish when reading a large stutters when scrolling through the document. I spend a lot of time at work with PDFs so having a sluggish PDF application is not acceptable. How did I fix this?


I use an app called PDFpen 6 on the Mac for most of my work with PDFs. In fact, I like this application so much that last year when Smile was running a sale on their applications I went ahead and bought PDFpen Pro 6 (check out their website for the differences between the standard version and the Pro version). Just the other day I used one of the "Pro" feature from PDFpen Pro 6 to save me a bunch of time. Our Home Owner's Association (HOA) needed to update a PDF form and we only had the form in PDF. PDFpen Pro 6 has a tool that takes an existing PDF and in just a few seconds converts the PDF over to a Microsoft Word document. I then made the modifications in Microsoft Word and converted back to PDF and I was done. Without this application I would have needed to start over and re-create the form by hand. The other thing I really like about the PDFpen line of applications is that they have iOS versions of the app:

The PDFpen applications will sync all of your PDF documents in iCloud so they are available on all of your devices and the PDFpen Scan+ application for iOS allows you to take a picture of something and very quickly turn it into a PDF...right from your iOS device, no computer needed! PDFpen Scan+ even does OCR (Optical Character Recognition), which if you are into going "paperless" is a very important thing. For more information about how I use these apps both at work and at home read my post on going paperless.

Switching Default PDF Applications

So here is how you change the Mac default PDF application from "Preview" to something else:

  1. Use the Finder application on your Mac and find a PDF document
  2. Press the "control" key on your keyboard and click on the PDF document
  3. A window will pop up. Select "Get Info"
  4. Within the "Get Info" window there is field called "Open with". Choose the PDF application you wish to use as your default PDF app from that list.
  5. After you have selected the PDF app from the dropdown list now press the "Change All" button directly under the dropdown list. This will make all PDF documents on your Mac open with the application you just chose instead of Preview (the built-in default Mac PDF application).

One last thing. Like I said earlier, there is one instance at work when I absolutely MUST use Adobe Reader to open and edit a PDF. For that one case since I have setup my Mac at work to use PDFpen Pro 6 for all my PDFs I must do something special to open a PDF in another application. Here is how to do this:

  1. Use the Finder application on your Mac and find the PDF document that you want to open in a PDF application other than your default application
    1. Press the "control" key on your keyboard and click on the PDF document
    2. Select the "Open With" option and it will present you with a list of other PDF applications installed on your Mac.
    3. Select the other PDF applicaiton you want to use to open the PDF (in my case it is Adobe Reader)

So that is how I get around using the very sluggish Adobe Reader application at work (except for when I absolutely must use it). Hope this is helpuful...

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.