Review: PDFpen and PDFpen Pro

Manipulate, edit, add graphics and text to PDF files. (August 12th, 2008)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: SmileOnMyMac,LLC

Price: $49.95 and $94.95

The Good

  • Easy to use. Excellent documentation. Reasonably priced. Downloadable demo. Forms travel well via email. Excellent technical support.

The Bad

  • Upgrade to PDFpen Pro expensive. There are minor issues with Adobe Acrobat. Some buttons look at bit clunky.

Portable Document Format (PDF) files are very popular now that Apple makes creating them so easy. We see many downloadable PDF documents available on the Internet. As a researcher, I find many books, documents, web links, images, and records available as PDF files, but I don't always need the entire document. I often want to save a range of pages or combine a number of pages from several documents into one PDF. I may need to add text and notes or replace and edit text and links from the original document. I frequently want to copy blocks of type into the document with which I am working. PDFpen solves all of these potential needs for me.

Many times a company wants to pass a draft around the office to get contributions from several people or departments. They may want to proof read, make comments, add or subtract text, and spell check or make word changes to a draft. If you need to create an editable form to print, FAX, or email, PDFpen offers those solutions too.


PDFpen has a number of useful features useful for everyone. First, PDFpen is a PDF viewer that lets you view individual pages, left and right pages, or page thumbnails in each document. Second, you can delete pages from your document or combine pages from multiple PDFs with a simple drag. Third, you can easily reorder pages. The search feature, located in the drawer on the right side or choose Find from the Edit menu, searches your document as it is updated, including added pages.

PDFpen screen

Facing Pages View - Added Pages Selected

Select and Edit Tools

Most of the tool options exist in menus in the toolbar, although you can choose the actual Tool from the Tools menu. Tools include the Selection tool, Text tool, Pencil tool, and if you have PDF Pen Pro a fourth tool that lets you add form fields appears.

If a PDF has more than one text column, the Select tool selects text to the bottom of one column and then goes to the top of the next column, unlike Preview, which selects text across two columns at once. The rectangle tool can select a portion of a page or a graphic. When you double-click on a graphic it opens in a separate window. In this window, you can resize or crop the image. You can also copy text from a document in another application or from another PDF into your PDFpen created document.

PDFpen screen

Text and Pencil Tool Selections

The text tools include select text, add comments, drag text from other documents, make live hyperlinks to specific web sites, and a Page Linking tool to link to other pages in your PDF. When you highlight a live link or email address, PDFpen takes you to the site or opens your email program. When you insert text or graphics into your page, they are placed in the center. You then drag the image or text to the area you want it.

PDFpen Features

Edited Document

The Pencil tool lets you draw and scribble or place one of several geometric shapes on your page. These create an opportunity for others to make comments, draw arrows, circle text, and underscore misspelled words. There is also a Library palette in which you can store scribbles and shapes, or choose editing symbols to apply in various colors; a feature not available other software.

PDFpen Proofing Marks

Proofreading Marks Library

PDFpen will not change text on a scanned page, but you can scribble comments over the text or highlight and circle sections of the document. If a document is password protected, PDFpen does not let you go beyond the security provisions and edit the PDF. If you cannot alter a PDF, open it in Adobe Reader and check the Security Properties in the Document menu to see if you are prohibited from making changes. You cannot unlock a PDF unless you have the password, but PDFpen prompts you for the password when needed. You can also add your own password in the Save As dialog, plus choose to compress images.

PDFpen Pro

This program comes in two versions, PDFpen and PDFpen Pro. The difference is that the Pro version also lets you create interactive forms. PDFpen Pro lets you take a form created in another program or something you have downloaded from the Internet, such as a tax form, and make it interactive. You can't take a blank page and design a form. The Pro version gives you the opportunity to add blank text fields and check, or radio boxes.

I created a form in a word processor, saved it as a PDF, and opened it in PDFpen Pro. I added text, radio, and check boxes and saved it. When I opened the altered PDF with Adobe Reader, I could fill out the form and click on the boxes and print the new document, but not save it. You can save in Preview or PDFpen though. In Acrobat Professional, you can work the form and save it, but because it has no submit button, you can't use the "Distribute Form" option.

PDFpen screen

Document With PDFpen Added Elements


This is a very easy program to use. The help menu document is decent, but introductory movies on the site are excellent. I found PDFpen better than other programs that convert PDFs to MS Word or other programs.

I opened and view numbers of PDF documents of various sizes with no problems. I could revise text, add comments and graphics, or combine whole pages of other PDF files. The ability to add and copy text went smoothly. I combined several PDFs into one document and then reordered them easily. Version 3.5, released last month, squashes a few minor annoyance bugs when dealing with non-standard PDFs and using the Correct Text tool.

by Rick Curran and ilene Hoffman


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