Review: SmileOnMyMac PDFpen

PDFpen update adds a strong OCR and new interface. (October 14th, 2009)

PDFpen by SmileOnMyMac is great if you need to edit PDFs, but donít want to bear the expense of Adobe Acrobat. You can add, edit, or highlight text, add a signature or notes, images, and drawings, such as lines, circles, and arrows, to any PDF document quickly and easily.

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Product Manufacturer: SmileOnMyMac, LLC

Price: $49.95 US; Upgrade $25

The Good

  • Optical Character Recognition.
    Highlight PDF.
    Import MS Word documents.
    Updated interface.
    No bugs found.

The Bad

  • Text/Markup/Select tool reverts to Select after you use it, forcing you to choose the mode repeatedly when doing multiple operations.

In a world where most forms that you download are PDF files, the ability to fill out and sign them on your computer is a wonderful thing. For example, I need to submit a W-9 for a job I just took. The company emailed me a W-9 PDF and I asked me to fill it out, sign it, and FAX it back. Fax? Not so fast, I said to myself! I just launched PDFpen, added the required text, scanned in a copy of my signature, and pasted it onto the document. The completed and signed PDF was on its way back to the office manager via email in minutes!

PDFpen by SmileOnMyMac is great for anyone who needs to edit PDFs, but requires more powerful tools than those offered in Preview but doesn't need all the features, and the expense, of Adobe Acrobat. With PDFpen you can add, edit, or highlight text, add a signature or notes, images, and drawings, such as lines, circles, and arrows, to any PDF document. PDFpen also allows you to add, delete, and reorder pages or combine and split multi-page PDFs. It also lets you open, fill out, and then save PDF forms. The new version also lets you pull editable text out of any scanned document.

This PDFpen update (version 4.5) adds a strong Optical Character Recognition (OCR) engine, an improved user interface, and the ability to import Microsoft Word documents. You can also now underline or strike through text, highlight text with color, and save your work as a TIFF.

PDFpen Tools

The easily accessible Selection, Text and Pencil Tools provide a wide array of editing capabilities, from the Tools menu. For example, with the Selection tool, you can select the text in a PDF that has two columns and it selects text to the bottom of one column and then jumps to the top of the next column instead of selecting text all the way across the two columns at once. The rectangle tool enables you to select a portion of a page or a graphic. When you double-click on a graphic, it opens in a separate window where you can resize or crop the image.

 OCR Scanning e

Select Columns

The Pencil tool lets you draw and scribble or place one of several geometric shapes on your page. This makes it easy for others to make comments, draw arrows, circle text, and point out mistakes. There is also a Library palette, in which you can store scribbles and shapes, or choose editing symbols to apply in various colors. I use it to store my signature for use in any forms I need to sign in the future.

 OCR Scanning e

Marked Up Text Sample from SmileOnMyMac

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.

New Feature - Highlight

Highlighting is a new feature and it works exactly as you'd expect. You choose the highlight tool from the toolbar, select a color from the dropdown menu or use the default yellow, and select the text, which is then covered in a semi-transparent colored highlight. You can imagine how useful highlighting may be when you send PDFs to coworkers or friends.

 OCR Scanning e

Highlighted Text

New Feature - Optical Character Recognition

OCR is the most exciting new feature. It recognizes text in a scanned document and then converts it to editable text. When you open a scanned document PDFpen pops up a window asking if you want to do an OCR scan on all pages of the document or a single page. After you scan a document, you simply choose the TextSelection tool from the toolbar and highlight the text. If it is recognized as text, it highlights in blue. After you select the text you want, click the Edit Text tool and the text changes from a picture to editable text.

 OCR Scanning

OCR Scanning

To test the character recognition, I used a scan of an old invoice. I thought the irregular typeset and the odd spacing between the letters might trip up the OCR, but PDFpen recognized 85% of the text as seen in the photo below. By comparison, Adobe Acrobat CS4 recognized 100% of the text. Next, I scanned a user manual with very clear text and all of it was recognized. I was impressed with the way PDFpen performed in general. If you use Mac OS X 10.6, Snow Leopard, you can scan directly into PDFpen from the Image Capture application or from TWAIN compliant scanners.

PDFpen interface

Recognize Scanned Text

The redesigned user interface and the new layout are much cleaner and easier to navigate than previous versions. A newer OS X Leopard look has replaced the early OS X Aqua look and feel, with sleeker buttons and menus. The Inspector palette gives you more precise control of Object Properties, Alignment, Text, and Document Information.

PDFpen interface

Interface with Open Tools

New Feature - Save As TIFF

Finally, the update adds the ability to save your file as a TIFF in Print, Fax, and Web resolutions. You also can turn on security and add a password to protect the contents from unauthorized prying eyes.


The addition of this newest batch of features makes PDFpen a full-fledged PDF editing tool that will likely suit your needs as well as Adobe Acrobat or any of the other PDF editing applications available. It's priced affordably, and I recommend PDFpen to anyone who frequently needs to edit PDF documents.

Editor's note: SmileOnMyMac wrote to tell us that you can lock the text tool when you double-click on it. Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by Patrick Clark


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