PDFpen: The Swiss Army Knife for editing PDF files


Smile Software’s PDFpen for Mac is a powerful application for editing PDF files. It allows you to sign and fill forms, correct typos, apply Optical Character Recognition (OCR), redact sensitive information or convert PDF into Word documents.

How I use PDFpen

I stumbled across PDFpen when I was working on an Automator script to redact my Social Security Number (SSN) and other sensitive information from PDF files I have stored in Dropbox or iCloud Drive. I also use PDFpen to apply encryption to those files.

Additionally, I use PDFpen daily as part of my digital data workflow. If you have read my Automating file management and archival with Hazel article, you know that I scan each and every receipt, invoice and statement I receive and file it automatically using Hazel.

Using PDFpen to apply OCR

Most of my Hazel rules look for certain keywords inside of the scanned PDF documents to identify what the document is about. For Hazel to do that, PDFpen first applies OCR to the document and thus makes its contents read- and searchable.

The cool thing about PDFpen is that you don’t need Hazel or AppleScript to do that. All it takes for PDFpen to do an OCR analysis is to open the PDF document and double-click on any word inside the document. Alternatively, you can use the Edit –> OCR Page… menu command. PDFpen then immediately analyzes the document and adds a so-called OCR layer.

Tipp: When saving an email or file as PDF (via File –> Print –> PDF command) on a Mac, OCR is automatically applied by macOS.

In the screenshot below, I applied OCR to an image file (JPG) and asked PDFpen to show me the OCR layer, or the text it recognized, via View –> OCR Layer (or Command + Shift + O). Once a document has an OCR layer, you can search for its contents using Spotlight, which makes it much easier to find stuff when you don’t recall the file name or its storage location.

Show OCR Layer in PDFpen
Show OCR Layer in PDFpen

PDFpen vs. Adobe Acrobat

I used to work with Adobe Acrobat in the past, and while Acrobat may offer some additional features, that I don’t need, it’s also more expensive and bloated.

Adobe Acrobat Standard DC costs currently $12.99 / month with an annual commitment. That’s $155.88 per year. PDFpen, on the other hand, has a one-time license fee of $74.95. Both Smile Software and Adobe also offer Pro versions of their apps, which offer additional features. A mobile version for iOS is available as well via the App Store.


PDFpen is a very powerful, yet relatively inexpensive application for editing and manipulating PDF files. I use it every day, albeit as part of my automated workflows and I rarely launch PDFpen manually. You can purchase PDFpen directly from Smile Software or the App Store.

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