MAC PDF Reader - Looking for Recommendations

I am looking for a new PDF Reader. I have been using PDFPen Pro for a while and have never really liked it but my old version doesn’t seem to work well with Big Sur so I wanted to check around for alternatives before spending more money on PDFPen Pro.

My needs aren’t severe, mostly reading (which Preview does just fine). I need to combine PDFs a lot. I periodically need to add edits (comments, highlights, etc). I don’t usually need to edit text in a PDF and could live without that. OCR would be nice, but if my PDF reader doesn’t do it I could find an alternative for that. I don’t mind subscription-based software as long as the subscription is not ridiculous.

Any recommendations?


PDF Expert seems like a nice candidate. I really struggle with Smile’s UI which doesn’t make sense to me and it’s now become my go-to tool for PDF work that Preview does not handle well.


+1 for PDF Expert (and here are 20 characters)


I like PDF Expert, too.


+1 PDF Expert.

It’s very easy to delete, copy, paste pages, add annotations, and all the other things you’d expect.

Plus, their support is top notch. I always get a prompt response.


I’m a heavy PDF user through work (very often using PDF bundles of thousands of pages).

So far the two best I’ve found are PDF Expert and (I’m afraid) Adobe.

Adobe is feature rich: reliable OCR, great search function (including searching with different variables) page labeling features. It’s the boss. But it’s expensive. My subscription is circa £15 pcm.

PDF Expert is slick. Looks better. Much quicker and doesn’t feel as clunky. Has enough features but (critically for me) doesn’t have OCR (yet). It’s not quite as good for combining documents but it can be done a number of ways.

I use both for different things. It comes down to what you want to spend and what you want it to do.

Postscript: I’ve heard a rumour that OCR is on the way for PDFE, but I’ve not seen it yet and can’t speak to its efficacy.

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OCR for PDFE would be a dream come true.


PDF expert. I use it also on iPad. But I am on the Mac all the time, and copy or clip bits from PDF’s into adjacent Word document, so sometimes it is just best to review these documents on the Mac. Preview is ok, but PDF expert is nicer to use.

It lacks a few things: OCR ( I move huge pdfs into devonthink for OCR- but then pull them out to read and annotate in PDF expert. )

Also, you can make a nice outline (or table of contents) in PDF expert but then you cannot print out that outline! I have used PDF outliner to do this.

I tried adobe online subscription but it was clunky, not intuitive, and hard to unsubscribe… If you have big files and OCR them, it is easy to search your PDF document in PDF expert for Mac.

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Same. PDFPen Pro has a tired interface and is greatly overpriced.

PDF Expert is amazing.


I’m not having any problems with PDFPen Pro–currently 12.2.3) with the latest Apple OS (Big Sur + all updates). So I can’t comment there.

One big difference that affects me is PDFPen Pro has more precise control over downsizing images in PDF when optimising. PFD Export for their “Reduce File Size” with descriptive words “Lossless, High, Medium, Low”.

If that makes a difference for you, best to check it out.

Agree that PDF Expert “looks” prettier, or better said–looks like all the other Mac Apps nowadays. Not something I put a lot of priority on, but I understand it’s important to some.

I was lucky enough to get PDF Expert prior to it changing business models, and then at what I think may be a discount. It has served me very well over the years, but lacks features like page renumbering and Roman-Numeral numbering for pre-content pages.
Recently I needed to purchase Adobe CC for my design courses– which includes Acrobat DC. I can vouch that Acrobat’s OCR support is amazing, blowing the open source CLI tool I was using out of the water. The only issue here is that Adobe’s interface for DC is worse than PDF Expert, which I think is saying something.

Bottom line: great PDF utilities cost more than they used to at MSRP. I have investigated the new PDF Pen but don’t believe it’s feature set to be enough to justify the expense of abandoning the already decent PDF Expert. If I was doing it again and didn’t have Adobe already, I’d seriously consider Pen. (Which is what your looking to switch from, sigh.)

One thing to look for is the amazing selection of iPadOS PDF and document review tools being ported. They won’t be as feature rich for quite some time, if ever, compared to a PDF editor, but they are amazing tools regardless.
Good luck!

I am storing, and highlighting my PDFs on DEVONthink pro. Am I missing something? Everybody seems to rave about PDF Expert!

If your main use-case is reading and commenting/highlighting - particularly research articles - then I can vouch for Highlights as a fantastic app. I use it in conjunction with DEVONthink on my Mac and on the iPad. I can read and highlight documents right from my DEVONthink database on my iPad which keeps everything in one spot. The highlights and comments can be easily exported in a number of formats (markdown, textbundle, html, PDF) and to a variety of apps right from the share menu. It’s a reasonable subscription fee of $25 a year for the pro features including OCR.

As much mentioned in replies above, PDF Expert has no competitor when it comes to rendering speed. (There is a nice and technical review from Hoakley Howard.) Considering your main use case is consuming rather than editing, PDF Expert does constitute a obvious choice. However, it seems that they are changing the pricing model of the upcoming version 3 to a subscription model, and the premium they are charging is apparently for editing features that may not of interest to you. Therefore, you may want to investigate how long they will offer the current perpetual license and keep honor it after the pricing change.

Another choice is PDF Viewer by PSPDFKit GmbH. It has been a good candidate on iOS for years, and has recently released a Mac version. As a Catalyst app, it feels less native than PDF Expert and Preview, but snappy and well-designed nonetheless. It also offers a subscription, but basic viewing features keep free.

I’ll appreciate it to know if there’re other choices.

Until you try Skim. For the tasks described by OP (“mostly reading…”) nothing beats the speed of Skim.

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Actually Preview will meet all of your requirements.


Oddly enough, I just received an email from Smile. They have released PDFpen Pro 13 that has a new interface. It’s probably too new for anyone to have an opinion on it yet but I was curious if that would supplant PDF Expert as the preferred reader/editor.

I just bought PDFPen 12 last December, and they want me to pay again 5 months later. I am a bit sick of the annual paid updates for software that isn’t all that great. I don’t care how good their new interface is, I am done.

I wouldn’t even mind so much, but it you don’t do the paid upgrade, about once a month it tries to get you to run a software update, and then if you do so without thinking, it will update and then tell you that you need to pay to keep using it. Then you have to uninstall, reinstall the old version, and repeat.

Does PDF Expert do annual paid updates as well?


I think it’s worse, pdf pen you don’t have to have the upgrade.
PDF Expert is full on subscription.

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You can disable “check for updates” for PDFPen in Preferences → Update.

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