PDF without Adobe: 11 PDFpenPro 10

PDFpenPro 10 is the fuller-featured version of the two PDF apps offered by SmileOnMyMac in the Mac App Store, costing around £/$/€ 125. This article looks briefly at its main features and limitations, running version 10.2.1 on macOS Mojave 10.14.3.


PDFpenPro is designed primarily as a PDF editor, with a friendly modern interface based on highly-configurable toolbars. Options for viewing documents aren’t as dynamically flexible as those in PDF Expert, but are well-covered as global settings in its preferences.


Annotation tools include a marvellous user-extensible library of marks, which includes a full set of traditional editing marks. Those working with publishers who still expect these to be used should be delighted with them.

Its support for signatures is also more extensive, as you can install Mac-compatible digital signatures which can then be used to sign its documents. The snag here is that they need to be Mac-compatible: SmileOnMyMac advises that only DigiCert and GlobalSign seem to meet that at present, although this is worth checking with potential providers before investing in their product.

You can, for what it’s worth, self-sign using your own certificate generated by the macOS Certificate Assistant. Although that isn’t traceable back to a Certificate Authority, it should provide reasonable assurance of the integrity of the protected PDF. PDFpenPro is more signature-aware, for example noticing that a certificate in a test file had a trust issue.

Unfortunately, PDFpenPro doesn’t have a command to strip out all annotations. If you’re preparing a long document for publication, you’ll still need to work through it page by page removing them manually. However, as the app has good scripting support, this is something which might readily be automated in AppleScript.


Editing is definitely PDFpenPro’s great strength. At first, I found its editing tools a little idiosyncratic, but after some use they feel more comfortable. One feature that I particularly like is its attention to dimensions: shown above when working on an embedded image, and below in its special Ruler tool, which tells you the distance between any two points on a page. Open it up with the Shift key held, and it will lock to run vertically or horizontally.


The Shift key modifier, though, doesn’t work when resizing images to retain their proportions, which I found frustrating.

PDFpenPro includes the two standard redaction tools, to black out or to erase passages in a PDF. However, these only work for text: I couldn’t find any means of redacting an image, other than by simply removing that image from the document.

The effects of redaction seem to be applied to the data files which are saved routinely, but if you want to feel safer, you can export the document in flattened PDF form. This provides the most comprehesive removal of redacted content: in a test file in which I had redacted the whole of the text and saved flattened, the resulting file was completely gutted of content, leaving not a trace of what had been removed. Other than exporting flattened, there is no tool for cleaning extraneous content in a PDF file.

PDFpenPro adopts the ‘modern’ Mac conventions with respect to file saving, unless you disable that in its preferences: autosave and standard access to saved versions through the macOS version system are its default. This proved invaluable during editing, particularly when making substantial changes to a document, as the ultimate undo.

Not only does PDFpenPro support form filling, but it also makes form creation a straightforward task. The creation and maintenance of tables of contents are also straightforward. JavaScript support is another option controlled in its preferences.

Unusually, PDFpenPro handles its own conversion of Word .doc and .docx documents to PDF, without having to open them in Microsoft Word. This means that users who don’t have Word installed can still import its native documents. The app also imports HTML direct from websites, and has built-in optical character recognition (OCR) for scanned documents.


Opening any PDF which contains purely images will trigger it to ask if you want to perform OCR on that document. However, as with all OCR, the results aren’t always as good as you’d wish for, and you may well end up having to spend a long time unscrambling the text afterwards. At least you’ve got excellent editing tools to do this.


PDFpenPro doesn’t convert other common formats, such as RTF or plain text, to PDF, nor can it render a raw PostScript file into PDF in the way that Preview can.

Export is another of this app’s great strengths. Any PDF document can be exported to a range of Microsoft Office and other formats, including PDF/A-1b, probably the most popular and important of the archival variants of PDF. The latter is performed via Nuance OmniPage Cloud services, which entails remote conversion. My test file converted quickly, and according to Adobe Acrobat Pro does comply fully with the PDF/A-1b requirements.


Copying text from a PDF document passes it in Rich Text format, as well as can be extracted from the source. When pasted into a suitable app, this helps carry over some useful styling. Unfortunately, the default colour used for this text isn’t bimodal, so may appear black on grey when in Dark Mode. PDFpenPro doesn’t attempt to darken the PDF content, but otherwise has full Dark Mode support for Mojave.


PDFpenPro isn’t the right tool, though, if you have to work with variant standards. It does display a warning when you open a document in PDF/A format, which is good, but lets the user override protection of the original if they want.


Its performance on PDF/X-4 tests is almost identical to that of PDF Expert, and other apps using the Quartz engine, with plenty of failures. There’s no support for, or indication of, flowing and tagging in PDF/UA either. PDF documents which it creates are shown as being encoded using the built-in Quartz engine, rather than any alternative.


PDFpenPro didn’t cope so well with three damaged test files: two of the three caused immediate crashes when trying to open them, which isn’t good. Help, delivered in the mandatory PDF Help book, is extensive without having to access any remote source.

PDFpenPro is an excellent PDF editor which should meet the needs of anyone who doesn’t work with the specialist variants of PDF/A, PDF/X or PDF/UA. I wouldn’t choose it as my regular PDF reader, although if you need good editing support and can only buy one app, you won’t be disappointed when using it as a reader. At significantly less than the cost of your first year’s use of Adobe Acrobat Pro, it has to be first choice for those whose editing needs aren’t met by PDF Expert. It’s an impressive working tool and excellent value.