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PDFPen 5

Adobe’s PDF format has won the electronic paper war—and with vigour. These richly formatted documents are now routinely used by real estate agents, insurance companies, and major corporations to distribute everything from simple flyers to complex legal contracts. Creating a PDF is often extremely easy. In fact, nearly every Mac application has a print-to-PDF option. Yet, once the PDF is created, it’s often hard to make changes to the document or trim it down to a more manageable file size.

PDFpen 5 is a powerful Mac-only tool that helps you edit PDF files. It’s much more affordable than Adobe Acrobat Pro (which costs £430), but provides many of the same features.

For example, with PDFpen, you can quickly view any PDF document and flip pages forward and back, zoom in and out, and view thumbnails of the document. Tools for inserting new text and images, changing existing text, re-sampling embedded images to make the PDF document smaller, drawing shapes on a document, and even adding proofreader marks make PDFpen Pro a powerful and worthwhile tool. Unfortunately, a few hard-to-find options and minor workflow problems make it less than spectacular.

For those who routinely work with PDF files, the PDFpen interface will be a welcome relief. It’s not designed for the PDF newbie; instead, there are several advanced options designed for paging through documents, adding new text or “redacting” portions (which is a legal term for blocking them out) and for inspecting a PDF file to see, for example, who created it and on which date.

These advanced tools help get the job done, but the menu options and palettes can be a bit confusing. For example, to select a portion of text and graphics in a PDF, you can choose the rectangle tool from the Tools menu or click-and hold on the selection icon in the Tools palette. This follows the Mac interface convention, but a floating Tools palette would be much more intuitive.

In terms of workflow, there are some minor quarrels as well. For example, it’s very common to open an existing PDF document, select a portion of it such as a signature, and then paste that portion into another PDF document. PDFpen won’t let you paste the new signature unless you first position the cursor where you want the paste to go. If you hover over the thumbnails, you’ll paste your selection as a new page in the PDF. None of this “hover to paste” functionality is that intuitive.

There are a few other minor glitches. PDFpen lets you edit text in a PDF file. However, when you change text, the corrected text looks similar to—but not exactly the same—as the original text. You can tweak the font but this just means more work for a simple fix. The Pro version lets you create PDF files from just about any Website just with a few clicks, but you can’t convert to PDF Websites with Flash or embedded JavaScript, which isn’t really a fault of PDFpen. Most pages made with HTML work fine, however.

The printing options in PDFpen are also limited—Acrobat lets you configure bleeds and crop marks on a page, or control colour separations. There’s also the simple fact that, for much of the editing chores, you can use the latest version of Adobe Photoshop if you own that already.

Overall, PDFpen does provide just the right mix of features for those who need to edit PDF documents, It’s rather amazing to do a search and replace on a sensitive business term or financial info and have the program instantly block out this information with a black bar. It’s equally amazing to select a specific image and re-sample it to make the PDF file size smaller (and the image a bit fuzzier).

Also, the program runs extremely fast—pages appear almost instantly, and that was on a slightly older MacBook with a 2.4GHz processor and 2GB of RAM.

For those who need to dive into a PDF document and make changes, PDFpen has many advanced features that make editing not only possible, but speedy. We recommend it as a much faster option than the Preview app bundled on every Mac and a much more affordable option than Acrobat Pro. It’s important to know a few of the interfaces and workflow issues, but they are not deal breakers.

PDFPen is available from: Mac App StoreSmile Software
PDFPenPro is available from: Mac App StoreSmile Software

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Reviewed by Matt on 15 June 2011

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