1. Computer Skills

How To Perfect A PDF with PDFpen

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Read Time: 6 min
This post is part of a series called Going Paperless.
How to Edit a PDF for Free Anywhere
How to Extract Data from Tables in PDFs with Tabula and OpenRefine

PDF (Portable Document Format) is a pretty standard means of passing information along. As freelancers, we have many opportunities to send and receive PDFs, but as a traditionally read-only medium, it can be a bit difficult to manage edits. This tutorial will walk you through a few of the core features of PDFpen from Smile Software that many freelancers might find most useful, including how to make changes to the text of a PDF and how to add a signature.

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Part 1: Working With Text

Since invoices are such a big part of freelancing, let's begin by make some changes to a recent invoice that I drew up.

Editing and Correcting Text


The first thing I notice after creating my invoice is that some of the wording in my greeting at the bottom is not quite the way I want it. We traditionally think of PDFs as read-only files. But it is possible to make edits to a PDF, and PDFpen makes that easy to do. In order to change the greeting at the bottom, chose the text-select tool from the toolbar and highlight the text in the PDF as you would in any other document.

Text-Select ToolText-Select ToolText-Select Tool
Text-Select Tool

It's important to note that, by default, the text-select tool will revert to the pointer tool after you use it. This can be changed with the "Keep tools selected after use" option in the Preferences menu. When you have selected the text you wish to edit, click "Correct Text". PDFpen will convert the selected text into an editable text box, preserving the formatting of the text as much as possible.

PDFpen will convert the selected text into an editable text box, preserving the formatting of the text as much as possible.

Lastly, you could also edit the deliverables on the invoice if, for example, a quantity or price change occurred. However, your totals and subtotals would need to be edited as well, as your spreadsheet data will not be updated in the PDF.

Tip: The invoice we're using was created in Pages and exported as a PDF. If you have a scanned text document, PDFpen can perform Optical Character Recognition (OCR) so that you can search and edit the text.

Highlighting and Redacting Text

You can use highlighting to call attention to edited text, such as adjusted terms or new invoiced items. Here, I've had to add an item to the invoice since my client last saw it. To make sure he doesn't miss it, I've highlighted it in yellow. Click and hold the Select Text tool and choose the Highlight Text tool. Then simply click and drag across any text you wish to highlight. You can change the highlighting color by clicking on the Highlight button in the toolbar.


You may run into an occasion where some of your text needs to be redacted. Redaction removes sensitive or private information from your PDF. PDFpen can easily redact text in two different ways. Use the text-select tool as illustrated above to highlight the target text and select one of the options from the Format drop down menu.

  • Redact Text - Block: This removes the selected text and places a black bar where the text was removed. This is the standard format for redacting legal documents.
Redact BlockRedact BlockRedact Block
Redact Block
  • Redact Text - Erase: This removes the selected text and leaves the space blank. You could also use this option if you wanted to remove text and leave space to fill something else in. In this case, my client prefers to append his own purchase order number to the invoice (Dr. Decimation runs a tight ship), but I forgot to leave that space blank and generated a number for it instead. By using Redact Text - Erase, I can clear that space up for the client to use later.
Redact EraseRedact EraseRedact Erase
Redact Erase

Part 2: Working With Images

The text is looking pretty solid at this point, but it's not quite ready to send yet. PDFpen offers a number of ways to work with images in PDFs, so lets take a look at how that functionality can help us in the context of our invoice.

The image at the top of the invoice is nice, but it's just a stock image that I'd rather replace with my logo. The existing image can simply be selected and deleted, and a new image can be imported with the Insert tool on the far right side of the toolbar. Select an image file from the Finder pop-up and it will be placed into your PDF.


Dealing with images is, for the most part, the same regardless of whether it is a logo, a photo of a product, or simply decorative images. However, you may need, on occasion, to attach a handwritten signature to a PDF document, such as a contract. PDFpen makes this easy.

Sign Your Document

Among the most common tasks that need to be performed on PDF documents is to sign them. Fortunately, PDFpen makes this very easy to do. You can perform this task with a simple image file from a scanned version of your signature.

The first time you do this in PDFpen, you'll use the Insert Button on the toolbar to import your signature (or just drag-and-drop the image onto the PDFpen). Choose Edit > Make Transparent from the menu to drop out the background of your signature, so that it looks more like a handwritten signature.


Undoubtedly, you'll need to reuse your signature. The Library makes it easy to save the signature with the transparent background. Select your signature in the document, then click the + in the bottom left corner of the Library palette. Next time you need to use your signature, you can just drag it into your document.

Signature LibrarySignature LibrarySignature Library
Signature Library

You can also save your own scribbles or snippets of texts in the Library. A complete library of proofreading symbols is also included.

PDFpen for iPad

PDFpen is also available for the iPad. It has most of the features of PDFpen for the Mac, and it is a very handy means of editing PDFs when you're away from your computer. PDFpen also supports iCloud, which means all you have to do is move your document to iCloud (File -> Move to iCloud) and you can pick up where you left off on your iPad.

PDFpen for iPadPDFpen for iPadPDFpen for iPad
PDFpen for iPad


I've really only begun to scratch the surface of what PDFpen can do. Ideally, you leave here with a bit of knowledge of what PDFs can do with a little extra push. Let us know how you use PDFpen!

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