How to access Safari’s hidden PDF features on the Apple Mac

Use Safari to view PDF documents on the Apple Mac and access hidden features like two-page view, dictionary definitions and more

How do you read PDF files on the Mac? Do you use the Preview app? It is the obvious choice, but there is an alternative that in some ways better. Use Safari’s secret PDF viewing features!

There are two ways to load a PDF file into Safari and you can either click a link on a web page or drag a PDF file from a Finder window and drop it on Safari’s address box. The PDF file is opened for viewing. (Did you know you can convert PDFs to editable documents?)

View PDF documents using Safari on the Apple Mac

Why not just use Preview? You could, but Safari has some nice features and you can read the PDF online without downloading it and then opening it in Preview. One click in Safari and the PDF can be viewed in the browser.

Resize the view

When the PDF is opened, it displays the first page and the width is set to the width of the browser window. If you would prefer to zoom in or out, drag the left or right window border and then click the reload button at the right hand side of the address box.

The page zooms in or out in order to fit the Safari window width.

You can also adjust the zoom level by holding down the Command key and pressing the + and - keys to zoom in and out. The View menu can be used too, and if you mouse over the centre of the page near the bottom, a toolbar appears with + and - buttons.

Two finger pinch and spread on the trackpad works too. Zoom in and out like you would on the iPhone or iPad.

View one or two pages at a time

Ctrl+click (right click) in an empty space in the page and a really useful menu appears. The following options are available:

The context menu displayed when a PDF is right clicked in Safari on the Apple Mac

  • Single Page
  • Single page Continuous
  • Two Pages
  • Two Pages Continuous

Single and Two Pages are not very useful because they show one page or two side by side. That is fine for one or two page documents, but how do you see the other pages? You must right click and select Next Page, which is a bit cumbersome.

Select one of the Continuous options, such as Two Pages Continuous. This shows two pages side by side just like a book and you can scroll down to read the next two pages, and the next.

View two pages side by side when viewing PDF documents in Safari on the Apple Mac

Use the zoom controls to make two pages fit the Safari window width and it is a great way to read multi-page PDFs.

Search for words and phrases

Safari has more search options than Preview. Highlight a word or phrase in the PDF document and Ctrl+click it in Safari. There are three search options:

  • Search with Spotlight
  • Search with Google
  • Look up in Dictionary

The first option is not available in Preview and it is a useful way to get more information or to find related apps and documents on the Mac’s disk.

Search with Google works as expected.

Look up dictionary definitions of words and phrases in PDF documents in Safari on the Apple Mac

Look up in Dictionary is also available in Preview, but it is called just Look Up. It displays definitions of words and phrases and it provides links to more information. When you are not sure of a technical term, just double click it, Ctrl+click it and select Look up in Dictionary to see what it means.

Related: Top Safari tips for better browsing



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