How to convert PDF files to documents you can edit on the Mac

How to convert PDF files to Docs and edit them in Pages, Word and other apps

Have you ever had a PDF file that you wanted to edit? Maybe you want to make changes or use some of the content in your own documents. Here’s how to turn PDFs into Pages and Word documents.

It isn’t every day that you need to convert PDFs to editable documents, but sometimes you are presented with a group of files that need editing and modifying, but all you have are the PDFs. The original documents are no longer available for whatever reason.

PDF files cannot be loaded directly into word processors like Apple Pages and Microsoft Word. Pages just flat out refuses to even try to load them. Even if you could load a PDF document, it would look like nonsense and nothing like the way it should look. To edit PDFs they must be loaded into another app and converted to some other file format first.

Using the security features in PDFs, it is possible to create documents that you simply cannot convert and you cannot extract the contents or even copy any the text. However, providing the PDF is not securely protected, it is possible to convert them to a format you can edit.

Preview a PDF

Double click a PDF file in Finder to open it in the Preview app so you can view it on the screen. Preview has an export option on the File menu, but this only offers various image file formats. Preview will only export each page of the PDF as a JPEG, PNG or other image. That isn’t much use for producing editable text.

Copy the PDF contents

Click in the document in Preview and press Command+A. This is the universal keyboard shortcut for selecting all items. Then press Command+C which is the universal shortcut for coping selected content.

View PDF files in Preview and press Command+A to copy the contents to the clipboard on the Apple Mac

This copies the whole of the PDF file to the Mac’s clipboard (providing there is no security). From there we can paste it into another application.

Start Pages and create a new document based on the Blank template. (Did you know Pages can be accessed online too?)

Paste the PDF contents

Click in the document and then press Command+V to paste in the contents of the clipboard. The PDF document, including all the text and images, is pasted in.

The contents of a PDF file pasted into a Pages document on the Apple Mac

The accuracy with which it is reproduced in Pages depends on the complexity of the PDF. Simple PDFs are pasted almost exactly the like the original.

I tried it with the iOS manual, which is a 30MB PDF and it is quite complicated in places, with text in different sizes and styles and images. The resulting Pages document was not perfect, but it was very close. I was quite impressed with the accuracy. Large parts of it were excellent and the formatting only failed in a small number of sections. (Related: Master the language features of Pages.)

Save the document

Once the PDF contents is in Pages, it can then be saved as a Pages document or exported to other formats, even Word documents.

The file export options in the Pages app on the Apple Mac

If you have Microsoft Word on your Mac, you can paste the PDF copied from Preview directly into it just as with Pages.

I don’t have Word, but my favourite word processor, Bean, worked fine too. Bean did a pretty good job of pasting in the 30MB iOS manual.

Pasting in the contents of a PDF document into the Bean word processor app on the Apple Mac

If you haven’t tried Bean, you should take a look. It is a tiny 7MB free app that loads fast and runs fast, but it has nearly all of the features you need for creating documents. What it doesn’t have you probably won’t miss. macOS broke it, but a recent update enables it to run again.



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