Using Apple’s Preview as an image editor

Recently I was looking for a lightweight image editor. After auditioning great candidates like Acorn and Pixelmator, I realized that Apple’s own Preview offers nearly everything I need. Here’s why and how I’m using Apple’s built-in PDF file viewer.

Nearly every image I post to TUAW must be resized and/or cropped. Often I’ve got to change the file type as well. Frankly, those three functions represent the extent of my image editing needs. I realize that I’m in the minority on this, but surely there are others.

I’ve got Photoshop CS3 on my MacBook Pro, but it’s too powerful a tool for my modest needs. “Like swatting a fly with a Buick,” as my father would say. For years I used ImageWell from Xtralean Software. It’s now at version 3.7.6, and quite different than the old app I used to love. A simple crop, resize and rename isn’t so simple anymore.

Fortunately, Preview makes these tasks a breeze. Here’s how to perform each.


From the Tools menu, select Adjust Size. A slip appears with several options. You can apply a set of pre-determined dimensions to your image, including (in pixels):

  • 320 x 240
  • 640 x 480
  • 800 x 600
  • 1024 x 768
  • 1280 x 1024
  • 1280 x 720
  • 1920 x 1080

You can also create custom dimensions across pixels, percent, inches, cm, mm or points. Finally, you can change the resolution (pixels/inch or pixels/cm), scale proportionally and resample the image.


Click the Select tool in the toolbar and choose Rectangular Selection. The cursor turns into crosshairs. Click and drag to highlight the section you’d like to crop. Finally, select Crop from the tools menu (or hit Command-K).

There are many other options in that Select tool, including an elliptical selection tool, a lasso and a “smart lasso.”

Change file type

From the Save As slip, you can convert your image into any of the following formats:

  • GIF
  • ICNS
  • JPEG
  • JPEG-2000
  • Microsoft BMP
  • Microsoft Icon
  • OpenEXR
  • PDF
  • Photoshop
  • PICT
  • PNG
  • SGI
  • TGA
  • TIFF

At TUAW, I typically use JPG. A slider lets you adjust the final quality or compression (where appropriate) and displays the resulting image’s size.

There’s a lot more to this great piece of software. For example, you can annotate a PDF file by selecting Annotate from the Tools menu or clicking the Annotate toolbar item. This will let you add shapes, text and Sticky Note-like notes.

The color adjustment menu is extremely useful. Use it to adjust an image’s exposure, contrast, saturation, temperature, tint and sharpness, or add sepia.

Finally, the Inspector provides a wealth of information at a glance, like creation and modification dates, DPI, dimensions, resolution and more.

Of course, it can’t compare to the apps I mentioned at the beginning of this post. You can’t work in layers, for example. But don’t dismiss Preview as a mere PDF reader. It’s one of the many useful tools that comes with every Mac. With a little exploration, you’ll find that it’s more powerful than you thought, and maybe all you need.