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The Preview app on Mac opens PDF files and image documents, and also provides the easiest way to search PDF files for contextual terms on a Mac. Even better, Preview can search PDF files for matches across multiple pages, and it highlights each match in bright yellow, making it remarkably easy to quickly find matches in the PDF document.
To be clear, we are talking about searching a PDF document for a term that matches, for example if you want to search for “key term” in a specific document. We are not talking about how to search for PDF files on Mac file system, but if you want to quickly find PDF files on Mac, it is best to do that by using Spotlight to find the specific file type on computer, which in this case would be “kind: pdf”, which effectively locates all PDF files on the Mac. You can of course search for a PDF file first and then search for a matching term in that open PDF file using the Preview trick described here.
Search PDF files on Mac in Preview
Preview for Mac can search PDF files for matching text, phrases, words, or other terms. It is extremely fast even when searching large PDF documents. This is how it works:
- Open the PDF file you want to search in Preview *
- Pull down the “Edit” menu and choose “Search” then select the “Search” option from the submenu, or you can use the Command + F keystroke
- Enter the search term you want to search the PDF file for. The search box will appear in the top right corner of the preview window
- Find matches highlighted in yellow, use the ‘next’ and ‘previous’ buttons to go to the next and previous search matches in the PDF
In the screenshot examples here, we search a multi-page product information PDF file for the term for a specific term, and you will see the matches highlighted in the PDF file opened in Preview.
* Preview is the default PDF viewer on MacOS and Mac OS X, but if you installed another app that adopted it by default, you can reset the default PDF viewer back to Preview. guide.
Long-time Mac users will likely notice that the Command + F keystroke can also be used to quickly search for files in the Finder windows (separate from Spotlight), as well as search for matches in Safari and Chrome web browsers, and also in many other apps. It’s a handy keystroke to remember, as it works like the Search shortcut in many Mac apps.
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