How to create read-only PDFs in OS X

When you want to share a document, saving it in Adobe’s portable document format almost always guarantees that the person on the other end will see what you intend. But how do you protect what you share? You can encrypt your PDFs so that others can't copy your text or images, or even print the document. Here's how to do it using only OS X's built-in tools.

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Show Notes

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Show transcript

When you want to share a document, saving it in Adobe’s portable document format almost always guarantees that the person on the other end will see what you intend.

OS X’s print dialog box makes it easy to make a PDF from any document, but can you protect the content you share? This was the question posed by my daughter’s teacher, Frank Mahler. Frank wanted to share a presentation, but didn’t want viewers to be able to copy the text or images, or save their own copy of the file.

Since he couldn’t find any security features in Apple’s Preview, Frank wondered whether the only way to encrypt a PDF was to use Adobe’s $450 Acrobat Pro. Thankfully, the answer is no. This week’s video tip shows how to create a read-only PDF using nothing but OS X’s built-in options.

The features you need to create a read-only PDF are at your fingertips whenever you make a PDF. In any application, select the File menu and then select Print, click the PDF button, and choose Save As PDF. When you create a PDF this way, the bottom of OS X’s Save dialog box includes a button you’ve probably overlooked—Security Options.

Here you can choose to encrypt your document in a number of ways. You can ask for a password when someone opens the PDF. This might be useful if your document is very sensitive and you want only a handful of people to see it.

Next—and here’s the one Frank needed—you can require a password for copying any part of the PDF’s content. That includes the text and images.

Finally, you can require a password before allowing readers to print the document. Whatever you choose, provide a password, verify it, and click OK.

After you save the PDF, the protections kick in. If a viewer tries to copy a selection of text, for example, she’ll either be asked for the password or she just won’t be able to copy.

Likewise, if someone tries to print your protected PDF, he will either be asked for a password or see his PDF reader’s Print option grayed out in the menu. In my testing, PC users only saw the password prompt if they tried to change the security settings.

Be aware that determined users can find utilities on the Internet that will let them override many types of PDF encryption. Still, for most uses, the simple and free PDF protections provided by OS X will do the trick.

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