Mountain Lion: Filling out PDF Forms with Preview

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In Preview under Mountain Lion, it's a snap to fill out forms. The new version analyzes your PDFs and recognizes document elements like checkboxes and radio buttons, so you don't have to do anything special—just open any PDF and start filling it in. To me, that's pretty much worth the cost of 10.8 right there!

To make this work, Preview needs to be in Text Selection mode. So click on the Show Edit Toolbar button at the top of the window.

Then make sure the Text Selection button is toggled on (it'll be blue, as below).

Just like always, if you don't see those buttons, use View > Show Toolbar to unhide your toolbar, or choose View > Customize Toolbar to add the missing buttons back in.

After that, there's really nothing more to know. Preview can detect checkboxes for you to click in…

…or elements like underlining for you to type on.

In my testing, this has worked pretty darned well. I've tried several different forms from the government and other sources (including the one I goofed around and made in Pages above) with no issues. Why do I need a printer again?

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Thanks again for your heads-up Melissa.

Melissa Holt

You’re welcome, BurmaYank! Thanks for reading.


This didn’t work for me. I couldn’t place a check in the check box, and I couldn’t change fonts. Some blanks would fill in with a different font size. For me it was easier to fill out the form and send it in.

Now, to be honest I scanned in a document so it might be different if it came as an official pdf document from the government. Didn’t work on one I scanned in.

Melissa Holt

Hey captgadget,

Are you sure that Preview was in Text Selection mode when you tried? I ask because every single form I’ve used it on worked, including the silly one I made above. Also, your scan is in PDF format, right?



Yes, I was in the Text Selection Mode. I could fill in some of the blanks, but the fonts were of different sizes, but I was not allowed to change them. I finally got the font changed from red to black which was quite a struggle. Then there was check box and I could do nothing with that box. When I clicked on it my computer would beep at me.

Melissa Holt

Well, that’s weird. Sorry you’re having trouble with that—maybe Apple will fix things in 10.8.2. :(


This question is for captgadget, but any help would be appreciated. How did you change the font from red to black? I am filling out an application using Preview. I can type in the text fields, but my text is red. When I go to change it using the Edit Toolbar, the options for different colors are greyed out.  Again, any help would be appreciated. Thanks in advance.

Melissa Holt

Hey fedsrk,

You should be able to use Tools > Show Fonts (the shortcut is Command-T) to invoke the font selection window. After that, you can select some text and apply changes to it. smile

Hope that helps!


Hey Melissa,

Thanks for the quick reply.  I tried your suggestion. Filled the form with some text. Went to Tools > Show Fonts, and selected the Color Text Box. Then, I clicked “Black”, but nothing happened. I tried to click the other colors but nothing changed. The Color Text Box has a green coior showing. But that doesn’t change, when I choose a different color. I’ve seen a few other people online have this problem, but couldn’t find any fixes.

Melissa Holt

I’ve had good luck with deselecting and reselecting the text to be colored when that happens.


Just wanted to follow up and let you know I got it working.  It didn’t work when I went to Tools > Show Font for some reason. I got it to change the color by doing this: I filled in the form with some text, and selected it (just as I did before). But, instead of going to Tools, I clicked the “A” button in the toolbar, which is the “Show Fonts” button. (Not the “A” that is mentioned in this article. It’s the A to the left of that one)  After I did that, the fonts palette came up, and I selected Black for my font color, and it changed. Now, anything else I type is black as well. It’s weird that this didn’t work when I went to Tools, since the “A” is essentially a shortcut to the same thing.

Melissa Holt

Well, that’s freaking weird. Glad to hear you got it working, though, and thanks for letting me know what you did!


fedsrk, & Melissa that’s exactly what I had to do to change the font color. So I see you figured it out. I just wanted to verify.


A little documentation as to best practices from Apple would go a long way.


I fill out the pdf forms-save them, open them on my computer and everything is fine. But -send it to someone else on a PC -nothing!!
Whats up?

Melissa Holt

Hey JoJo,

What program is your PC recipient using to view the PDFs?

If it’s not necessary that your recipient make changes to the files, you could always export them into a different format and see if that helps.



Sadly I am unable to fill any forms, 10.8.2 on my machine does not complete anything.  I followed your instructions and probably tried every conceivable permutation but could not make it work.

Melissa Holt

Hey Canuk,

Are you sure the document you’re using is a PDF? It won’t work with any other formats.

If you’re so inclined, you could send me the form, and I could see if anything seems amiss. To contact me, just click my name below the title of the article, and there’s a form for you to fill out. I’ll reply to you, and then you could send me your problem child. smile


Hillary Laskonis

I realize this thread is pretty old but it’s the first one that comes up when I google the problem I’m having with not being able to fill out PDF forms in preview. Occasionally I was able to- with many frustrated triple-quadruple-way-too-many clicks- fill in one line, if I was lucky. Mostly though I was unable to fill blanks in at all.
The problem seemed to exist solely with PDF documents that I downloaded from Google Chrome. When I downloaded them using the Safari browser (which I never, ever use) I found I was able to fill them in no problem- without the use of those stubborn text boxes.
Also Pro-tip (kidding): I’ve been converting .doc to PDF to be able to fill out forms and I have found that Open Office sometimes retains format better than Pages.

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