How to Save and Encrypt Documents on Mac

PDF’s are the industry standard for sending un-editable (or a least limited editing) files to people.  They can be used standards documents, forms to be filled out, or documents to be signed and sent back to people.  Typically, reading has been free, but creating PDF’s required a paid app like Adobe Acrobat.  Mac OS not only has a built-in way to create PDF’s from any document or picture on your Mac, but also a way to make them encrypted.  In this post, we’ll show you how to do just that.


The primary method to create PDF’s on Mac is the built in Print-to-PDF function, which is really easy to use.  You’re going to start by opening the document or picture you want to convert, then go to the print menu in that app, as if you were actually going to print the document or picture.  You normally get to this by hitting “Command” and “P” on the keyboard at the same time, or by going up to the menubar and hitting “File” the “Print”.  This will bring up Mac’s Print system dialog box.  NOTE: some apps, such as Google’s Chrome browser, have their own custom print menu.  You can typically scroll down and select the “Print using system dialog” option in these situations.

A picture of the Mac's built in system dialog box for printing. There is a red arrow pointing to the PDF button at the bottom left corner of the window.
Mac’s built-in system dialog. Note the red arrow pointing to the PDF option.

When the window pops up, you should see a dropdown button labeled “PDF”.  Hit this button, and select “Save as PDF”.

A picture of the PDF dropdown menu when clicked.
Save as PDF option

This will open up a new menu.  In this menu you can give your PDF a name, where you want to save it, as well as any metadata such as the author of the PDF, any accompanying tags, etc.  If you don’t need to encrypt this document, then you can hit the “Save” button to create the PDF document.  If you want to add some extra security and encryption to your document, then read onto the next section.

Encrypting Before Creating:

If you need to encrypt your documents, you’ll want to do it before you hit the Save button.  Follow the directions as stated above and stop once you get to the naming section.  You’ll notice as the bottom of the Save menu is a button labeled “Security Options”. Click this to get to your encryption options.

The Save menu where you name your PDF document and provide metadata. A red arrow points to the Security Options menu
Security Options in the Save menu

A new window will open up titled “PDF Security Options” and will have a series of items.  The first item labeled “Require password to open a document” with 2 password boxes.  Checking this box and giving the document will encrypt it upon saving.  Anyone who receives the document will need to know the password to view the document. This password should be as long and complicated as reasonably possible, as this will make the encryption harder to break. Use a password generator and storage tool like LastPass or 1Password.

Below it will be 2 other checkboxes with another pair of password boxes.  The first checkbox is labeled “Require password to copy text, image, and other content”, and the second is labeled “Require password to print document”.  These may be more useful if you’re even more concerned about the document getting into the wrong hands.  The more security conscious you’re needing to be, the more you should think about checking these options.

The PDF Security options box. 1 option for encryption the document with a password, and 2 other check boxes limiting the ability to copy info out of the PDF and limiting printing of the documents, both using another password.
PDF Security Options Menu



NOTE: if you check these boxes they’ll need a different password than the one used to encrypt the document, meaning you’ll need 2 passwords:  1 to open the document, and a second to either print or copy info out of your PDF.

Once you have selected the boxes you need and given then long passwords with a mix of letters, numbers, and symbols, then you can hit the “OK” button.  You’ll be sent back to the Save menu.  Hit the “Save” button.  The PDF may take a little longer to create, but will now be encrypted once created.  You can tell this pretty quickly; in Finder the document’s icon will have a lock symbol on it in place of the typical small preview of the document.

How Secure is it?

If you use this method to encrypt your PDFs, the document will be encrypted with a 128-bit RC4 cipher.  This is generally good for private use and files, but it is not the most secure method of encryption.  The RC4 has been attacked and broken before, but this is typically in the use of web encryption, such as whether a bank’s website should use it.  Most of these studies haven’t been on documents encrypted using this format.  To get the best results, you should use a long password, at least 12 characters in length, that uses a good mix of letter, numbers, and symbols. Again a password generator and manager tool like LastPass or 1Password would be advised here.

If you’re just needing to send a few files securely for private use, then this should be fine.  If you’re working in an industry that has specific standards for file encryption, such as the finance or health sector, this may not be the best tool.  You should check your corporate policies and your local laws. If you’re looking for better ways to encrypt PDFs, you can use alternatives like Smile Software’s PDFPen Pro which uses 256-bit AES encryption, which is must stronger.  You can also store them in an encrypted disk image, which we’ll show you in a future article.

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