Set PDF Permissions in Mac OS’ Preview.app

PDF’s aren’t the most exciting thing in the world for most of us, but you likely still have to use them. Mac OS’s Preview now has integrated PDF permissions when creating, duplicating, or exporting items into PDF’s.  So let me show you how to access them.

Before You Begin

Only one important note before you begin, you need to be running Mac OS 12 Monterey or newer.  If you’re running something older you won’t see these features.

Enabling Permissions on a PDF

I’ve got this NSA PDF from my previous tutorial on redacting text in Preview that I’m going to duplicate for the sake of this example.  The security and permissions features I’m going to show you will also apply when duplicating a PDF, exporting a PDF, or when using the “Save As” function. 

I’m going to hit “File” and then “Export”.  Then click on the “Permissions” button. 

The export menu dialog box.  The permissions button is below the Format dropdown and the "Create Linearized PDF" button.

If you don’t already see it, then hit the “Show Details” button, and you should see the “Permissions…” button appear.

The Export As PDF dialog box with the Show Details button showing.  It is next to the new folder button.
The Show Details Button commonly appears when converting something to PDF

You’ll now be presented with a new window with a list of options.  At the top will be a password to open the document. As the name implies, it only controls opening the document and no other permissions.  You don’t have to use this unless you want to encrypt the PDF and prevent people from opening it. 

The permissions setting window
The Permissions setting window

Below this are the new Permissions.  You will be able to set controls for allowing printing, copying text and graphics into the clipboard, Adding/Removing/and rotating pages, adding annotations, signatures, and filling out form fields.  Pay close attention because checking the box next to one of these items will ALLOW said action to be done WITHOUT needing the Owner Password that you set.  So, if I check everything except the printing and the insert/delete/or rotate pages box, then all these checked items will work fine, and the password box will only pop up when someone either tries to print or make alterations to the number or orientation of the document.

Lastly, to apply these changes, you’ll need to set an Owner password, which is called the “Permissions” password in Adobe’s apps.  If you’re going to be using these permissions in conjunction with the “Require Password to Open” setting, then you should set the passwords to be something different outside of limited circumstances.  Set the password you want, the longer the better, type it again in the verify box, and hit “Apply”.  After a moment, depending on the size of the PDF and the number of permissions you set, the new PDF will be created where you saved it with all the permissions in tow. 

The owner password prompt, asking the person trying to make alterations to the PDF to type in the owner password to unlock it.

Now if anyone opens this PDF now and tries to print it, they will immediately get a prompt asking them to type in the Owner password to unlock the functionality.  If they type in this password correctly, all functions will be unlocked for you, not just the function you were trying to access. Meaning when I type in this password, not only does it allow me to print… but also allows me to rotate the page, which it wouldn’t if I had unlocked it. 

Seeing Permissions on a PDF and Adjusting Permissions Afterwards

The Inspector window currently locked and showing what functionality is enabled or disabled.

If you want to see what permissions are set on a PDF, you can do so using the inspector.  Open up the PDF, hit “Tools” in the Menu bar, then hit “Show Inspector”.  A little window will appear, and under the padlock icon, you’ll see whether the PDF is encrypted, as well as gray X’s next to anything that is locked with the owner password, and green check marks next to anything that is unlocked.  You can also unlock the PDF from here. If the PDF is already unlocked, then the Unlock button won’t be visible, all the items with have green checks next to them, and there will be an “Edit” button next to the “Permissions” label where you can go back and adjust the permissions after the fact.

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