How to Create a Password Protected PDF File in Mac OS X

May 29, 2013 - 15 Comments

Password protect a PDF If you need to create an encrypted PDF with password protection, forget about buying Adobe Acrobat or other expensive software, because Mac OS X has you covered with built-in tools. Yes, the Mac can natively create secure password protected PDF documents, meaning it’s free, and it’s also impressively easy to do.

The great thing about the protection is that it’s achievable through almost any Mac app, because the password layer is created from the Mac OS X standard “Print to PDF” trick. Essentially that means if you can print the document, you can probably password protect it as well. For this walkthrough we’re going to use TextEdit, but you are free to use another app if that’s what you’d prefer.

How to Add Password Protection to a PDF File in Mac OS X for Free

This can be used to convert an existing file to a protected version, or to add protection to a document:

  • Open any file you want to convert to a password protected PDF
  • Go to File > Print, and click the “PDF” button to choose “Save as PDF…”
  • Create a secure PDF in Mac OS X

  • Name the file as usual, and optionally, provide an author and title, then click the “Security Options” button
  • Add a password to protect the PDF with Security Options

  • Check the box next to “Require password to open document” and enter a password, enter it again to verify, then choose “OK”
  • Require a password to open the PDF

  • Save the PDF document as usual

Optionally, you can also set passwords to be able to print the document, or even copy text, images, or anything else from it. That’s not what we’re focusing on here though, we’re aiming for broader password protection.

Once the file has been saved, go and locate the secured PDF that was just created. You will find the icon has changed from the normal PDF indicator icon to one with a lock on it, showing that it has been secured with password protection.

Opening the protected PDF in Preview app will bring up the following screen, informing the document is password protected and to enter it in order to view the contents of the file:

Open the password protected PDF

Entering the correct password reveals the full contents of the PDF instantly:

Opening a password protected PDF file

Test it out if you’d like, but entering the wrong password does nothing. Attempting to view the file in Quick Look also asks for the authentication, and trying to forcibly open the encrypted PDF will result in a page full of gibberish appearing rather than any of the actual content.

This is an excellent feature to use when sharing confidential documents through standard file sharing methods, messages, or email, and it’s also a nice trick to manage your own private information that may require password protection, particularly if a single file does not need to be modified again in the future. The limitation on editing the PDF is perhaps the main caveat of this approach, but that is fairly expected behavior with most .pdf documents anyway.

Though this PDF trick is reasonably secure and will be acceptable for many casual uses, it should not be viewed as having the same level of security as something like a strongly encrypted folder image or archive. For situations where more security is needed, and for groups of files that need password protection, a protected zip archive is a great way to go, and it also adds a level of file compression which makes it ideal for remote file sharing and transfers. Otherwise, for local files that need occasional access combined with editing abilities yet maintained with very strong encryption, using the protected files trick locks down a folder which is then accessible as a disk image only after a proper password has been entered. The latter is perhaps the most secure option available in OS X that doesn’t include FileVaulting the entire drive, thanks to the extremely strong 128-bit AES encryption that applies to not only the folder, but it’s contents as well.


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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Raymond says:

    Unfortunately, this tip isn’t working for me.

    I have Adobe Reader (hence my search for a method to PW protect it) and a 2012 Mac with OSX Sierra 10.12.3.

    I can’t convert a pdf into a pdf, so I don’t have the option to password protect / encrypt my current pdf. Oh well.. back to the drawing board.

    • sea says:

      This guide is for making password protected PDF files in Mac OS using Preview, it is NOT about Adobe Reader. You have to use the proper app as discussed here, this works I use it all the time to protect PDF with passwords from Mac.

  2. E Swift says:

    Great tip — the only one that worked. Pity it took me a couple of hours to find it! Thanks!

  3. Broham says:

    Excellent information. Worked like a charm on OS 10.11.6. Michael D’s info in the comments above also worked. Thanks!

  4. Leecedric says:

    Will this work for an ebook being uploaded online?

  5. lloyd says:

    Hi, Thank you so much, very useful tip, keep it up..

  6. kogee says:

    Hi! Thanks for useful tips, but I have a question. Does the pdf file that has been protected by this can be opened from Adobe on Windows? Cheers, have a nice day.

  7. Michael D. says:

    Mac has “preview” app.

    Open the Preview App.

    drag your file into the icon/program now shown in the dock.

    in Preview, go to File, Export as PDF.

    at bottom of new window, go to “Show Details”.

    It now expands the password screen.

    Create your password. It will be uncrackable.

  8. Marie says:

    This feature no longer works. I get the same error message as Kamran.

  9. Samantha says:

    Do you know how to change the password? I know my password and need to send the document to somebody but I do no wish to share my personal password. I would like to change the password to something common for both of us.

    • JORDAN says:

      Hi Samantha! I assume you are working on a MAC.
      You have to remove the old password and then lock again the file
      1.Open your pdf file with the application Preview
      2.Unlock and select “Save as”
      To protect the unlocked file open again in Preview. Go to print or save as and protect the file with the new password as you did before.
      Was that helpful?

  10. kamran zafar says:

    When I try this I am getting an error stating that the save from print function is not supported.

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