Home MacOS How to password protect PDFs on Macs (for free)

How to password protect PDFs on Macs (for free)


If you are working remotely you may already be using or looking for some way to use password-protected PDFs to help maintain information security. Here is how to do so using your Mac’s built-in software.

There are two ways to create password-protected PDFs on the Mac, using Preview or the Print manager on the machine.

Use the Print dialog

You can use the multi-talented Print dialog to create a secure PDF. (Here are some additional printing secrets).

Here’s how it should work:

  • Create or open your document. It can be in any file format (Word, PDF, Pages, etc.) that you can print on your Mac. Edit it, make any required changes.
  • Tap Print… in the File menu.
  • The Print dialog will appear, look to the lower left corner of the Print dialog box and find the drop-down menu.
  • Click that menu and then choose “Save as PDF” in the options that appear.
  • You’ll see a new set of choices; the one you want to select is called “Security Options.” This is where the secure PDF magic sits, and you can set passwords to open documents, to copy content out of the document and to print a document.

This hidden talent should benefit any Mac user who needs a more secure way to share documents and files.


Security options in the Print dialog’s “Save as PDF” drop-down menu allow users to password protect PDFs.

What are the PDF Security Options?

There are three PDF Security Options available. You enable them by ticking the checkbox beside each option.

Require password to open document: Check this, enter and verify a password, and you will be required to enter the password you created to open the document. This is quite useful when sharing confidential items via email.

Require password to copy text, images and other content: Check this box and anyone who opens the document won’t be able to copy items from within that document, which provides some protection against data leak. There is currently no protection against taking screenshots of the document, but it will not be possible to save the document as a new PDF.

Require password to print document: Check this box and enter and verify a password and anyone who gets their hands on the document will be required to enter a password to print that item.

You should then be able to handle these protected PDFs on iOS devices.

Use Preview to create password-protected PDFs

You can also use Preview to create a password-protected PDF though you must save the item as a PDF first and you don’t get access to as many options. Here’s what to do:

  • Use Preview to open the PDF you wish to protect
  • Choose File>Export.
  • In the next dialog check the box beside Encrypt.
  • You’ll be asked to create and verify a password.
  • You can give the file a new name in the “Export As” field at the top of the box, if you want to keep both the protected and original, unprotected file.

As you can see, the disadvantage of using Preview is that you do not get access to all the protections made available from within the Print Manager; that’s why I prefer to use the latter.

Need even more protection?

If you want to further enhance the security of the documents you want to share, you can also make use of utilities such as Keka ($3.99). It applies AES-256 encryption and lets you split your files into differently protected elements, making it even more challenging to get to your information. Keka is a highly capable tool for handling encrypted items of all kinds.

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