Using PDF files is something the vast majority of computer users do, whether they use a Mac or a Windows computer. Mac computers are excellent at helping users manage and update PDF files – but every now and then, you may lose track of one or accidentally delete or lost one. If you do that, you’re probably wondering how to recover PDF files on a Mac.

it is possible to recover your recover deleted or lost PDF file on Mac

Thankfully, however, it is absolutely possible to recover deleted, lost or unsaved PDF files from your Mac – and there are a few ways to do it. Some of the tools you can use are built straight into the macOS operating system, while other methods may require extra software, like Disk Drill. Thankfully, all of the methods below are relatively easy.


How to Recover Deleted PDF Files from your Mac


Method 1: How to Recover Deleted PDF Files using Time Machine

One way to recover deleted PDF files is by using tools built directly into the macOS operating system. Time Machine creates a full backup of your entire setup – meaning that if you have lost an important file, you may be able to recover it using Time Machine. It’s important to note that you have to have created a Time Machine in the first place to restore your computer to a backup — so if you haven’t been making Time Machine backups, you’ll need to try the next method instead.

Here’s how to restore a deleted PDF file with a Time Machine backup:

Step 1. Navigate to the folder where the file you lost was located.

Time Machine

Step 2. Open Time Machine and the software should show you a preview of all the saves that it has made.

Step 3. Toggle to previous backups with the arrows next to the window, or using the timeline on the far right of the display.

Time Machine

Step 4. Select the file, and click the “Restore” button under the window.

Time Machine

Step 5. The file will then be moved back to the location that it was previously located.


Method 2: Recover Deleted PDF Files using Mac Data Recovery Software

If you haven’t been using Time Machine, you may need to use other software to find and restore PDF files – like Disk Drill. Disk Drill is thankfully very easy to use and should be able to help you find and restore PDF files with ease.

Steps to recover deleted or lost PDF files on Mac:

Step 1. Download and install Disk Drill for Mac.

Disk Drill
Data recovery for free
Your Companion for Deleted Files Recovery

Step 2. Open Disk Drill and find the drive that your PDF file was located on. For most users, this will be the drive that’s installed in your computer, likely to be called “Apple SSD,” or something along those lines. We lost a file from an external drive, so we’ll use that instead, but the process is the same no matter what drive you use.

Disk Drill drive selection window

Step 3. Leave scan settings on default for the best results, then click “Search for lost data.”

Disk Drill deep scan setting

Step 4. Wait for Disk Drill to scan your drive to find deleted files. This process may take a few minutes or hours, depending on how many files it finds. If you’re scanning an external drive, make sure to keep it plugged in and connected, and either way make sure to keep your computer on during the process. Once the scanning process is complete, click “Review found items.”

Disk Drill scanning process window

Step 5. Disk Drill may have found lots of files — but thankfully you can narrow down the selection a little. Use the search bar to add more details to your search, or use the sidebar on the left to browse by file type. Since we’re trying to restore a pdf, put .pdf in the search bar.

Disk Drill search bar and file type sidebar

Step 6. You can double-check that you’ve found the correct file by pressing the eyeball “preview” button next to the file. Just hover your mouse pointer to the right of each file name for it to appear.

Disk Drill PDF preview

Step 7. If you found the file, tick the box next to it to select it. Once you’ve selected the files you want to restore, click the “Recover” button in the bottom-right corner of the window.

Disk Drill file selection screen

Step 8. Finally, use the dropdown bar to select a location where you want Disk Drill to save the recovered files. Then, hit “OK.”

Disk Drill recovered file save dialogue


Method 3: Restore Your PDF File From iCloud

iCloud is Apple’s cloud backup and sync utility. It’s great for productivity, but can be panic-inducing if you don’t realize that it also has the ability to rearrange files to preserve local storage space. Depending on your settings, iCloud will actually delete files from local folders but keep them in the cloud. This could have happened to your PDF. Here’s how to get it back:

Step 1. On your browser, go to iCloud.com and login.

Step 2. Select “iCloud Drive.”

iCloud Drive app in the iCloud website

Step 3. Click on the “Documents” folder (or “Desktop” if you’re a barbarian) and locate your PDF file.

Documents folder in the iCloud website

Step 4. Click on the file you want to recover, then click the download button on the top of the window. You can use the “Sort by” button on the top-right corner of the window to group PDF files together (so you can find your file easier).

PDF download from the iCloud website


How to Fix a Corrupted PDF File after Recovery

At times, after you recover a PDF file you may find that the file is “corrupted,” which essentially means that your computer probably can’t open it properly. Thankfully, there are ways to fix corrupted PDF files, and doing so is relatively easy. There are tools that you can download straight to your Mac, or online tools that you can upload your PDF to.

If you’re happy to download a tool to fix a corrupt PDF, then it’s worth checking out PDF2Go. PPDF2Go repair tool can be downloaded straight to your Mac, after which you can use the tool to repair corrupted PDF files. Keep in mind that some files may be too corrupted to repair properly.

Alternatively, you can simply use an online tool like Sejda PDF Online. This tool allows you to upload your PDF files to Sejda’s website, and then download the fixed PDF back to your computer.


How to Recover Unsaved PDF Files on Mac

If you forgot to save your PDF on your Mac, you should be covered too. On a Mac, the main way that you’ll interact with PDF files is through the Mac Preview app, which allows you to open PDF files, edit editable files, sign files, and so on. If you forgot to save your PDF, follow the instructions below to recover the file.

Step 1. By default, Mac computers have an autosave feature turned on for Apple apps. To make sure this feature is turned on, press the Apple button on the top left-hand corner, then tap System Preferences. Tap the General button, then tick “Ask to keep changes when closing documents.”

Auto Save Mac

Step 2. Open the “Preview” app.

Step 3. Tap File on the top menu bar, then hover over the “Open recent” button.

Step 4. On the list of PDFs that open, check to see if the one that wasn’t saved is available.

Recently Opened Mac

If you can find your lost PDF on the list, then you’re in luck! If not, however, you may have to dig a little deeper in your Mac’s temporary files.

Follow the instruction below to recover an unsaved PDF file:

  1. Open the Terminal application.
  2. Type “open $TMPDIR” into the Terminal window, without the quotation marks, and press return.
  3. Look for your PDF file among the folders that open. You may have a number of folders and files to dig through.

How to Repair a PDF File on a Mac

Repairing a PDF file on a Mac can be handled in different ways. There are tools that attempt to directly fix the file and methods that work around the problem – such as restoring a PDF to previous versions. Let’s explore all the solutions below.

Fix #1: Restore a previous version of your PDF.

Step 1. You may be able to restore a version of your PDF where it was still fully intact. Many apps on Mac allow users to easily do this. Here’s how:

Step 2. Open the file.

Step 3. On the Apple menu bar, click File > Revert to > Browse all versions…

Revert version function in the Preview app

Step 4. Use the arrows on the right side of the screen to browse the timeline to display the version you want, then click “Restore.”

Version timeline of PDF file

Fix #2: Repair your Adobe Acrobat installation.

If you use Adobe Acrobat to manage your PDF files, try repairing its installation in case the app itself caused the file to get corrupted.

  1. Close all open programs on your Mac.
  2. Launch Adobe Acrobat.
  3. On the menu bar, click Help > Repair Acrobat Installation.
  4. Wait for the process to complete, then restart your computer.

Fix #3: Convert your PDF to another document type.

If you can’t repair or restore your PDF file, you can at least extract the information and output it into another document type, such as a Word document (which you can open and edit with Pages). You can do this with Adobe Acrobat, although most PDF editors will have a similar feature and process. You can even use Adobe’s online PDF converter.

To do it with the Adobe Acrobat app, follow these steps:

  1. Launch Acrobat and open the PDF file.
  2. Hit “Export PDF.”
  3. Select Microsoft Word > Word Document, then click “Export.”
  4. Save it to a secure location.

Fix #4: Repair your PDF using PDF Toolkit (PDFtk).

PDFtk is a swiss army knife PDF tool that can graphically modify pages (split, merge, rotate, etc.) It’s also pretty popular, and like we said – it’s completely free! PDFtk’s only downside is that it’s a command-line tool. In other words, you won’t have an actual interface to work with, and you’ll be executing Terminal-like commands to launch the repair feature.

But don’t worry, you can just follow the steps below and you should be fine. We added screenshots to make it easier.

Step 1. Download and install PDFtk.

Step 2. In Finder, right-click the folder containing your PDF file, then click Services > New Terminal at Folder.

New Terminal at Window option on a Folder

Step 3. Type the following command then hit return:

Pdftk filename.pdf output filename2.pdf

Where filename.pdf should be the exact file name of your PDF, and filename2.pdf will be the file name of your newly repaired PDF. It will appear in the same folder as your original PDF file.

PDFtk output command to repair PDF

Conclusion

Thanks to its high compatibility, PDF files are used everywhere. It’s a good idea to learn how to repair and/or restore them. Better yet, use backup tools like Time Machine and iCloud to make sure you always have multiple copies of your PDFs.

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Christian de Looper

Christian de Looper is a technology journalist, consultant, music producer. He creates articles about Technology, Software, Hardware, Apple news, reviews, and so on. Over the years, he wrote thousands of articles on sites...

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Brett Johnson

This article has been approved by Brett Johnson, Data Recovery Engineer at ACE Data Recovery. Brett has a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Systems and Network, 12 years of experience.