Turning inner space into outer space

April 8, 2024

Your Mac's Preview app is free, fast and more powerful than you might think

Here’s a little thing you can do that, as far as I can tell, is unique to Photoshop: size and crop at the same time.

You go to the the crop tool and specify the size you want the image to be. You then make a box for what part of the image you want. Hit enter and you’re done. It’s the right size and the right shape.

I tried doing this in several other photo-editing apps, but couldn’t figure out a way to do it. You can crop. You can size. But you can’t do both at once.

So if that’s the way it’s going to be, why not see if you can do it with a free app that comes with your Mac?

That’s where Preview comes in.

I have a web app where all the pictures are 100 pixels wide by 200 pixels high. The images I use are grabbed from the internet and vary greatly in shape and size.

The first thing I do is crop so that the space above and below the image looks about right. I find that it’s easier to get the height right and play with the width later.

After that, I change the size to 200 pixels high by whatever for the width.

Lastly, I adjust the width to 100 pixels, and hit Command-K.

Yes, it takes three steps in Preview compared with one in Photoshop, but there are advantages.

Preview starts up a lot faster. In the time it takes to wait for Photoshop to start up, I can have the job done in Preview.

Preview, of course, is free. I have Photoshop on my home computer as a perk of a job I recently moved on from. I have a feeling that will end soon, and I will have to pay if I want to keep it.

Preview is worth exploring. It started off as a way to look at PDFs but can now do a lot more. For basic photo editing, it’s certainly worth looking at.

Macworld has a two-part series here and here on the “superpowers” of Preview. It’s dated 2015, but mentions removing the background, which, I’m pretty sure, was just recently added — a feature, by the way, that I find quite handy.

Apple’s user guide is comprehensive.

Hacker News has a surprisingly long thread about the pros and cons of Preview.

I was curious to know about the history of Preview, but there is precious little to be found. Going by memory, it started off as a way to open and view PDFs, but I’m not sure that explains why it’s called Preview.

There is a thread on Quora that may be enlightening. The gist of it is that, back in the days of desktop publishing, the app was used to preview a document to see what it would look like on paper.

Wikipedia has a skimpy entry for Preview with a small section on history. Apparently, it dates back to 1989 and the NeXTSTEP operating system.

ChatGPT, on the other hand, says it was introduced in 2001 with Mac OS X. That would make sense if Preview was brought along when Apple made the switch to OS X, which was based on NeXTSTEP.

That Hacker News thread refers to Preview as “the Mac app people forget about.” Why download stuff when there’s a free app on your Mac that does a lot more than you might think?