How to create PDFs on iPhones

2024-07-08 16:37


Illustration of a phone with a photo of a cat featured onscreen.
Illustration by Samar Haddad / The Verge

It may sound funny to say this, but PDF files — electronic copies of printed documents — are still around and are still very useful. Short for Portable Document Format, PDFs allow you to create a digital version of a paper document, letting you store and access them a lot easier than having to rifle through a filing cabinet.

While there are a variety of PDF apps available — Adobe Acrobat being the most well known — you actually don’t need to download one to create a PDF from an existing paper document with your iPhone or iPad. You can just use Apple’s Files or Notes.

Create a PDF from a paper document using Files

It’s very quick to create a PDF using your Files app (thanks to two of our readers, chadsmo and Just_Some_Nobody). The process is similar on an iPad.

  • Open your Files app and tap on the three dots in the upper-right corner.
  • Center your phone over your paper document. (It’s a good idea to place it on a plain, contrasting surface; it makes it easier for the app to find the edges.) Notes will find the document, indicate it via an orange overlay, scan it, and then drop a thumbnail image in the lower-left corner of the screen.
  • If your document has more than one page, then all you have to do is move on to the next. (You’ll see text at the bottom of the screen that reads Ready for next scan.) Be quick; if you hold the phone over the same document for too long, you’ll just get another scan of the same one.
  • Once you’ve scanned all your documents, and if you’re relatively sure everything is as you wish, you can just select Save in the lower-right corner. Otherwise, tap on the thumbnail of your scan so you can edit it.
  • If you’re editing your scan, you can use the icons at the bottom to adjust the margins, change it from color to grayscale or black and white; rotate it; or delete it. If you’re really unhappy with your scan, you can resort to the Retake button in the top right.
  • When you’re finally happy with the results, tap Done in the top-left corner, and then Save in the lower-right corner.

Create a PDF from a paper document using Notes

You can also start a new PDF from Notes.

  • Go to your Notes app and create a new document by selecting the icon in the lower-right corner.
  • Select the Attach icon (the paper clip). From the pop-up menu, tap on Scan Documents.
Pop-up menu with keyboard with scanning selections. Screenshot: Apple
From the pop-up menu, tap on Scan Documents.
Yellow notebook paper outlines with a thumbnail on lower left and save on lower right. Screenshot: Apple
Once the doc has been scanned, either tap Save or tap the thumbnail to edit it.

From there, the process is the same as if you started from your Files app.

Create a PDF from a file

If you have existing documents that you want to save as PDFs — in your Files app, on Safari, in Photos, or in other apps — you can do that as well, using either Markup or Print, depending on what is available from the app you’re using.

  • Open the file and find the Share icon.
  • Scroll down to and tap on either Markup or Print.
  • If you tapped on Markup, you can first draw on the PDF if you want using the Markup tools. When you’re ready, select Done > Save File To… Now, you just have to select where you want to save the PDF and what to call it.
  • If you tapped on Print, then look for the thumbnails at the bottom of the resulting Options page. Long-press on your chosen thumbnail and then tap it and it will generate a PDF.
  • Selecting the Share icon in the lower-left corner will now let you save the new PDF to Files or another app.

Update, July 8th, 2024: Added instructions for using Files to create PDFs.