Almost all of the PDF files that find their way to me were either created from Microsoft Word documents[1] or scanned from textbook pages. They all have crazy huge margins.

While margins had a practical function in the paper world, they do nothing but waste pixels in digital landscapes, especially on portable screens.[2]

I usually crop PDF files on my MacBook Air to make better use of my 13" screen. It’s really easy to crop all pages in a PDF file at once in Preview:

  1. Individually select pages in the sidebar (or ⌘A for all)
  2. Click the Select Tool button (or ⌘3)
  3. On any page, select the area of the page you want to remain visible
  4. Tools > Crop (⌘K)

That works great on a Mac, but I actually prefer reading longer PDF files on my iPad. Good news: I can crop there, too. GoodReader has a really nice cropping tool. Look for the crop icon at the bottom-center of the screen.

Goodreader crop pe

Tapping the crop button brings up draggable handles that you can use to trim unwanted fat. It applies your selection to the entire file, too.

Goodreader crop2 pe

It may not sound like a big deal, but cropping dramatically increases the readability of PDF files on the iPad—particularly when reading hundreds of PDF pages (as I often do). By focusing the reading area, pages are much easier to see on a 10" screen. They're a lot easier to turn, too, since zooming is less necessary.

  1. Why a 1.25" margin is still the default in Word, I’ll never know.

  2. In fact, today, I think the only people who benefit from wide margins are pulpwood companies and lazy English 101 students.