PDFs are one of the most rigid, frustrating document formats in the history of PC software. Everything looks great on a PDF, but the lack of possibilities when it comes to actually editing them are maddening. Of course, that’s kind of the point of a PDF – electronic paper, essentially – but if you want to edit one, then you’ll need to find some dedicated software to do that job for you.
Luckily, you don’t need to splash out on Acrobat DC Pro because there are some great free PDF editors that let you reorder, merge, change pages and in some cases even the text in PDFs. We’ve specifically selected seven you can use on Windows, Mac and Linux.
1. LibreOffice Draw
Quite often, converting PDFs to Word documents is the road to damnation, as you’re likely to be faced with untold formatting oddities and mistakes. But the free and open-source LibreOffice suite actually has a very good PDF editor in its Draw application.
Simply open Draw, then click “File -> Open” and select a PDF. Draw will then open the PDF for full-on editing. It’s very good at holding onto the original formatting so you can edit to your heart’s content, then select the “Export as PDF” option to return it to its PDF form.
2. Apache Open Office Draw
Apache Open Office Draw is part of the OpenOffice suite and is actually a drawing and graphics tool that can be used to edit PDF files. It allows you to not only easily sketch complex plans, but also to add, edit, delete and rotate images and vector graphics. It’s a stable program with few bugs, so you shouldn’t face any difficulty.
This program has a nice variety of features and works on multiple platforms. It makes it easy to create charts and even provides spellcheck.
Drawbacks of Apache Open Office Draw include a user interface with a dated appearance. It is slow to start up and has difficulty processing large documents.
Inkscape is a professional vector graphics editor that can be used as a PDF editor as well. It can remove or add both text and images. It comes as an executable file and doesn’t require installation on your computer, but you can install it if you’d like to.
This user-friendly software is entirely free to use. It’s very lightweight and doesn’t take up much room on your computer. Not only can you add or remove images, but there is also a nice selection of image-editing tools as well. You can even save your documents as PNG files.
Inkscape does not have all the features offered on other products. It has performance issues, lagging on many PCs, and is a little slow and unintuitive. Although the image-editing tools are great, some people may find the amount a little overwhelming.
A widely-used PDF editor, PDFedit makes it possible to add text and images as well as delete information you don’t need. Advanced users can edit every part of a PDF document by selecting precisely which elements, words, or phrases they want to edit.
Lightweight, and with multi-platform support, PDFedit has plenty of advanced options available, including personalization tools. It has a simple Graphical User Interface, which is useful for less experienced users. You can even set passwords for your files.
Even with the graphical GUI, PDFedit is still challenging to use for most people. Also, some tools within PDFedit are prone to technical difficulties, causing certain features to show error messages or stop working altogether. If you want to use the advanced features, you can only do so by using scripting. PDFedit is still in beta, so the developers could address these issues later.
Xournal is an application for notetaking, sketching, keeping a journal using a stylus, and is able to edit PDFs as well. Mainly for the Unix platform, it also has a Win32 binary that the user can install in Windows.
It comes with plenty of annotation and text-filling tools that you can use to add text and images to your PDF. It is very easy to use and a handy “Export to PDF” function that you can use after you are done editing your PDF.
SmallPDF is a lightweight online tool that immediately jumps out at you with its simplicity and bold colour-coded design. From the main page you can see all the major options for PDF editing, including compression, conversion, merging, rotating, splitting, and “Editing” (meaning adding your own text, drawing and so on).
If you’re looking to get people to sign contracts, you can even use SmallPDF to request and track eSignatures, making it a valid free alternative to Docusign.
7. PDF Pro
This online PDF editor really does something you don’t get in most other free PDF editors. As well as the usual options to convert, merge, split and otherwise fiddle with PDFs, PDF Pro lets you erase existing PDF text and replace it with your own. It doesn’t do this using OCR like, perhaps, Acrobat Pro; it simply blanks out the area that you’re editing. So sure, it’s kind of cheating, but it’s still a good solution if you’re just looking to make basic edits.
PDF Pro is a little more advanced than other tools, so it restricts you to editing three PDFs a month in the free version. Still, if you just need to do the occasional chop-and-change, it’s very good indeed.
These are our favourites, but maybe you beg to differ. We’ve tried to focus on things here that are available on all platforms, but if you’ve found a fantastic platform-specific PDF editor (that’s free), then let us know in the comments!