How to Edit a PDF Using Popular Desktop and Online Tools

Learn how to edit PDFs for free.

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PDF editing used to be something that only a few people needed to deal with. Now with more people working from home, editing PDFs is becoming something we all need to do from time to time. While it used to be a chore to edit a PDF, now there are several tools available for every platform that will let you add signatures, fill out forms, cut and paste text, and more.

How to Edit PDFs with Adobe Acrobat

Adobe invented the PDF file format, so it’s appropriate that its Acrobat suite of PDF tools is one of the best options available. If you need to make basic edits, you can use the online Acrobat editor, which will run on Windows, macOS, Linux, and Chromebooks.

Editing PDFs with Acrobat Online

How To Edit Pdf Desktop Online Tools Acrobat Online

To start editing a PDF, follow the below instructions:

  1. Click the “Select a file” button, then choose a file to upload from the pop-up dialog.
  2. You’ll need to log in with your Adobe account, a Google account, or an Apple account and will see a brief tour of the available tools.

In this free online version of Acrobat, you can highlight text, leave comments, and add text to form fields. You can also draw your signature using a free-form drawing tool. These tools are all located at the top of the screen.

In the free online version of Acrobat, you can add to the PDF, but you can’t subtract anything from it. For more in-depth PDF editing, you’ll need Adobe Acrobat DC, which costs $14.99/monthly.

Editing PDFs with Acrobat DC

Launch Acrobat DC and go to “File -> Open” to choose a file to edit. Click on the “Edit PDF” tool on the right side of the window.

Editing text now works the same as it would in any word processor app. You can freely copy (Ctrl + C), cut (Ctrl + X), and paste (Ctrl + V) text as you would in any other app. To change fonts, use the “Format” section on the right.

To draw, select the pencil icon. You can also add images using the “Objects” list on the right side of the window.

To merge multiple PDFs, choose “File -> Create -> Combine Multiple Files into a single PDF.” If you need to add files to a file that is already open, choose “Combine Files” from the menu on the right.

To split a PDF, choose “Tools -> Organize Pages,” then click the “Split” button. You can choose to split the file via multiple options, such as the number of pages or file size. Clicking “Output Options” will give you more control over how you split the file.

Saving is simple: just click the “Save” button. If you want to keep the file editable for others, you can export as a Word document, for instance, by clicking the “Export PDF” option in the right window pane, then choosing “Word Document.”

How to Edit PDFs with Google Docs

Google Docs isn’t as powerful a PDF editor as Adobe Acrobat DC, but it works well for simple editing of text, annotations, and images. The software runs in a web browser, though it’s optimized for Chrome. This means you can run it on Linux and Chromebooks in addition to Windows and macOS. Google Docs is also available on Android, iPhone, and iPad devices as an app.

How To Edit Pdf Desktop Online Tools Google Docs
  1. Go to the Google Drive website or open the Google Docs app, click the “New” button in the upper left, then select “File Upload.”
  2. Select the PDF file you want to edit, then click “Upload.”
  3. Click on the file icon in the bottom right after it’s uploaded, then select “Edit with Google Docs.”
  4. Google Docs will attempt to make the text of your PDF editable as if it were a standard Google Doc, which will work automatically in most cases. You can copy, cut, and paste text easily by right-clicking or using the standard keyboard shortcuts.

Inserting images and annotations are simple as well. For highlighting, choose the Highlighter tool in the menu bar. To add an image, select “Insert -> Image,” then choose where to get your file. You can also easily sign PDFs, thanks to the DocuSign integration.

Merging and splitting PDFs isn’t as simple as Acrobat. You’ll need to open multiple Google Docs tabs and manually split and merge by copying and pasting.

Google Docs saves changes automatically, though you can make a safety copy by going to “File -> Make a Copy.” To export as a PDF, choose “File -> Download -> PDF Document.”

How to Edit PDFs with Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is available as desktop software for Windows and macOS, but there’s also an online version that runs in a browser on any platform. Even better, this version is completely free, including the PDF features.

  1. Go to “File -> Open,” then choose the PDF you want to edit.
  2. If you’re using the desktop app, click “Allow” when you’re prompted to allow online format conversion. This is what Word uses to convert a PDF to its own format.
  3. As with Google Docs, Word will attempt to convert the PDF to a completely editable file. As long as a PDF is relatively simple, with text and images, this should work well.
How To Edit Pdf Desktop Online Tools Microsoft Word
  1. Once the file has been converted, you can edit it as you would any Word document.

To merge PDFs in Word, choose the “Review” tab at the top of the window, then click “Compare -> Combine.” This works exactly like merging Word documents.

To split PDFs, you’ll either need to manually copy and paste to create new files or use another software option.

How to Edit PDFs with PDFescape

PDFescape is a free online PDF editor that runs on any platform that will run a web browser. To get started, simply drag and drop a PDF from your desktop to the “Drop PDF here” logo.

How To Edit Pdf Desktop Online Tools Pdfescape

You can’t edit the text directly as you can in Google Docs or Microsoft Word, but you can annotate with text or images by choosing “Text” or “Image” on the left menu. There’s also a handy Whiteout function to blank out parts of the text or images.

To save your changes, click “Save” on the left menu. To export the document, you can use the “Share” function, but you’ll need to sign up for a free account first to do this.

How to Edit PDFs with macOS Preview

The Preview app on macOS is capable of basic editing functions. You can’t cut text or do any advanced editing, but if you just need to fill out a form, this app works just fine.

How To Edit Pdf Desktop Online Tools Macos Preview

Right-click the PDF you want to edit in Finder, then select “Open With -> Preview.” To add text, select “Tools -> Annotate -> Text.” For highlighting or comments, click the “Highlights and Notes” pen icon at the top of the screen.

To add your signature, select “Tools -> Annotate -> Signature -> Manage Signatures.” After you add your signature, you can save it to easily sign documents in the future.

The Best PDF Editors for Each Platform

  • Best Web-Based PDF Editor: Microsoft Word Online makes editing PDFs as easy as editing a Word document.
  • Best Windows/Mac PDF Editing Software: Adobe Acrobat DC unsurprisingly provides the most comprehensive PDF editing features.
  • Best Linux PDF Editing Software: PDFedit might not be as user friendly as some other apps, but it’s powerful.
  • Best PDF Editing Software for Android: Google Docs is free and has very powerful PDF editing features.
  • Best PDF Editing Software for iPhone / iPad: PDFpen makes editing and annotating PDFs on Apple platforms simple, easy, and fast.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do any of these apps work on Android or iPhone?

Google Docs and Microsoft Word are available for both Android and iOS. PDFpen is simple and easy to use, as well as quite powerful, but only available on macOS, iOS, and iPadOS.

2. Can any of these apps convert a PDF to Word or other document types?

Several can, including Microsoft Word and Google Docs.

3. Are there any free options to lock a PDF with a password?

Adobe Acrobat Online lets you drag and drop a PDF file to easily password protect it.

More PDF Tools

Editing PDFs isn’t all you ever need to do with them. For example, if a PDF has been password protected, you may not be able to access it. Fortunately, there are ways to remove a password from a PDF on macOS.

There are also more specialized tools, like those that let you convert a VCE file to a PDF, so it’s always good to keep your PDF toolset up to date.

Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk

Kris Wouk is a writer, musician, and whatever it's called when someone makes videos for the web.

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