Free PDF editors
Edit, split, merge and convert PDFs
Adobe describes PDF as “three letters that changed the world”, and it has a point: the Portable Document Format, to give it its Sunday name, was invented by Adobe to make it easy to share electronic documents. It’s now an open standard used in everything from publishing to public bodies, and there are stacks of tools to create, edit, annotate and organise PDFs. But which ones are best? We’ve collated 10 of the most useful document wranglers for Windows.
If you’re a Mac user, don’t forget about the Preview app – it’s a very useful PDF editor in its own right, although some other programs can do even more.
1. Foxit Reader
A powerful PDF reader and editor that can be customized to suit you
Of all the free PDF tools available for Windows, Foxit Reader is our favorite. It looks and feels rather like Microsoft Office so it’s instantly familiar, it has a tabbed interface for working on multiple PDFs simultaneously, and it enables you to complete forms and annotate documents. It also includes security tools for protecting your PDFs.
It’s expandable via a bunch of add-ons and if you find yourself needing even more power its paid-for sibling, PhantomPDF, has extensive organisation, sharing and document tracking features for a very reasonable US$ 109 (about £82.82, AU$ 144.89).
2. Adobe Reader
Adobe’s cross-platform software is superb for marking up documents
Yes, Adobe Reader on the desktop has a reputation for being overly complex and overly needy – but the iOS and Android editions haven’t inherited its flaws and stand on their own virtual feet as fast, flexible and lightweight PDF editors.
Some of the best features require an Acrobat Pro subscription, so for example editing text isn’t possible without Pro, but you can sign and fill forms and export Office documents to PDF. There’s support for Dropbox too.
3. PDF24 Creator
A printer driver with added editing features for perfect conversions
One of the simplest ways to add PDF to Windows is to install a PDF printer driver. Windows sees it as a printer driver, but instead of controlling hardware it actually converts documents to PDFs.
That’s what PDF24 Creator offers, but it also adds its own Assistant that can split or merge PDF files, adjust document properties, re-order pages, password protect PDFs and add digital watermarks or signatures. It’s hardly the prettiest app around but it gets on with the job and doesn’t require loads of system resources.
4. Adobe Acrobat DC (trial)
Edit text, replace and tweak images, add signatures and much more besides
The DC stands for Document Cloud, and Adobe Acrobat Reader DC is designed to cover every eventuality – for a price. You can try out the software for free, but the license is an annual subscription that works out at £11.42 (about US$ 15, AU$ 20) per month for the Standard edition and £13.33 (about US$ 17.54, AU$ 23.33) per month for Pro.
The Standard edition gives you online access via Adobe’s Document Cloud, the ability to create PDFs from almost any source, to work on PDFs via the mobile apps and to electronically sign documents. Going Pro adds multimedia support, the ability to edit scanned documents and the option to request electronic signatures.
5. Nitro PDF Reader
Surprisingly powerful, with support for both image and text editing
Here’s another app that looks awfully like Microsoft Office, and once again that’s no bad thing. Nitro PDF Reader has a feature set that shames some paid-for apps: despite a price tag of zero it offers document to PDF conversion, annotation and highlighting, image extraction, text editing and e-signatures. It’s definitely one to try before you consider paying for a PDF app.
6. PDF-XChange Editor
A free PDF editor with OCR for converting image-based PDFs
Tracker’s PDF-XChange Editor comes in three and a half flavours: a free Lite version for non-commercial use, two paid-for versions at US$ 43.50 (about £33, AU$ 58) and US$ 54.50 (about £41.38, AU$ 72.60) respectively and a free version of the $ 43.50 app that removes some of its advanced features.
The Lite version doesn’t do much – it’s a print-to-PDF app to create searchable PDFs from pretty much any Windows app – but it also has has OCR scanning, Google Drive and Office 365 support, commenting and annotation, markup and file conversion. Paying for a license adds the ability to create forms, more advanced organizational tools and more extensive editing options.
7. SlimPDF Reader
A tiny tool that’s lacking features, but won’t stress underpowered PCs
The name should set expectations here: SlimPDF Reader promises to be “10% of the size of Adobe Reader but views 100% of PDFs”. It’s microscopic by app standards – just 1.43MB – and that’s largely because it doesn’t really do anything other than view PDFs.
8. Icecream PDF Converter
Split hefty documents into manageable sections before conversion
Icecream PDF Converter comes from the same developer as the useful Icecream Ebook Reader (which also doubles as a good-looking PDF viewer). This app’s all about the file formats, though. You can drag and drop PDFs onto the app and convert them to JPG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, GIF, EPS, HTML or WMF format, and you can also convert ebooks and Microsoft Office documents to PDF.
It can also run batch conversions and partial conversions for when you only need a few pages of a huge document. That’s the good news. The bad news is that you’re limited to 10 page PDFs when you export and five files per conversion to PDF unless you buy the Pro version for £14.95 (about US$ 19.69, AU$ 26.21).
Convert documents from text format to PDF, and vice versa
Here’s a blast from the past: AbleWord looks very like an old version of Microsoft Word or a recent OpenOffice.org app. It works like those apps too, but the unique selling point here is that it supports PDF files as well as the usual DOC, DOCX and RTF formats, and that means it’s a handy tool for anybody who needs to create documents in PDF format or convert between Word and PDF formats.
10. PDFsam Basic
A versatile tool for merging and splitting PDFs in multiple configurations
PDFsam is an acronym of PDF Split and Merge, so you can probably guess what it does. Yep, it splits and merges PDF files.
You can use it to combine multiple documents or break a single document into multiples, you can merge alternate pages – handy if you’re trying to turn single-sided scans of double-sided documents into something readable – and you can split by size, which is useful if you’re splitting a huge document across USB drives or other small storage options. There’s also a handy tool for rotating pages across multiple documents.