The best PDF editors allow you to get even more done with PDF files. However, the real question is which PDF editor is best suited to your needs and workflow. Despite their appearance, Portable Document Format files can actually be changed in the same way that you can alter a text document with the right software. The best PDF editors let you open up almost any PDF file so that you can edit, alter, annotate, sign or convert it to other popular file formats including Microsoft Word.
The PDF format was first developed by Adobe co-founder Dr. John Warnock back in the early 90s. He designed it in such a way that it could digitally capture the high-quality design and layouts of printed pages in magazines and newspapers.
While they are often presented as finished documents, PDF files can be changed and altered. The best PDF editors can also recognize text in scanned documents, let you edit both text and images and make annotations so that someone else can update the original document.
If you regularly work with PDF files as part of your job or in your free time then one of the best PDF editors will make things even easier for you. We’ve tested more than a half-dozen different options and these are the best ones for altering text, changing images and annotating PDF files. There are also both free and paid options for Windows and Mac that allow you to work on PDFs like a pro on either operating system.
The best PDF editors you can buy today
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You'd expect Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to be great because it comes from Adobe, the birthplace of the portable document format. To some extent, this full-service PDF-editing application meets that expectation.
Acrobat Pro DC offers a complete set of PDF-editing tools, and it even lets you edit scanned documents. Acrobat DC's OCR engine can convert scanned documents to text, which you can then search through and change.
But Acrobat doesn't offer to convert an entire document the moment you open it. Instead, the app waits for you to begin using the Pro DC's edit tools, recognizing and converting the pages as you select them for editing. Changing text in an OCR'd document was simple and the results looked great.
It's also easy to edit images and text in documents you haven't scanned. I was able to make changes to everything with zero issues.
What I don't like about Acrobat Pro DC is the interface. It feels like a half-realized demo of what the app could be. Editing tools surround your document, and the UI feels disorganized, offering few options for customization.
Because it's designed to work on both Macs and PCs, Acrobat Pro DC looks like it belongs in neither environment. This doesn't make this program bad at what it's supposed to do; it just makes you feel like you're working outside your chosen OS.
Our new pick for the best free PDF editor is PDF Candy, because it offers something many free options do not — an OCR feature for scanning text. You can't edit OCR'd text in this web-based PDF editor, but you are able to upload PDF files and extract text and create a text document, RTF file, or Word document in both .doc and .docx formats.
You can choose from 44 tools to create or convert PDF files. It's also easy to rearrange pages within a document, add watermarks, protect PDF files with passcodes, edit metadata within a PDF file, split or add pages to documents, and extract images. Actual text editing is pretty limited, the trade-off you make to enjoy a fairly feature-rich free PDF editor.
Once you've made your edits in PDF Candy, you can download the edited document or upload a new document to work on. PDF Candy keeps all of your documents in a queue so you can download them all at once after you've finished making changes to them.
PDFescape is a basic, web-based PDF-editing and -annotation program you can use for free to work on PDF documents that are smaller than either 10MB or 100 pages, whichever is greater. (PDFescape used to limit you to 50 pages, so the higher limit is a welcome change.) If you need to edit larger files, you can upgrade to a premium account for $36 a year. There's also an "ultimate" plan for $72 per year.
Accessible through any modern web browser, PDFescape offers no OCR capabilities like PDF Candy does. But PDFescape's annotation tools are easy to use. You'll find a pretty solid set of standard annotation tools that can easily add, highlight and strike through text; insert notes; and otherwise mark up the pages of your PDF file. Using the web app's insert tools, you can also add new images and text to a document, white-out text, and add web links and form fields.
PDFescape does have some major limitations in adding new text. Because there are no OCR capabilities, you can't make changes to existing text; you're limited to adding new text to an existing document. Additionally, the app has very limited font options, as it doesn't use any of your computer's fonts. So you're limited to Arial, Courier New, Times New Roman, Verdana and a Signature font for signing documents.
Apple's Preview app is built-in to the macOS and offers a minimalist but valuable set of tools for marking up any PDF file. You won't find full-on PDF editing here. But if you need a basic set of tools for highlighting or redacting text, making notes, or adding comments to a document, you won't likely need much more than what's already available on your Mac.
Preview's markup tools are hidden when you first open a PDF document. To see them, you'll have to look for the small pencil icon that appears near the Spotlight search bar at the top of your PDF document's toolbar. Clicking this reveals a small set of tools you can use to select text and add objects, text or notes to your document.
The app's standout feature is a signature tool you can use to store a signature you create using your trackpad or scan using your Mac's iSight camera. You can then easily add that signature to a document by clicking Preview's Signature tool. Simple and easy to use once you set it up, Preview's signing feature will prove its usefulness every time a digital document requires your John Hancock.
You can access all of Preview's editing tools without opening Preview, as long as you're running macOS 10.14 Mojave or later. Just use QuickLook to view a PDF, then turn to the Markup button in that mode.
Readdle's macOS-only PDF Expert is a popular PDF-editing tool that allows you to make changes to text in existing PDF documents, including by removing and replacing images, updating text, and adding text of your own. PDF Expert lacks OCR capabilities, so if you want to edit text in scanned documents, you'll need to look beyond this program.
Of all the apps I tested, PDF Expert has the cleanest interface and therefore was the most pleasant to use. Two tabs appear at the top of the screen: Annotate and Edit. Clicking one of them gives you an appropriate selection of tools to perform either annotation or editing tasks.
PDF Expert's editing tools are flawless. Click text in your PDF, and tools for editing text will slide out so you can make changes. Select an image, and tools for changing the image appear. You can move selected text anywhere on the page you want or remove it altogether.
PDF Expert struggles with large documents; otherwise, this would have been my top pick for both macOS and Windows. But every time I attempted to open my nearly 450-page test file, PDF Expert hung. Until this program behaves more dependably, look elsewhere if you tend to work with larger documents.(opens in new tab)
Wondershare's PDFelement Pro is a full-featured PDF editor with an OCR engine for recognizing scanned text and a standard set of tools. With those, you can fill in forms, annotate documents, create and add signatures, and edit images within a document.
PDFelement had no problem opening anything I threw at it, including scanned documents, large files and image-heavy PDFs. Once documents are open, PDFelement Pro offers a fairly simple interface, with a set of tools on the left side of your document that are easy to figure out. Just select a tool, and you can go to work making changes to the file.
Editing images, adding signatures and using annotations in the application all worked as planned, but I did experience some odd behaviors when I was editing or adding text using PDFelement Pro. In particular, when I was editing existing text in a document, the application wanted to make the text bold and would not allow me to change the content back to regular text. Also, when I added new text boxes, my own text did not display normally; the program always added a space after I typed an apostrophe. And the program constantly played my Mac's system beep as I typed. That's both annoying and not optimal.
Sejda is a web-based PDF-editing application that works on any OS that has a modern web browser. A desktop version converts that web interface into something that runs on your computer.
You can use a free version of Sejda, but it limits the number of daily tasks you can perform and the size of the documents you can access.
To get the most out of the program, you can buy an annual license for both the web and desktop versions for $63. A perpetual license for the desktop version is a one-time payment of $126, but it doesn't give you access to future updates or the web version. You can also buy a weekly pass for both versions for $8 if you've got a one-time project that requires Sejda.
Sejda has no OCR engine, so you can't use this app to edit PDF files created from scanned documents. You can edit only PDF files that already have selectable text.
To edit your PDF file, you upload it to the Sejda website and then use the toolbar at the top of the page to choose your tools. You'll find tools for editing text, adding links, adding form fields and images, and signing or annotating your document. All of Sejda's tools are rudimentary at best.
The app breaks every line of text in your document into a single text entry, so you can't edit entire paragraphs of text. When you do edit existing text, remnants of the previous text often get left behind in the document. Sejda will let you add new images to a document, but you can't use the app to edit or remove existing images.
Sejda isn't a great app, but it works in a pinch when you need to make a quick change to an existing PDF document and you have no other tools at hand.
How to choose the best PDF editor for you
The first question you should ask yourself when choosing a PDF editor is what you plan to do with it. If it’s just to mark up documents and add digital signatures, PDF annotation software will better suit your needs.
As there are many well-featured PDF annotation programs that are available for free, you can save yourself some money. For instance, as we mentioned, Mac users can save even more time since the Preview app that ships with Apple’s computers includes markup and signature tools.
However, if you’re in the market for a full-fledged PDF editor that lets you manipulate text and create documents, consider what kinds of features you’ll need for PDF editing. Applications with good OCR capabilities will likely cost more but if you don’t need OCR, you may be able to make do with a free PDF editor.
While PDF editors are great for making changes or notes to documents, they’re not necessary if you simply want to view and read a PDF. For that, check out our list of the best PDF readers you can download.
How we test PDF editors
We looked at both PDF editors and applications used for making annotations in PDFs. Every PDF editor can also annotate documents but dedicated PDF-annotation tools aren’t actually designed to make changes to any of the original content in a PDF document.
While testing each of these applications, we used a few different types of documents including large, text-heavy files, documents with a mix of formatted images and text and simple documents with text and images inserted into the document in a linear fashion. We tested features like text recognition (when supported) and we tried making changes to text, replacing and adding images and adding annotations.