PDF (Portable Document Format) was developed in the early '90s by Adobe in an effort to standardize document formats across independent software and hardware. Whether you're using it to send memos, invoice clients, or maintain customer records, this digital file format is a fantastic way to share information. That sounds great, but the problem is that there aren’t many free PDF editors nowadays.
Most of the free software can help you with viewing PDF documents. However, when it comes to editing, most of them miserably fail. This collective failure arises because Adobe - the original developer of the PDF format - still has patents on many technologies associated with the format. Adobe charges PDF software manufacturers a standard licensing fee, which makes it hard for manufacturers to provide the editing tools for free.
Arguably, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is the best editor on the market due to its ability to merge documents, its conversion tools, and its cloud storage. However, it isn’t free. That’s a significant problem. There are many PDF editors on the market that promise to do the job, but most of them have a price tag. And when it comes to the freebies, it’s challenging to find the right one to use. That’s why we have compiled a list of the best free PDF editors on which you could rely.
Finally, here are the 8 best free PDF editors in 2020.
PDF-XChange Editor is an overhauled version of PDF-XChange Viewer, as it’s much cleaner and easier to use. It features a solid set of editing tools that allows you to select, highlight, and strikeout text. Aside from that, it lets you split and convert your PDF documents, and you can then easily edit paragraphs, add images and annotations, and encrypt them. Its commenting function and its selection of unique stamps add up to its editing capabilities and help you track changes. Additionally, it also allows you to extract huge PDF files, delete blank pages or fix images.
The conversion tools let you switch between PDF and Word formats. It even features OCT (optical character recognition) to make your scanned documents editable. Apart from that, it has also made its plugin available for Firefox, so you can use its editing tools for the PDFs you open in your browser.
PDF-XChange Editor, even without its premium features, is a potent software. You can also make use of the premium features as long as you are okay with watermarked documents. This alone is enough to make it your default PDF editor.
- Supported Platforms: Windows
- Pros: Text editing; Document conversion with OCT; Comments and annotations.
- Cons: Documents get watermarked unless you use a premium tool.
2. Foxit Reader
With powerful features and incredible rendering speed, Foxit Reader is arguably the most versatile free PDF editor on our list. It allows you to read, create, and convert PDF files on-the-go. Aside from that, you can sign PDFs and add annotations. When it comes to editing, its premium version is a much stronger player, although the free one has almost all the bases covered.
With a wide range of editing tools and options, the interface of Foxit Reader might feel a bit overwhelming. At first sight, the UI of this application might appear very similar to Microsoft Office, but more complicated. However, you can minimize the tool ribbon to simplify its interface.
It also comes with Microsoft Office plugins and makes it easier to convert pretty much any file that you can open on your device. To steal the show from the other alternatives, it has a handful of tricks up its sleeve, starting with its security toolbox. The toolbox prevents unauthorized scripts from transmitting data and helps you securely download a PDF file, irrespective of its source. Besides this, it can create editable files from scanned documents. However, the OCR feature isn't available in the free version.
- Supported Platforms: Windows, macOS, iOS, Android.
- Pros: PDF converting/editing features; Built-in security tools; Microsoft Office plugins.
- Cons: No OCR in the free version.
Sejda has an online and a desktop edition, both of which you can try free-of-charge. However, Sejda PDF Desktop is free to use with daily limits, such as three tasks per day and file size limitations.
Its free version comes with a workable set of tools through which you can edit text, add images, create forms, and delete blank pages. However, we found that its text editing tool is a bit dodgy. Although it allows you to edit text, it renders font incompatibility. In most cases, it becomes useless as it makes the changes visible.
As you can expect, the free version comes with certain limitations. It doesn’t support documents with more than 200 pages or more than 50MB in size. It limits you to three work sessions per day and doesn’t let you work on more than one file at once. Its online edition has cloud storage integration, while on the desktop edition, data never leaves your computer.
When it comes to its interface, it has a clean, user-friendly design. You can find all the featured tools and options smartly grouped, to make them more accessible to users. The program is great for basic editing tasks. But if you’re looking for some heavy lifting, either switch to an alternative free PDF editor or buy its premium version.
- Supported Platforms: Web, Windows, macOS, Linux.
- Pros: Online and desktop versions available; Cloud storage; Advanced editing tools.
- Cons: Spotty text editing tool; Free online sessions have time caps.
PDF Architect pertains to a German company called PDFforge. It is a modular program that comes with a unique purchasing option. It’s available as a free download with the basic capabilities. However, if you’re interested in the premium version, it has three separate options: Standard, Pro, and Pro+OCR, with each version including an extra module that changes its editing power. Here you can easily select the number of editing tools you need without breaking the piggy bank.
The free version of PDF Architect 7 has many features. You can view, delete, rotate, and merge multiple documents into one. Additionally, you can also rearrange pages and create PDFs from 300+ file formats, including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
The program has a simple design and provides a user-friendly experience for both beginner and pro users. It is quite a versatile tool to streamline your work, as you can convert and review your PDF documents. However, it’s only available for Windows.
- Supported Platforms: Windows.
- Pros: Merge documents; Modular structure; Only pay for what you need.
- Cons: Limited functionalities of the free version.
Smallpdf is an online PDF editor that comes with a 14-day free trial, enough time to check if it's worth your money. But this shouldn't put you off, as the free trial and paid version are only valid for its desktop client. The online tool is free to use.
Smallpdf is popular for its conversion tools. However, the editing functionalities in the software are quite limited compared to the other PDF editors on this list. In fact, besides the editing mode, the program is limited to just adding text, images, and shapes to a PDF.
Also, the program doesn't feature any text editing - the closest you get to that is drawing a text box over the existing text, which, in most cases, is useless. Unfortunately, if you need advanced editing tools, you'll have to move to another free PDF editor.
As a positive side, the program has cloud-based storage. This translates to the fact that you can access your files from any supported devices through its website.
- Supported Platforms: Web.
- Pros: Extensive range of tools; Cloud-based storage; Advanced conversion options.
- Cons: Limited free trial; Unrefined interface; Limited text editing tool.
iLovePDF is one of the free PDF editors, more exactly a one-stop solution where you can view your PDF documents, edit them, and then export them out in the most widespread formats.
You need to sign up on the website to get access to all the available tools. Then, you can add files either directly from your computer or import them from your cloud services, like Dropbox, or Google Drive. When using the free tools, the platform allows you to do a variety of things, like merge, split, compress, organize, protect, and more.
iLovePDF has two security options. The first option helps you create password-protected PDF files to share them with others safely. The second option allows you to open secured files. Additionally, it enables users to fix corrupt PDF files. It recovers them either entirely or partially, depending on how corrupt the file is.
- Supported Platforms: Web.
- Pros: Fixes corrupt PDF files; Supports 25 languages across their platforms.
- Cons: OCR available only with the premium version.
FormSwift is an in-browser tool for editing PDF documents. And it's completely free of costs (it doesn't have a premium version), unlike some of the other tools mentioned in this list.
Apart from importing directly from your computer, it has an option to upload your documents through its Snap URL. This feature allows your mobile camera to snap your documents and then import them to the editing interface.
It also offers the option to select a template from a library of 500+ documents and then fill out a step-by-step questionnaire and export the completed document in Word or PDF.
The program has tons of tools to edit text, add images, checkmarks, and e-signatures. The best part is that it all comes for free. There is no paywall, or a "Start a free trial" banner, or "Upgrade now" prompts. If you want a hassle-free experience for basic PDF editing, this is the best free PDF editor to go for.
- Supported Platforms: Web.
- Pros: Edits images and text in PDFs; Scans documents using phone cameras.
- Cons: Can't split/merge documents.
PDFescape is a handy free online editing tool if you don't mind being tethered to your web browser when editing your PDFs. For zero money, you can edit, annotate, fill out and create standard PDF forms, and enjoy password-protected PDFs.
The interface of the program looks quite similar to Microsoft Office. If you're familiar with Office, it might quicken your learning curve and offer you instant usability. The free version of the program has ads, but they are not obtrusive to your workflow. Also, the free version puts a limit on the size of your PDFs that you can work with.
It looks like a good option, but it has a pretty basic interface, and it will force you to work using an Internet connection.
If you prefer desktop editing tools, that is offered only with a premium subscription. The paid version adds merging, converting to other formats, printing to PDF, and compression, among others, to the options the free version offers.
- Supported Platforms: Web, Windows.
- Pros: Easy document merging; 10MB file size limit.
- Cons: Desktop editor is paid-only.
In this article, we’ve outlined our 8 best free PDF editors in 2020. In case you have other favorite PDF editors that are not featured in this article, please share them in a comment below. Also, let us know what makes them your favorite options.