PDFs are one of the most common file types you’ll come across when using a computer. If you need to produce a high-quality print job, make a document available online, archive old data, or combine multiple formats (text, images, tables, etc.), there’s a good chance you’ll find yourself turning to the PDF format.
Despite their hundreds of benefits, they fall short when it comes to editing. Unless you have the luxury to use Adobe Acrobat Pro to manage your PDFs — the industry’s gold standard — it’s just not as easy to edit PDF documents as it is to edit Microsoft Office documents.
But don’t worry, all is not lost. If you desperately need to edit a PDF, there are some great free tools available. Here are five of the best.
1. PDF Booklet
Key Feature: Creating PDF booklets.
PDF Booklet has a simple premise: to let you create a booklet from existing PDF files. It’s especially helpful if you have one document saved as separate files because your printer doesn’t support multi-page scanning.
You choose the layout of the booklet and the order of the pages, and the app will collate them. All you need to do is print the document and staple the pages together. If the automatic tool doesn’t give you the desired results, you can rotate, zoom, or flip pages until it’s perfect.
The app also works with existing booklets, allowing you to reorder the pages and tweak the layout.
You can preview your alterations before finalizing your creation. As soon as you hit Go, the app makes a new file and displays your efforts in the built-in PDF viewer.
Key Feature: Tweaking the formatting.
What do you want to do with your PDF reader? Merge separate files? Convert PDFs into other formats? Add a watermark?
The iLovePDF web app is the answer. It can handle almost any task you choose to throw at it:
- Merge multiple PDF files.
- Split PDF files into multiple smaller files.
- Compress PDF files for archiving.
- Convert PDFs into Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and JPEG files (and vice versa).
- Add watermarks.
- Add page numbers.
- Unlock protected PDF files.
- Rotate files.
If you need to do a lot of converting between PDF and the various Microsoft Office formats, you might want to consider purchasing the company’s desktop software rather than relying on the web app. The cheapest package (Word files only) is $39.95.
Key Feature: Editing graphics.
Editing PDFs isn’t all about the text and the page order. What if you want to edit the graphical properties of your file? Maybe you have a scanned copy of an old document that you need to brighten, or your need to add contrast to a scanned page of a school textbook?
If that describes your needs, look no further than YACReader.
The app is both a comic reader and a PDF reader, and as such, it’s been designed to work efficiently with text and images. It includes a brightness control, contrast control, and gamma control.
It’s not as refined as the most popular apps. There’s only one toolbar and the editing tools aren’t easy to find. Nonetheless, it’s free, and it’s got some unique tools. What more do you want?
Key Feature: Amazingly lightweight text editor.
Gaaiho offers a whole range of PDF-related tools, but all of them, except for Reader 4, require a subscription. Thankfully, Gaaiho Reader 4 is free.
Despite being called “Reader,” the software is a lot more powerful than a typical PDF reader app. Obviously, it can do all the basics like form creation and simple searching, but dig a bit deeper and all the annotation tools are sure to impress you.
There’s a highlighter tool, a tool to strike out and underline content, and a text editor that can both insert and replace words. You can also add text boxes, notes, callouts, and stamps, all of which can be customized with your preferred font, style, and size.
Finally, the app is incredibly lightweight. As I’ve discussed in my article on PDF readers and viewers, app size is an important factor when you’re choosing a PDF reader. You don’t want to have to wait for several seconds every time you try and open a PDF file, especially if they form an important part of your workflow.
Key Feature: Combining several images into a single PDF file.
Why have I included a native Windows printing tool in a list of PDF editors? It’s a fair question. Well, it’s one of the best tools for combining multiple images into a single PDF file (we’ve already looked at how to extract images from PDFs).
Firstly, you need to organize the images in File Explorer into the order you want them to be displayed in the PDF file. You may need to rename them to achieve the desired sequence.
Select all the files you want to include (Ctrl + Left-Click), then right-click and hit Print.
You will now see the Print Pictures window. In the top left-hand corner, choose Microsoft Print to PDF from the drop-down list below Printer.
In the column on the right-hand side, you can select how many images you want to print per page. You also need to make sure you’ve marked the checkbox next to Fit Picture to Frame — it’ll stop the printer cutting off the edges of your images.
When you’re ready, click Print. Windows will prompt you to give the new PDF file a name and it will process the photos. It could take a while if you’ve chosen lots of images. You’ll find the new file in your destination folder.
Note: If you’re on Windows 7 or 8, you’ll need to install a third-party tool to achieve the same results. The doDPF app comes highly recommended.
Which Tools Do You Use?
It doesn’t matter what you want to achieve with your PDF — you’ll be able to find an app that suits your needs. Although these five tools will have given you a starting point and should help you undertake the most common tasks, if you have a niche requirement, you might need to do some digging.
If you’re in desperate need for a professional tool, invest in a monthly subscription of Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
Alternatively, tell us what you want to do in the comments section. Perhaps a fellow reader will be able to point you in the direction of the ideal tool.
Finally, I’d love to hear what you think about the five tools in this article. Were they easy to use? Did you encounter any difficulties? Get in touch down below.