Linux Productivity

5 Easy & Effective Ways to Edit PDF Documents on Linux

Joel Lee 22-12-2015

The Linux learning curve 9 Questions New Linux Users Always Ask It's completely normal to feel overwhelmed when making the switch to Linux. That's what happens when you step from one world into another. This will help you. Read More isn’t always easy, and one of the more common questions is “What’s the best PDF editor?” — especially among people who want to use Linux in a work-related capacity. And the good news is that the answer isn’t as murky as you might expect.


There are actually several ways to modify PDFs on a Linux system to differing degrees. You can pay for commercial-grade software and support 5 Lies Linux-Haters Like To Tell Linux may have been a scary operating system before, but all of that has changed in recent years. These myths, which are more accurately called lies, are now dead. Read More , or you can opt for one of the free alternatives. It’s up to you. We’re just here to show you what’s out there.

1. PDF Studio

PDF Studio is unique in that it’s the only paid software on this list, and while that tends to go against the whole “Linux is free” philosophy What Is Open Source Software? [MakeUseOf Explains] "Open source" is a term that’s thrown around a lot these days. You may know that certain things are open source, like Linux and Android, but do you know what it entails? What is open... Read More , it means that you get a high-quality product that the developers care to polish — and it shows.

PDF Studio comes in two versions. The Standard version costs $89 and has several basic features, including but not limited to the following:

  • Creating PDFs from any text file, image file, or Word document. Also supports the ability to scan papers as PDF files.
  • Annotating and commenting on PDF documents.
  • Marking and highlighting of text.
  • Filling out PDF forms, but not editing text.
  • Documents can be split apart or merged together, and they can be secured with passwords and permission settings.


On the other hand, the Pro version costs $129 and has more advanced features, including but not limited to the following:


It’s a shame that content editing is only available in the Pro version, but it is what it is. PDF Studio is truly a complete solution and only worth getting if you’re going to use most of what it offers. Both versions have free trials, so give them a personal try.

2. Master PDF Editor

Like PDF Studio, Master PDF Editor aims to be a complete all-in-one solution for your PDF editing needs, but it has one major advantage: at nearly half the price, Master PDF Editor is way more affordable.


But does that mean reduced quality? Not necessarily. For most users, Master PDF Editor is probably more than good enough. Notable features include but aren’t limited to:

  • Full editing of all text, images, and forms.
  • Protection of documents with 128-bit encryption.
  • The ability to convert XPS files into PDF files.
  • Exporting of PDFs into common image formats, like BMP, JPG, PNG, and even TIFF.
  • Documents can be split apart or merged together.
  • Digital signatures and document signing.

The price tag is $50 for the full edition. You won’t find a reduced-price version with crippled features here. Master PDF Editor is all or nothing, but does provide an evaluation trial to see if the program is right for you before you commit to a purchase.

3. Calibre + LibreOffice

This method doesn’t involve an actual PDF editor, but it does produce results. It definitely has its flaws, but as long as you’re willing to work around them, you can have a powerful PDF-editing workflow that doesn’t cost anything.


Basically, you can use the Calibre ebook manager How To Manage Your Ebook Collection For The Amazon Kindle With Calibre The biggest problem with an eReader like the Amazon's Kindle is that it requires unreasonable effort to move books between different devices. Before Kindle, I fell in love with Calibre. A bit on the heavy... Read More on Linux to convert PDF documents into rich text documents (RTF). Here’s how to do that:

  1. Add the PDF document to your Calibre library.
  2. Right-click the PDF and select Convert Books > Convert Individually.
  3. In the conversion window, make sure the Output Format is set to RTF.
  4. Click OK to commence conversion.

Once you have the RTF document, open it in LibreOffice and edit it to your heart’s pleasure. This method works well enough for basic editing of text and images, but obviously fumbles when you want to do more advanced work, like validation forms, dynamic XFA forms, digital signatures, or interactive PDFs How to Create an Interactive PDF Interactive PDFs allow you to add video, audio, hyperlinks, and more into your documents. Here's how to create one using Adobe InDesign. Read More .

Fortunately, for tasks like splitting/merging PDFs, OCR text extraction, or secure password protection, you can always incorporate one of many free online PDF tools 7 Free Online PDF Tools That Could Save You A Lot Of Work The Web is full of awesome little tools that can help you alter PDF files without breaking a sweat. Let's look at lesser known PDF tasks that may come in handy for you. Read More into your workflow. When the RTF editing is done, just go through the same steps to convert it back into PDF.

4. Scribus

If your PDF-editing needs are more visual-oriented rather than simple text and images, then you may actually want to use Scribus instead of the Calibre + LibreOffice method above.

Scribus is an open-source program that’s built for professional desktop publishing, which includes things like brochures, newsletters, or even books. It’s not a strictly PDF-based editor, but it’s great for “layout” work and can consistently export to PDF with ease.


What’s nice about Scribus is that it can import files that were created in other desktop publishing formats, such as Adobe InDesign and Microsoft Publisher, as well as XPS (which is Microsoft’s alternative to the PDF format).

Scribus is completely free to use, but there are two downsides. The first is that it can’t seem to open all PDF files. Again, since it isn’t exactly a PDF editor, that can be forgiven, but you should be aware that it’s rather picky about the kinds of PDFs it will open.

The second is that it has a bit of a learning curve. The program itself is somewhat intuitively laid out, but there’s no community presence except for an incomplete wiki, so you might have trouble finding tutorials and support when you run into problems.


Did you know that GIMP can work in a pinch as a PDF editor? We don’t really recommend it if you’re going to be doing a large volume of serious work, but for one-off edits and basic changes, it actually works better than you might expect it to.


The editing process is rather straightforward:

  1. Launch GIMP and open any PDF file. (Note that GIMP doesn’t make it easy to edit multiple pages since each page gets loaded in a separate layer.)
  2. Edit the document as you see fit. You can’t edit text directly, but if you treat the document like an image, it’s simple enough to shift things around, erase bits, and add your own text.
  3. Select File > Export As… and export the document in PDF format. Unfortunately, GIMP only exports what it “sees”, so you’ll have to export each layer as individual PDFs, then merge them together with another tool.

Like Scribus, GIMP is really more for visual-oriented PDFs, but it can also work for simple PDFs that only have one or two pages and not a lot of text. Advanced documents, like interactive PDFs, are off the table though.

Which Method Do You Prefer?

As you can see, PDF editing on Linux isn’t as clear-cut as on Windows or Mac unless you use one of the paid tools. The free alternatives can work, but they each have their own quirks that make them a pain in their own unique ways.

If you’re a newbie to Linux, be sure to live by these golden rules 5 Golden Rules to Live By as a New Linux User How do you ensure that your transition to the new OS is smooth? Stick to the following five rules and you should do just fine. Read More for the best possible experience. You’ll also want to check out these tips for Linux newbies 7 Neat Linux Tricks That Newbies Need to Know As a Linux newbie, it's normal to struggle. Everything just feels so different from Windows and you find yourself scratching your head at the simplest of tasks. Read More and these commonly-asked Linux questions Considering Linux? 10 Common Questions Answered Here are the most common questions that Windows users have about Linux. After going through this list of questions and answers, you should feel much more confident with trying out Linux. Read More as well.

Do you edit PDFs on Linux a lot? Which tool do you like using the best? Know of any alternatives we missed? Let us know in the comments below!

Image Credits:penguin writing by Asfia via Shutterstock

Related topics: Linux, PDF, PDF Editor.

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  1. Mitul
    September 29, 2017 at 7:35 am

    I use foxit reader through wine and except for some random crash it’s quite good.

  2. timbocephus
    April 13, 2017 at 11:49 am

    The master pdf editor (#2 above) has a free for non-commercial use version now (since article was originally published circa 2015 apparently). I just tried it for some IRS required forms for this years taxes.... Highly recommended. The deb file does not install to the desktop menu (at least lxde menu anyway). You will have to configure your gui menu yourself very likely. Full version is still a great bargain too.

  3. peter
    January 11, 2017 at 12:47 pm

    For a simple pdf form, I used libreoffice draw. It worked for me very well.
    First, open the pdf with libreoffice draw then fill the form and finally export as pdf.

  4. petr
    August 15, 2016 at 6:18 pm

    Will bring my old windows pc tomorrow. I tried 3. and 5. to simply fill a 6-page form, but it didn't work and I lost that time. (Perhaps 1. and 2. work, but I don't want to spend.)

  5. Anonymous
    January 10, 2016 at 10:35 am

    A bit late, but if somebody still reads this I have a question:

    I am looking for a solution to scan lots of documents to PDF, at best including ocr, in a way that the document still looks like the original but includes the actual text. Since I switched from Mac to Linux a few years ago I have been looking for something like that as an open source solution, but I found none that was really satisfying enough. Sometimes the amount of text extracted was just horribly bad, at other times it was *only* the text (loosing the document-structure), the resulting PDFs were far too big or the whole process to get what I wanted was far too convoluted to be usable for more than just a few documents.

    So my main question is if one of the above-mentioned paid solutions can do that comfortably. I'd be happy to know about a *simple* free solution too (although I doubt there is one in the open source area, as I've said I tried out all I could find).

    • tux
      January 29, 2016 at 8:50 pm

      Linux lacks good open source OCR software (tesseract and cuneiform are possibly somewhat acceptable). However the Windows versions of ABBYY Finereader (at least versions 8 and 10) work great under Wine. The software is limited to 15 days of use - after that, you have to pay a license to ABBYY (though complete reinstallation under Wine may work after the delay, and further "workarounds" can be found in various places ...) In any case, with 300 dpi scanned pages, the recognition rate is extremely good (like 99.9 % for plain text), one gets a *.rtf file that preserves most of the formatting, including tables and images. After correcting only a few errors per page, just export to PDF with LibreOffice. That's it !

      • Anonymous
        March 14, 2016 at 11:45 am

        Thanks, that sounds really good. Will take a look.

  6. Pat
    December 23, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Foxit PDF is great for simple highlights and annotations. I've been using it at school for years.

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2015 at 2:39 am

      Nice! A bit too primitive for most folks I think, though, and Foxit's true editor is PhantomPDF (from what I can tell) which only has a limited free trial. :(

  7. Anonymous
    December 23, 2015 at 2:31 pm

    There also is smallpdf.

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2015 at 2:38 am

      I just gave the website a glance and it looks pretty cool, but doesn't seem to actually have any editing options. I see some conversions and tweaks (merge, rotate, etc) but that's it. Am I missing something?

  8. le hollandais volant
    December 23, 2015 at 5:49 am

    Or you can use Libre Office Draw to edit PDF files. Most files will work nicely and you can edit text, remove chunks of the page, change colors...

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2015 at 2:36 am

      Good idea! I've admittedly never had to use Libre Office Draw so that option completely slipped my mind. I'll have to try it some time. Thanks!

    • David Pérez
      August 17, 2016 at 9:30 am

      This solution is good enough for me. A big thanks! :-)

    • Jouni "rautamiekka" Järvinen
      March 28, 2017 at 5:43 pm

      Actually bad idea, LO is notoriously lacking in PDF support, both in reading AND ESPECIALLY writing. If it works for your current usage, damn good, but otherwise I wouldn't bother until they fix more of those bugs.

    • Jouni "rautamiekka" Järvinen
      March 28, 2017 at 5:48 pm

      #1 "the only commercial", #2 "half the price tag". Something's wrong.

      • ploni
        July 31, 2018 at 7:56 pm

        #1 only says "the only paid". And with #2's free-for-non-commercial-use version, it's mostly accurate.

  9. c00kiej4r
    December 22, 2015 at 11:01 pm

    Okular, the default PDF document viewer for the KDE desktop is free and has a lot of features such annotations, highlighting, underlining and drawing. You just have to press F6 and you get the entire menu with these options. It has the advantages of integrating well for KDE users (may be a bit off-putting for Gnome-GTK users but I have used it in ubuntu for years with no problems). It has a lot of features as all KDE applications.

    • Joel Lee
      December 30, 2015 at 2:36 am

      I've heard good things about Okular but never been able to try it myself because I keep having issues with KDE for some reason. It sounds great though, and next time I'm able to, I'll give it a whirl. Thanks for the suggestion, c00kiej4r!

      • Ian Bull
        May 12, 2016 at 11:23 pm

        Well, looks like there are quite some choices we have at first glance. For me, I dual-boot both Windows and Ubuntu on every single computer of mine, so sometimes I have the need to find a single PDF solution under both platforms. I find Qoppa PDF Studio to be the best one hands down, especially version 10 and the new v11.

        PDF Studio probably has more than 99% of the functionality of Acrobat, but only for a fraction of the price. Better yet, you can install it on at two computers, be it Windows or Linux OS. One of the best features that PDF Studio has but is lacking in most other Acrobat alternatives is the OCR option. You can create searchable PDF directly from your scanner from within PDF Studio (install sane daemon to do this. for more details, go to [Broken Link Removed] If you don't want to deal with saned, then you can use Simple Scan to scan your documents and use PDF Studio to do the OCR work. I found that I have been using my Ubuntu for more than a week now without booting into Windows, because PDF Studio has all the features I need to deal with tons of PDF work.

        Thank you Qoppa for develop such an amazing software at a reasonable price, especially for us Linux users.