The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows
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Did you think twice before you installed Adobe Reader This Is Why You Don't Need Adobe Reader This Is Why You Don't Need Adobe Reader Adobe Reader is bloated, slow, and a liability. In short, it's unnecessary. Do you need a PDF Reader at all? We show you how to open PDF files without Adobe Reader. Read More ? Probably not because it’s the gold standard. Except that it’s not the only option, let go the best one.

If you look around, you’ll find several high-quality, free PDF viewers for Windows. We’ve done that research for you, so you don’t have to.

The alternative PDF readers presented here run the gamut from minimal, lightweight applications built for nothing more than viewing PDFs to more full-featured applications that include annotations and highlighting. Some applications even include features you won’t find in Adobe Acrobat Reader, such as basic PDF-editing tools.

1. Your Browser

Whether you’re using Google Chrome, Firefox, or Microsoft Edge, your browser already has a built-in PDF reader. It won’t have all the features, but using your browser as a PDF reader PDF Reader vs. Browser: Which PDF Viewer Is Best for You? PDF Reader vs. Browser: Which PDF Viewer Is Best for You? A PDF reader is often one of the first tools people install on their new computer. It's not glamorous or sexy, but it's a vital tool in your productivity arsenal. Or is it? Read More is a quick way to read PDF documents and it will save you lots of system resources.

The small footprint and easy access comes at a cost. In-browser PDF readers aren’t always compatible with all types of PDF. Furthermore, browser-based PDF readers lack advanced features, like form filling, document signing, or annotation. It’s a compromise, but for the average user it’s a small one.

Microsoft Edge

In Windows 10, Microsoft Edge is both the default browser This Is What Microsoft Edge Is Good For This Is What Microsoft Edge Is Good For Microsoft Edge is way better than Internet Explorer. It's time to become browser agnostic. We'll show you the unique features that make Edge worth using, even if it's not your main browser. Read More and the default PDF Reader.

PDF files open in an Edge browser tab. The only thing that distinguishes them from a regular web page is the PDF toolbar at the top. You can search the document, adjust the zoom level, print, and save the file.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Microsoft Edge PDF 670x120

You can also share the document or add it to your Favorites or Reading List. Unfortunately, Edge’s unique Web Notes feature is not available in PDFs.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Edge Web Notes 670x210

Note: Microsoft Edge suffered from a PDF exploit back in 2016. This vulnerability has since been patched, but issues such as this are the reason why you should always install security updates.

To change your default PDF Reader in Windows 10, go to Start > Settings. Within the Settings app head to Apps > Default apps, click on Choose default apps by file type, and change the app association of the PDF file extension with an application of your choice. This can be another browser or a third party PDF Reader.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Windows 10 Choose Default PDF Reader

Google Chrome

Chrome’s PDF interface is similar to Edge. You’ll find the controls for the zoom level in the bottom right. In addition to everything Edge does, you can rotate the document, which is essential on a Windows 2-in-1 or tablet.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Google Chrome PDF 670x138

If Chrome is your default browser, but you’d rather not have it open PDFs for you, you can disable its built-in PDF reader. Open chrome://settings/content, scroll to the bottom of the content settings windows, and under PDF Documents check Open PDF files in the default PDF viewer application. Make sure you have selected a default Windows PDF viewer.

Mozilla Firefox

Among the in-browser PDF readers, Firefox offers the most comprehensive package. In addition to standard features offered in Chrome and Edge, you can expand a sidebar, rotate in both directions, and toggle the hand tool.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Mozilla Firefox PDF 670x425

To disable the Firefox PDF viewer, go to Menu > Options > Applications. Next to the Content Type Portable Document Format (PDF), select your preferred Action.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Firefox Change Default PDF Viewer

While in-browser PDF readers and system default apps are great, sometimes you need more than that. Hence, the market for dedicated PDF readers remains highly competitive. Here are some more alternatives with advanced features.

2. Sumatra PDF

Highlight: Most lightweight PDF reader 4 Very Light Alternatives to Adobe Reader 4 Very Light Alternatives to Adobe Reader Are you still using Adobe Reader for PDF documents? It's time to move on to an alternative PDF reader that is lightweight, launches quickly, and yet keeps your documents save. Read More , also available as a portable app.

Sumatra PDF is the best alternative to using your browser as a PDF reader because it’s easy on system resources. It’s also open source. If you want something even more minimalistic than that, you could download its portable app instead of the desktop version.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Sumatra PDF 670x470

Sumatra PDF doesn’t have any editing options or other advanced features – it’s just a window that loads extremely fast and displays PDFs. It does, however, support tabs and it’s packed with keyboard shortcuts, making it even more ideal for rapidly reading PDFs. Furthermore, Sumatra supports other types of files, including eBooks in ePub and Mobi format and comic books in CBZ and CBR formats.

Download: Sumatra PDF

3. Nitro PDF Reader

Highlight: Blends into Microsoft Office applications and offers extensive features.

When one company looks like they have an exit strategy, it’s Nitro. The interface was lifted straight from Microsoft Office. And like the market leading office suite, this PDF reader is rich in features.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Nitro Reader 5 670x480

Unlike many other free PDF readers, with Nitro you can fill in forms and sign your documents using your digital ID. You can also add notes to and extract images or convert a PDF to a plain text document.

While the resemblance to Microsoft’s ribbon interface is somewhat charming, it may not be your cup of tea.

Download: Nitro Reader 5

4. Foxit Reader

Highlight: The most feature-complete free PDF reader.

Foxit Reader was one of the first mainstream Adobe Reader alternatives. It remains a great option because — among the free PDF readers — it offers the most features.

You’ll notice that the interface is dominated by an extensive number of editing tabs. They cover a range of advanced options, including text markup, a typewriter option, form handling, digital signatures, managing reviews and tracking changes, and connected PDFs.

One of Foxit Reader’s best features is that you can add your own shortcuts to the Quick Action Toolbar in the top left.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Foxit Reader 670x480

Like Nitro, Foxit was heavily inspired by Microsoft’s ribbon interface. Moreover, the feature richness comes at a cost: your system resources. You can, however download a portable version of Foxit Reader.

Download: Foxit Reader

5. STDU Viewer

Highlight: One viewer to replace them all, great for navigating multiple documents.

This document viewer wants to be the only application you use for all your technical documentations, books, and other readings. STDU Viewer supports TXT, Comic Book Archive, PDF, DjVu, MOBI, EPub, several image files, and many more document formats.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows STDU Viewer 670x480

STDU Viewer’s strong suite is managing multiple different documents at once. Not only can you open documents in tabs and expand a navigation panel, you can also create and navigate bookmarks and highlights, view thumbnails of your open documents, and split windows to compare different pages within the same document. Another neat feature is that you can invert colors, such as from black on white to white on black, which can reduce eyestrain.

While STDU Viewer doesn’t have all the features of Nitro and Foxit Reader, it is a great alternative for those who have to read or refer to a lot of digital documents.

Download: STDU Viewer

6. Adobe Reader

Highlight: Simple interface and minimal features.

Adobe’s PDF reader remains the de-facto standard. At 105 MB, sans optional offers, it’s definitely the heavyweight champion among the readers featured here.

On the bright side, Adobe Reader maintains a pleasing interface and isn’t overloaded with features. You can comment, fill & sign, and convert to PDF or other formats (export). If you ever run into issues opening a PDF file or filling a form using an alternative PDF tool, you won’t suffer too much when you have to fall back onto Adobe Reader.

The 6 Best PDF Readers for Windows Adobe Reader 670x480

While you will find options to edit and combine PDF files listed under Tools, these are actually pro features that will set you back at least USD 15 per month.

Download: Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

All Your PDF Needs Covered

We showed you six different PDF viewers and hopefully one of these is perfect for you.

Do you need to edit PDFs 5 Free Tools to Edit PDF Files 5 Free Tools to Edit PDF Files PDFs are universally useful. However, they fall short when it comes to editing. We're here to show you the best free tools to edit your PDF files. Read More or do more with your PDF documents 5 Free Tools to Master Your PDF Files 5 Free Tools to Master Your PDF Files PDF files excel at maintaining your document's formatting across platforms. We show you the best tools to scan to PDF, save to PDF, extract media files, and convert PDF to text. Read More ? We’ve got you covered!

What’s your favorite PDF viewer? And can you recommend any other PDF tools? The comments are open for your contribution!

Originally published by Chris Hoffman on 29 June 2012.

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  1. OkenaP
    September 11, 2017 at 8:02 pm

    PDF-XChange and Foxit both are good (indeed, the best in replacing Adobe), but PDF-XChange Editor Free version offers more features for free than Foxit, works faster, its some features are more detailed.

  2. MonicaJ
    August 17, 2017 at 3:43 pm

    I use the Kdan PDF reader, which is the best pdf reader and is also free.

    • Tina Sieber
      August 17, 2017 at 7:07 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Monica!

  3. Marshall
    July 24, 2017 at 2:04 pm

    One I keep ready for occasional use is PDF-Exchange. It has a search option that allow you to search through folders of PDFs. We have several thousand inspection reports in PDF files and remembering in which one we found X or did Y is well beyond my ability, so being able to search the entire folder, without pulling up each report and searching it, is a god send.

    • Tina Sieber
      July 24, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      Thank you for sharing, Marshall!

  4. Will
    June 25, 2017 at 10:18 am

    I'm used to install Foxit reader, but I've come to understand it has become somewhat bloated and installs more then just a PDF reader.

  5. Mati
    June 13, 2017 at 3:00 am

    I use Sumatra + CutePDF Writer and i all set for my pdf needs

  6. Hildy J
    June 8, 2017 at 7:49 pm

    Another option is LibreOffice. You can view and edit the PDF and export it as a PDF after editing. My biggest frustration with it is that you can create a PDF with fillable form fields but you can't fill form fields in a PDF you import. WTF?

  7. Doug
    June 8, 2017 at 1:33 pm

    I've been using PDFX-Change Viewer (now updated to PDFX-Change Editor, which I don't use) for years. It's full-featured, flexible, and free. I know it so well that I'm not ready to consider any other PDF programs, though in the distant past I used Foxit for a year or so.

    • Tina Sieber
      June 8, 2017 at 7:35 pm

      PDFX-Change Viewer was on this list before. I decided to remove it because the editor isn't free and nothing about the viewer stood out to me.

      Why are you using it and what makes it better than other PDF viewers in your opinion?

      • Luís Carreira
        June 9, 2017 at 12:07 pm

        "The smallest, fastest, most feature-rich FREE PDF editor/viewer available!"
        It's the phrase just below the app's name on it's website.
        I'm using it since it came out to replace the viewer and never paid anything...
        What it has is "pro-features" for which you need to pay the pro version... But that is also valid for others in the list.
        So I do not understand your argument to remove that one from the list...

      • Klaas Vaak
        July 6, 2017 at 10:56 am

        PDF-XChange Editor is also free.

      • Olivia
        August 8, 2017 at 5:48 pm

        PDF-XChange Editor has Free version too (like its previous Viewer). I often have work with PDF documents, and I would say that Editor is my favorite. It is more advanced as old Viewer (and it's absolutely new built), it's faster and more detailed as Foxit (in many features- that is very necessary for me!), cheaper than Adobe (and, again, some features are more detailed). Also, support is really fast and helpful (during 1-5 hours I always got answers). I have this Editor at home and at work (one license is ok for both my computers).

  8. Howard A Pearce
    June 8, 2017 at 8:12 am

    I have used PDF Xchange viewer for a while, which now comes as PDF Xchange editor too which I use instead of the the viewer

    This built-in editor/viewer is an advantage over mere PDF viewers, IMHO
    It also has a plugin for most browsers

    • Tina Sieber
      June 8, 2017 at 7:36 pm

      So you bought the editor?

      Except for the editing feature, what convinced you about this product?

  9. Mo
    February 21, 2017 at 9:25 pm

    Thanks, most interesting. A question please......can I convert an excel workbook with several worksheets into an android app?

    I am struggling with this, as excel is obviously not a secure platform. But hoping it is do-able

    • albert e
      March 29, 2017 at 6:10 pm

      the is an addin for excel that can do this, its call, unicorn dreams or something like that

  10. Steve
    October 21, 2016 at 8:08 am

    Foxit has lost the plot, it has become bloated and now wants us to connect to the cloud

  11. Hariom
    July 30, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Foxit Is The Best

  12. PoOI
    May 13, 2016 at 7:47 pm

    PDF-XChange Editor is my favorite PDF editor/viewer.
    Tracker Software offers excellent PDF Tools that allows to work with bunches of documents without opening any PDF redactor. These Tools are not free but also not expensive.
    And with Tools you will get PDF-XChange Editor and Lite without additional payment.

    • john hepper
      July 23, 2016 at 5:48 am

      Did someone ask whats your favorite?

      • PoOI
        August 16, 2016 at 5:31 pm

        "smart" question. I've added the new information to that topic (it came to me as ad) because I see there is no information about Tools - new software. It's strange, seems for me.

  13. Anonymous
    April 12, 2016 at 11:45 pm

    I am absolutely agree with Steve DJ. PDF-XChange Editor is amazing! I'm using it for years (yes, before it was Viewer). Nothing can compare with its quality and fast work+number of free features+price for full version. New version 6 works well in Windows 10. I like it more that Adobe, Foxit, ... and can recommend to take a look.

    • PoOI
      May 13, 2016 at 7:56 pm


  14. Black Thunder
    January 19, 2016 at 10:27 am

    By the way, windows 8 and 10 have built in reader.
    Firefox and Chrome have also.

    • Pavilion g4
      April 2, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      By the way, this post is some 4 years old.

  15. Black Thunder
    January 19, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Foxit Reader is the best!