Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is the brand’s newest PDF editor.
Advertised as an all-encompassing solution, it seems great for heavy-duty PDF users. But it also costs $14.99/month after a free, week-long trial. If you’re an equally cost-conscious and tech-savvy person, you may be wondering about free alternatives.
A Free Adobe Acrobat Pro DC Alternative
PDFescape is available in three versions, including PDFescape Basic. This version is free, and it’s the version I’ll be comparing to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC below. I’ve downloaded the desktop version of this PDF tool for Windows rather than using the web version. I think this will give me the most accurate comparison.
If you want to splurge for the Premium or Ultimate versions of PDFescape, those cost $2.99 or $5.99 per month respectively, billed yearly. Otherwise, pay $5.99 or $8.99 on a monthly billing cycle.
PDFescape lets you manipulate PDFs for a drastically lower price than what Adobe Acrobat Pro DC costs. (That is, for free.) But how does this free PDF editor stack up against Adobe Acrobat Pro DC?
Let’s take a look.
Both Acrobat Pro DC and PDFescape have a similar, multi-pane interface structure.
The main pane in each program lets you view your uploaded PDF. There are tools to edit it on the right and left bars.
In PDFescape, there’s also a toolbar at the very bottom of the software window.
Check out the top pane and the tools inside it, also. PDFescape uses the Ribbon interface you’ll recognize from Microsoft Word and other Microsoft product, perhaps as a way to make the software more intuitive for users.
In contrast, Adobe doesn’t mirror any other commonly used software programs, unless you frequently use Adobe products. Acrobat Pro DC features tool menus that are set up similarly to older versions of Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader.
This is nice if you’re already familiar with Adobe products, but if you’re not, it can be a little difficult to get used to Acrobat’s setup.
The features on the right side of Acrobat’s interface let you access additional commands and manipulation options, whereas the features on the right and left side of PDFescape seem to offer a few additional feature, but otherwise don’t reveal much.
The options at the top of the interface offer more features, but some of these are a bit redundant. For example, there are several Edit and View buttons, which contribute to the toolbars being overly cluttered.
Looking back to Acrobat, you may notice that Adobe’s Home interface has more words than icons. The file list in the middle pane shows you all the files that you’ve recently uploaded to Acrobat Pro Dc.
PDFescape has a similar feature, though instead of a list the software lists your recent documents in thumbnail views.
And the winner is: PDFescape.
Despite my dislike of PDFescape’s redundant menu options, I do like that this software makes it extremely easy to navigate through the different PDF options, all from the top menu bar.
In contrast, Acrobat only lets you review certain options at one time.
You can easily just click the X to get out of any PDF management pane you have open, but I like being able to see all my options in one location, which PDFescape allows.
The Tools tab in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC reveals a wealth of well-organized options.
Combine Files allows for combining material from several PDF files into one. After clicking the Combine Files button, you’ll be prompted to upload the PDFs you want to combine. Then just click Combine.
Your combined PDFs will show up in a new Binder tab. You can easily adjust the order of the combined pages by clicking Organize Pages. Just drag and drop the pages the way you’d like them ordered, and close the pane.
You can also combine files in PDFescape. From the main interface, go to Create PDF, then click Combine Files.
Upload both PDF files you want to merge and click Combine.
Just like with Acrobat, this combines both PDFs into a single document.
Unfortunately, you can’t further adjust the page order with the Basic version of PDFescape. If you want to use the Page Preview panel to reorder your PDF pages, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid account.
Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for a lot of PDFescape’s features.
Here are a few more things you can’t do with the free version that you can unlock with the paid versions:
- Insert or edit images
- Add page numbers
- Add a header or footer
- Split the PDF’s pages
- Convert your PDFs to other formats (such as Word, Excel or HTML)
- Highlight text or add review notes
- Password secure your PDF or set secure permissions
And these limitations are just to name a few.
However, it is worth pointing out that some of these features can be accessed with the (still free) online version of PDFescape.
You can’t do anything complicated, but you do gain the ability to highlight, comment, and annotate the PDF, though the editing features here are less powerful. Additionally, you can use the online PDF editor offered by PDFescape to encrypt your PDF, which the desktop version doesn’t give you free access to.
Conversely, editing PDF text and images in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is a straightforward process. This is likely because Acrobat Pro DC is a paid PDF editor already.
You can easily crop photos, enjoy a convenient automatic spell check feature, and watch formatting automatically adjust to added text.
And the winner is: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
I found it super inconvenient that PDFescape would allow me to combine files, but then not let me rearrange those file pages. I also don’t think that giving users image editing permissions is too much to ask of a free tool, so I have to say I found PDFescape really lacking here.
I’m also just straight up confused by the inability to comment or highlight in the desktop version of the free software when these features are offered for free on the software’s online version.
There’s no way around it, Acrobat Pro DC is just way easier to work with when editing PDFs.
There are many instances when you might need to sign a PDF. After filling out a W-2 form for tax purposes or reviewing your rental contract, for example.
Unfortunately, the complimentary, basic version of PDFescape does not offer a native PDF-signing feature. You’d have to upgrade to a PDFescape Ultimate membership in order to unlock those features.
You can, however, sign PDFs in PDFescape’s web interface. Go back to the web platform we discussed in the previous section and upload the PDF you need to sign. Click on the Text feature to type out any information you need to include in blank fields throughout the document.
Then, when you’re ready to sign, just use the dropdown font menu to select the Signature font.
Sign your name, and click the double green arrow button to automatically save and download your signed PDF file.
To add a signature in Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, click the Fill & Sign option in the right-hand menu.
Choose Sign from the top toolbar. If you’ve previously signed something in Acrobat Pro DC, the software will remember your signature, as you can see in the screenshot below.
If this is your first time signing a PDF in Acrobat, all you have to do is click Add Signature. Then, simply type, draw, or upload an image of your signature to the software and click Apply.
You’ll then be able to place your signature on the appropriate line and adjust the size.
And the winner is: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
Okay, both of these programs can work equally well to sign your PDF documents, but PDFescape will only let you sign your documents if you upload them to the web platform. If you already have the free software downloaded on your computer, this just creates an extra step.
With Acrobat Pro DC, however, you get easily accessible and convenient signing features right at your fingertips.
Initially, PDFescape was a purely cloud-based application (i.e. the web platform was its only platform). More recently, the service developed the offline-friendly desktop version, which I’ve been using throughout this article. A blog post about the desktop version mentions using PDFescape “on the go.” However, PDFescape does not have a smartphone or tablet app, so you’re still dependent on a laptop.
Furthermore, only Premium or Ultimate users get offline access; as a free user, you’re out of luck.
As for Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, it has both Android and iOS apps. The apps are free with your Adobe subscription, so if you really feel like editing PDFs from your iPhone or Android device, you certainly can.
And the winner is: Adobe Acrobat Pro DC.
The sheer convenience of having access to your PDFs from a mobile app gives Acrobat Pro DC a clear advantage over PDFescape here.
The Final Verdict…
While PDFescape is convenient if you just need to combine a few PDFs or use the web portal to sign a contract, the free software fell tremendously short in this comparison.
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is your best choice for extensive PDF editing, signing, and manipulation since you can do pretty much anything you want to your PDFs with your Acrobat subscription. It’s also easy to use and has a beautiful interface.
In comparison, PDFescape isn’t necessarily difficult to use, but its crowded interface isn’t always the most intuitive, and many of the tools in the software are inaccessible with the free software.
Also, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC boasts even more features not covered here in detail. There is a Compare feature that contrasts differences between two PDFs. You can also integrate with Dropbox or track PDF forms sent to others.
Purchasing the Premium or Ultimate version of PDFescape unlocks numerous capabilities, too. But as far as its free version goes, there’s really no contest. The free version of PDFescape has numerous limitations where the Adobe program performs easily.
Is Acrobat Pro DC Worth the Money?
I think it is, but what do you think? Would you still rather jump through hoops with a free PDF editor, or have all of the features you need in one place? Or can you recommend another free PDF editor with more options and fewer limitations?
And for Adobe apps that are worth installing, check out this helpful list.