Whether you’re on an iPad or other tablet, Windows PC or Mac, here are the simplest, free ways for you or your children to write or draw on a PDF.

Conventional PDF readers don’t make it easy to draw or write freehand onto documents. Many – including Adobe’s own Acrobat Reader – make it easy to highlight text or add your signature. Others let you edit the document layout, usually at a price. But sometimes all you want is, for example, to draw amendments on some plans you’ve been sent – or your child wants to write in letters a crossword you’ve downloaded from Twinkl – and if you don’t own a printer, these apps don’t give you the tools you need.

Instead, here are the easiest ways to turn your PDFs into a form that you or your children can draw or write on. A lot of them are based on the same essential principle – you turn the PDF document into one or more images that you can then draw or write on in an art app. We’ve picked out workflows that use completely free apps – but if you’ve got a preferred piece of software such as Photoshop or mobile app like Procreate, it’s easy to use them too.

We’ll start with the method for an iPad before moving onto other tablet types, Macs and Windows PC.

Draw or write on a PDF on an iPad

The first step is to turn your PDF into an image or a series of images. If your PDF has a single page, the simplest way to do this just to take a screen grab of it. To do this, just press the top button and either the home button – if your iPad has one – or the Volume Up button if it doesn’t (as on the latest iPads Pros).

If your PDF has multiple pages, it’s probably easier to go through each page in turn and take a screengrab. Or if possible, use one of the workflows on a Mac or PC below and then send the files to the iPad. You can use a site like pdf2jpg.net to convert your PDFs to JPGs, but you’ll either end up having to download each JPG by hand or downloading a ZIP file – and using ZIP files on iOS is painful as you can’t just extract all the files in one go.

Once you have your images, you’ll need an art app. We recommend Autodesk Sketchbook as it’s free, has a great set of tools and – equally importantly – is easy for adults and children to use if just you want to add notes to a document or letters or numbers to a worksheet. And if you want to get more artistic, Sketch has a great set of art tools as you’d expect from an app created by a company who’s other apps are used in the creation of the visual effects for most major Hollywood blockbusters.

Draw or write on a PDF on a tablet

The easiest workflow here is the same as on an iPad: screengrab each page – though exactly how you do this varies from tablet to tablet. Then use the free Autodesk Sketchbook app for Android to draw or write on the images you created.

If you’re using an Amazon Fire tablet, you’ll need to use a different apps as Autodesk doesn’t have a version of Sketch for that platform. Instead an app like ArtFlow should be good enough for you needs.

Draw or write on a PDF on a Mac or PC

The simplest way to achieve what you want if you’re using a Mac or PC is to use Adobe Photoshop – as you can open PDFs directly in that app, picking which pages you want or opening all as different layers or documents. However, Photoshop costs £10/US$10 per month after a 30-day trial – the subscription gets you Photoshop for the iPad too, but this can’t open PDFs.

Instead, as with iPads and tablets, the humble screengrab may be your best way to create images you can draw on in an art application.

If you have a PDF with multiple pages, https://pdf2jpg.net/ will let you convert this into multiple JPGs for free. However, we don’t know anything about the people behind it – so it’s probably safest not to use this for legal documents you want to annotate.

Once you have your screengrabs, you’ll need an art application to write or draw with. Again, the free Autodesk Sketchbook app is your friend here as there are Mac and Windows versions of this.