If you're trying to edit a PDF, you may discover that it's not as easy as it sounds. There are free and cheap PDF editing tools available, though, so here we review the best you can get, including Adobe Acrobat, Foxit, Nuance Power PDF, Nitro and more.
PDF (Portable Document Format) is one of the most popular types of document for sharing as most devices and computers can open a PDF for the recipient to read. It doesn't matter whether you're using a laptop or a smartphone, nor which software was used to create it.
But while some PDF reader software allows you to annotate or add comments, such as the free Foxit Reader, sometimes you need to edit the actual PDF itself. This is possible with the tools below, even if a different program was used to make the file in the first place. Such programs allow to to do things like convert a PDF to Word format.
Do I need to pay for a PDF editor?
Not necessarily. It depends on what you need to do with the file. It can be worth trying a free one to see if it has the tools and options to make the necessary edits, but in some cases you won't be able to do what you need to unless you pay for a more advanced package.
All software below lets you create PDFs from other files - including .doc - but they also allow you to edit PDF files so that you don't need to track down the original source file in its native format.
In addition, most of them also provide advanced features such as form creation, digital signature and ID certification, and collaborative review and commenting, that you generally don’t get with free PDF packages.
We've included options with free trials here, but you can also check out our guide on how to edit PDFs for free for some more basic options that might do the trick.
Online PDF editors
Best PDF Editor reviews
Adobe Acrobat DC
Adobe invented the PDF, and so you'd be right to expect that it has the best - or at least very good - PDF editing software. These days, of course, Adobe wants you to pay a subscription to access the latest version of Acrobat Pro. The DC stands for Document Cloud, and hints at the fact that you can store your PDFs in the cloud and collaborate on them with others.
If you don't need many editing features, you can just use Acrobat DC, which is the standard version. While this works out at £13.14/$12.99 per month, the Pro version is hardly any more expensive at £15.17/$14.99 per month.
Nuance Power PDF 3
Nuance Power PDF 3 is intuitive and easy to use, especially if you're familiar with Microsoft Office. We have little doubt that most users will be able to quickly get up and running with it.
We found the reviewing features particularly comprehensive, proving means of annotating, marking text in various ways and drawing attention to parts of a document, and it's great that there's now support for touchscreens. Given that it's so much cheaper than Acrobat, it makes a lot of sense for small business use.
Read our full Power PDF 3 review.
PDFelement takes a lot of inspiration (as do other PDF editors) from Microsoft Office, so if you're used to Office 2007 or later, you'll instantly feel at home with PDFelement 6.
The interface is clean and intuitive and the tools are easy to use and do what you'd expect. You can create a PDF from scratch, but can also import a Word, Excel or PowerPoint document.
We found this worked well, except for large Excel sheets since there's no option to select just a portion of the sheet you want to import: it's all or nothing.
On unprotected documents you can click the 'Edit text' button and do exactly that. Unlike some PDF editors, which force you to 'Tippex' over text and then type over the top, PDFelement allows you to select and modify text just as you can in Word. Plus, you can select and move images around at will, delete elements and import new images.
As you'd expect from a paid-for product, it allows you to protect documents, create forms and sign documents.
It costs $69 (approx. £54) and at that price, it's good value. If you need OCR - the ability to convert scanned text documents into editable text - that version costs $99 (£76.50). Here's a comparison of the two versions.
Nitro Pro 12
This is a fully featured PDF editor that's very easy to use and represents good value for money. Like other editors, it provides facilities for PDF creation and editing, form creation, digital signatures and commenting, plus integrated optical character recognition (OCR) so that scanned paper documents can be turned into truly editable PDFs.
Version 12 adds various improvements including greater accuracy when converting a PDF to Excel or PowerPoint. For those new to Nitro, there's a Product Tour which walks you through the main features.
We like the integration with Box, Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox which makes it very easy to open and save files directly to those cloud storage services.
When it comes to editing PDFs, Nitro makes it a breeze to change text, rearrange images, add forms and more. You can change the order of pages in a document simply by dragging and dropping. And it's also easy to sign a PDF using the QuickSign shortcut.
At £168/$190.80 for the Individual version it's not the cheapest, but you do get a huge range of features.
Foxit PhantomPDF provides the level of functionality that the professional user has come to expect at a keen price. The user interface is modern and easy to use (mainly because it borrows heavily from Microsoft Office) and Foxit provides no shortage of tutorial videos and easy access to support options to get you up to speed in record time.
There's also a Business version at a slightly higher price that offers additional features including advanced editing, shared review initiation, higher security additional file compression and more. Free trials are available for both so you could try the Standard option to see if it can do everything you need it to before you buy.
If you only need very basic editing options such as annotation, highlighting and signing PDFs, then Foxit also offers the Foxit Reader totally free of charge.
Read our full Foxit PhantomPDF review
Able2Extract Pro may have an odd name, but this is a fully fledged PDF creator and editor.
It can also take a PDF and convert it to various formats including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. When converting to Excel, you can select only the content you want to extract (the name is relevant here) and see a preview of what it will look like before actually exporting it.
Editing functions include being able to highlight and replace text (fonts cannot always be matched of course), remove pages and annotate and redact text. And as with other paid-for packages, you can protect a PDF with a password and differing file permissions.
At $149.99 (approx £115), this is one of the more expensive options, so if you don't need all its features, you can save money and opt for one of the cheaper packages here.
Tracker PDF XChange Pro
Costing significantly less than virtually all other business-oriented PDF editors, yet providing the functionality you’d expect, Tracker PDF XChange Pro is well worth trying out (there's a trial option on the website).
The down-side is that some of the functions you’d expect to find in the main package are in separate utilities but this is only a minor inconvenience, given the sub-£100 price.
Read our full PDF XChange Pro review