A PDF (Portable Document Format) is one of the most popular file types around, mainly due to the ease with which it can be shared and printed. It doesn't matter whether you're using a laptop or a smartphone, nor which software was used to create it.
However, they often can't be modified, making it difficult to edit a PDF when the time comes. Fortunately, there are plenty of tools available at help you do just that, including the likes of Adobe Acrobat, Foxit, Kofax Power PDF and Nitro.
It's worth establishing the difference between simple PDF readers and dedicated editing software. The former might allow you to annotate or add comments, but to make changes to the PDF itself you'll need a paid tool. These are relatively inexpensive, and will work even if a different program was used to make the original file. What's more, many of these tools can also be used to convert a PDF to Word.
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.
Most of them also provide advanced features like 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 Editors
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.
Kofax Power PDF 3
Previously distributed under the Nuance brand, Kofax Power PDF 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.
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. £52) 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 (approx. £74). Here's how the two compare.
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.
Nitro Pro usually costs £168/$159 for the Individual version, but until 26 November 2020, it's down to £135/$128. It's still 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.
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 $149.95 (approx. £113), this is one of the more expensive options, but if you only need access for a limited time the a $34.95 (approx. £26) 30-day licence is also worth considering.
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.
Talking of price, a single user lifetime licence will set you back $93.50 (approx. £70).