Editing PDF documents is a real pain with them requiring specific software, usually paid, to correct anything. However, there are some nice people on the internet who have created some free to use PDF editing software that can do enough of a job to get by. Naturally, you won’t get the number of features that you’d receive in something like the Adobe Suite but these pieces of software are definitely respectable and for free, who’s complaining.
For picking the best free PDF editor, we scoured the web for those that were most used but also had the best features overall. Unfortunately, there aren’t many PDF editors out there that are completely free with no caveats and these usually come in the form of it only being free for a limited time or having to deal with a watermark on your documents. Moreover, as previously mentioned, most free software slightly limited in features and this is similarly true with the best free PDF editor so when fine picking the best, we focused on which have the core features on lock so you can actually get some PDF editing done without having to worry if you even have those tools at your disposal.
Best Free PDF Editor in 2021
Optical Character Recognition
Convert fonts that you don't even have installed
First up we have PDF-XChange Editor which is a free PDF editing program that has been developed by Tracker Software. It has one specific feature that makes this piece of software a great pick and that’s Optical Character Recognition (OCR). This OCR tech allows you to reformat text and convert the fonts that have previously been used on photocopied PDF documents, perfect for many as the majority of individuals who are recipients of a photocopied PDF document usually want to make some form of notes or change the text within them. Additionally, a handy little extra is the ability to convert fonts that aren’t even installed on your machine, great for those with a limited library or simply just don’t know what font the document has used.
The interface of PDF-XChange Editor is a little complex and takes some getting used to, especially if you’ve been using the more basic programs, but does give you quick and easy access to some of the more specific features without having to look around for them.
So, what’s wrong with this free PDF editor? Well, it does come with that watermark if you’re just using this version. Quite annoying and something you can’t really do anything about, but if you’re just wanting to share PDF documents between family and friends or potentially just internally in the office, it’s something you can look past. To remove this watermark you will have to pay for the pro version but that defeats the object we’re going for here.
Clickable URL tool
Make freehand notes
10MB document limit
PDFescape has a couple of avenues to go down for editing PDF software; online and through its downloadable application. Sadly, for those looking solely for a free PDF editor, only the online version has that quality. Additionally, it lacks a couple of good features that the downloadable version has but it should still have enough tools for you to get by.
Looking at these tools, you’re able to utilize the clickable URLs function for adding links directly to the web as well as the ability to make freehand notes and have them on your PDF documents. You can also easily add new pages as well as rotate and annotate them which is pretty impressive considering this is all in-browser rather than a program.
While most other free PDF editors’ downside is the fact that they come as a free trial or have a watermark, PDFescape doesn’t have either, making it an extremely attractive option. The only awkward quality it does have is a 10MB document limit which can hinder you if you’re wanting to edit an image-laden PDF. However, with most PDFs being mostly text, they’re more likely to be in the KB range rather than MB thus almost making this negative redundant.
Can convert to different formats
Smallpdf details a simplistic, intuitive user interface in which allows you to add text and images to your PDFs as well as making any comments and highlighting information that’s already present in the document. You’re also able to e-sign your PDFs, which is extremely useful, especially for business users.
If you want to convert your PDFs into a more editable format such as Powerpoint or Word, Smallpdf can do that too, as well as the ability to merge multiple PDF documents together to form a beefier file. Additionally, because Smallpdf is a cloud-based service, you’re able to access these documents wherever you are, essential for you individuals who work on the go or are wanting to edit PDFs relating to schoolwork.
If you just want to use the browser-based version it’s free to use but if you’re looking for the desktop program, you’ll be entering into a free trial so you need to weigh up which is best for you and if you even need the extras the desktop version sports.
Easy to use
Restrictions every hour
If you’re working on sensitive PDF documents that need to be kept secure then Sejda is the best free PDF editor for you. The reason why is because all uploaded files are wiped from its servers after five hours eliminating the worry of the platform getting hacked and your document’s contents taken.
The security isn’t the only good feature of Sejda, it has an extremely friendly interface with a single menu bar that has all the necessary tools at your fingertips including text, links, signatures, and adding images. Once you’re finished with your PDF, you can simply save it to your Google Drive account, Dropbox, or on your machine which is a nice added extra, streamlining the whole exporting process.
Again, like PDFescape, there are limits to the documents you can edit. There are restrictions for any documents over 50MB or 200 pages as well as a three task ceiling an hour. This shouldn’t deter the casual PDF editing users but for those wanting to go through books or have a lot of documents to go through, you might become frustrated.
Things To Consider
The alternative to most free software locked to a free trial is to have a watermark placed on your PDF documents. This is quite annoying and can’t be removed easily, a pain for those who are editing PDF documents for work and are stuck with another company’s logo on their file. However, if you’re just looking to casually edit PDF documents and are looking to have full access to a piece of free software, opting for this over a free trial is the lesser of two evils.
If you’re especially sneaky and handy with image editing programs, you could try and edit these watermarks out. Not strictly best practice but it could work, especially if the PDF documents you’re working on are rather plain and have a lot of blank space.
Like a lot of free software, you’re likely to only be able to use them for a limited time due to those pesky ‘free trials’, these free trials usually last between two weeks and a month, giving you ample time to edit your documents before having to pay. Unfortunately, due to this free trials are also lacking in some features which is frustrating as you’d expect to get a hold of the whole product before making a purchase.
With any free software, you’re more than likely to have a limited set of features just simply down to the fact that the developers can’t or won’t give away a full suite of tools. But, this doesn’t mean that free software like PDF editors cant get the job done because you should be able to utilize the basic toolset needed to edit those documents on a casual level. The more premium features are usually behind a paywall and likely come after you put your hand in your pocket so if you’re willing to drop some cash after testing out your free PDF editor you can.
So, if you’re looking for the definitive best free PDF editor, we’d have to say its PDF-XChange Editor. We think it has the best overall features so you can edit your PDFs in a number of ways and if you can look past that watermark, you can carry on editing your documents until the end of time. However, if you need a free PDF editor that doesn’t have a watermark opt for Sejda as you’ll get features aplenty for that limited time period until the refresh. Sadly, to get around the downsides of both you will have to pay, so our advice would be to test them out and see which works best for you before shelling out any cash or go for the in-browser PDFescape, which is limited but you won’t get hit by any free trials ending or having that annoying watermark.