When it comes to PDF editors, there are more factors to consider than you might think. Whether you're looking for the best free PDF editor or the best PDF editor for business, you need to make sure that your PDF editor has the features you need. We'll walk you through the major features and show you our top pick: FileCenter.
PDF Editor Software Summary
- PDF editor overview
- Pro PDF editors versus PDF viewers
- Create PDF files
- Use a PDF editor to add, delete, and rearrange PDF pages
- Use a PDF form editor; fill out PDF forms
- Use a PDF editor to annotate PDFs, add PDF bookmarks, highlight and redact a PDF
- Edit text and images in a PDF
- Add or Remove a PDF password; secure a PDF
- Stack PDFs, combine PDFs, split PDFs with a PDF editor
- Consider PDF editor software that combines a PDF editor with PDF storage and organization
- Jump to our recommendation »
PDF Editor Overview
Two decades ago nobody had heard of a PDF. Today, PDF has become the de facto format for archiving files. Why? Because it captures a reliable image of the original document that anyone can open or print. Anyone on any device: Microsoft Windows or Mac, Chromebooks or MacBooks, Android or MacOS, and regardless of whether they have the software package that originally created the file. Anyone on any device can open and view a PDF file. They're also email friendly, web friendly, and compatible with the Cloud, DropBox, Google Drive, OneDrive ... any mode of distribution.
Once upon a time, PDFs had a second advantage: they couldn't be altered. Then came the PDF editor. Whether it's the Adobe PDF editor or a free online PDF editor, you can now edit a PDF with little effort ... unless it has been locked down (more on that shortly). In this article, we cover the most common edits that can be made to a PDF and see how to edit a PDF file with PDF editing software.
Pro PDF Editors Versus PDF Viewers
You hear the terms PDF viewer and PDF editor thrown around freely. What's the difference between the two? In a nutshell, a PDF viewer is only designed to open, view, and possibly print PDFs. It's not able to edit a PDF. So if you're asking, "How do I edit a PDF?" the answer is pro PDF software like a PDF editor – software specifically designed to edit PDF files. The only takeaway here is that if you need to edit PDFs, you need PDF editing features, not just a PDF viewer.
Now let's get into what you should expect from PDF editing software.
Create PDF Files
While some PDF editors will import almost any kind of file and convert it to PDF, the most common way to make a PDF is through a PDF print driver or PDF printer. It shows up like a normal printer in your system. Any web page, email, Microsoft Word document, PowerPoint presentation, Excel spreadsheet, etc., that you print to the PDF printer produces a PDF file that looks just like the printed document would. Any Pro PDF editor should come with a PDF printer.
Use a PDF Editor to Add, Delete, and Rearrange PDF Pages
One of the first ways to edit PDF files was basic page changes, like adding pages, deleting pages, and rearranging the pages within a PDF document. Deleting pages is typically pretty easy: just select the page, then find the Delete function (which is usually available in the Del key on your keyboard).
Rearranging pages is normally as simple as dragging/dropping a page where you want it to go. Your better PDF editors will have a thumbnails view to make this easier. A thumbnails view shows the PDF pages as small icons so you can see a few rows of pages at a time. This makes it easier to move them around.
Your best PDF editors will also let you insert pages into a PDF document. Look especially for the ability to easily pull a page out of one PDF and insert it into a different PDF (or a whole range of pages).
Use a PDF Form Editor; Fill Out PDF Forms
Early on, the designers of the PDF file format stumbled on one of its most powerful uses: filling out digital forms. So they built in the ability for a PDF to offer fillable fields on top of the image of a form. And PDF forms were born.
Nearly any PDF editor or viewer – from free online PDF editors to Adobe Acrobat – will allow you to fill in and print PDF forms. What if, however, you want to be able to make your own PDF form? That's where PDF editor software comes in. Look for a PDF editor that includes the ability create PDF forms.
What about PDF forms that haven't been set up with fillable fields? You'll run across them all the time. Is there a way to fill out PDF forms without fields? Yes ... if you have the right PDF editor. Look for a feature called Typewriter. The typewriter is just what the name implies: the ability to type text anywhere on a PDF document. Click where you want the text to go and start typing. The typewriter feature is invaluable when it comes to typing on top of a PDF.
Many users, once they discover the typewriter feature, start using the typewriter to make notes on a PDF. There are, however, better tools for that ...
Use a PDF Editor to Annotate PDFs, Add PDF Bookmarks, Highlight and Redact a PDF
PDFs have also gained popularity as an easy way to pass around a document for review. The PDF format includes a set of tools that make it simple for users to annotate: add notes and comments to PDFs. Tools like callouts and sticky notes show up on the screen when you review the PDF, but won't print. This ability to hide them when you print the document makes the PDF annotation tools perfect for their intended use.
Another common annotation which shares this same ability to only show up on the screen is the highlighter. The highlighter only works on text. So if you're trying to highlight on a scanned document, you'll need to make sure that you've used OCR software to expose the text. The best PDF editors will include their own OCR engine.
Similar to a highlighter is PDF redaction – the ability to black out or redact text in the PDF document.
Edit Text and Images in a PDF
The last few years have taken PDF editing features to a new level. You can now edit PDF files as almost as readily as a Word document. Today's PDF editing tools have the ability to change images and text in a PDF. You can add your own images, add a watermark, apply stamps, add whole sections of text, remove images and text, and edit existing text in a PDF document.
While this feature was born from endless demand, not all users are thrilled with it. You see, one of the original purposes of the PDF format was to create an unchangeable copy of a document. To see why that matters, look at the example of a retail contract. Suppose you send a client a copy of a contract to sign. You need to know that the client can't make any changes to the terms of the contract before signing. Once upon a time, just sending a PDF gave you that assurance. Now, however, your client can easilly use a PDF editor to change the contract however they want.
Is there anything you can do to "lock down" a PDF so it can't be changed? Indeed there is ...
Add or Remove a PDF Password; Secure a PDF
Modern versions of the PDF file format include some powerful security features. For example, you can require users to enter a password in order to open the PDF.
Your better PDF editor software will also let you lock down specific actions. For example, you can prevent the PDF from being printed, or only allow it to be printed in very low resolution. You can prevent any kind of alterations to the PDF. You can prevent pages from being deleted or added. In fact, there are enough security options to make PDF the ongoing choice for distributing PDFs without risk of them getting altered.
Your best PDF editors have another feature still: digital signatures. A ditigal signature is far more than just an image of your signature. A digital signature stamps a PDF with a specific date and time of signing, then certifies going forward that the PDF has not changed. If anyone tries to alter the PDF, the document will display a warning that the PDF has changed and it is no longer trustworthy.
Stack PDFs, Combine PDFs, Split PDFs with a PDF Editor
One of the most common needs from a PDF editor is the ability to combine multiple PDF files into a single PDF file, often known as "stacking". How did the term stacking come about? Software designers realized that the easiest possible way to combine two PDF files would be to simply drag/drop them onto each other; in other words, "stack" the PDF files. And suddenly, the term stacking was born.
This should hint at a critical requirement for the best PDF editor: It should make it possible for you to work with PDFs without opening them. Think about it. Many of the PDF edits we want to make happen at the file level. For example, we want to combine two PDF files into one, or split one PDF file into multiple PDF files. For these PDF edits, there's no reason to open the PDF files in question. We should be able to perform PDF file-level edits on the file itself.
Which leads to our final point ...
Consider PDF Editor Software that Combines a PDF Editor with PDF Storage and Organization
The PDF format is largely aimed at archival. Most businesses today keep their digital archives in the PDF format. So with PDF and archival so deeply connected with one another, shouldn't PDF organization be part of the equation?
In fact, the best PDF editor software will be more than a simple PDF editor. It will be an integrated solution that lets you scan, edit, and organize your PDF files within a single interface. In short, it will be a PDF document management solution which brings together the best document scanning, powerful PDF editing, and best-of-breed document management. In fact, it should go the next step and accommodate not just your PDF files, but any kind of document. PDF-intensive businesses need this kind of streamlined workflow to reach their peak efficiency.
Our PDF Editor Software Recommendation
FileCenter bends over backwards to accomodate PDFs. From effortless PDF creation and conversion to tightly-integrated tools for manipulating and annotating PDFs right within the interface to PDF scanning and powerful PDF document management, FileCenter ensures that working with PDF files will be as effortless as possible. Download a free trial today!
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