There are some fantastic free PDF editors around, so we've rounded up the very best to make your life easier.
PDF documents are designed to look and behave exactly the same way on any device. That makes it a brilliant format for sharing, but editing them is another matter. Most office software and photo editors let you export documents in PDF format, but editing requires a dedicated tool. That's because PDF was initially a proprietary format owned by Adobe, and it still owns some of the technologies associated with it. Other companies can license those technologies, but only for a fee that's usually passed on to you – the user.
There aren’t many free PDF editors, and even fewer that won’t leave your documents with unsightly watermarks. That's why we've hand-picked the very best free PDF editors, which offer all the tools you need and won't spoil your work with unsightly watermarks.
Runs in any modern browser
Plenty of editing tools
Requires small plugin download
Apowersoft Online PDF Editor is a powerful PDF editor that's free to use, and runs in any modern web browser.
Before you can use the online PDF editor, you’ll need to click ‘Launch online’ and download Apowersoft’s launcher – a browser add-on. This take a little extra time, but the effort is well worth it.
The PDF editor will open outside your current browser window. You can edit text – very unusual for a free PDF editor, and very handy.
Text won’t always flow the way you’d like it to, so you may need to spend some time tweaking alignment and text box size, but it’s very impressive for a free PDF editor. Your exported PDFs won’t be watermarked either. We're converted.
Powerful range of tools
PDF to Word converter
Limited free trial
SmallPDF is a cloud-based PDF editor, which means it can be used through any device using an internet browser.
It uses a simplified interface to make it easy to edit or add text, as well as drawings or images. Using drag and drop, you can add or remove content as required.
It also comes with a PDF to Word editor, which means if you need to make more detailed edits in a Word doc you can, and even better is that formatting should be preserved.
Uploads and edits are made securely via SSL, so you don't need to worry about third-parties accessing your PDF documents, which could be a concern if the information in them is confidential.
You can also use SmallPDF to fill in forms, esign, unlock, or protect a PDF. Files can be imported directly from online storage providers such as Google Drive and Drop Box.
Overall, SmallPDF is a compact but powerful PDF editor, that should be able to help you achieve most initial edits required, with the helpful doc conversion for more complicated edits.
While it's not free to use continuously, there is a 14-day free trial, which can be useful if you only need to get a few documents edited. After that, pricing begins from around $5 per month.
Optical character recognition
Splits and extracts pages
If you need to edit the text in a PDF, PDF-XChange Editor is ideal. It lets you retype, delete, and reformat text, and adapts well if the document uses a font that isn’t installed on your PC. You can also attach comments, split PDFs, and extract pages.
One of PDF-Xchange Editor’s best features is the ability to use OCR to recognize text in scanned documents – ideal if you only have a printout rather than the original file (a handout from a lecture, for example).
Some of the features visible in the menus and toolbars are only available in the premium version of the software, PDF-XChange Editor Plus, but you can easily hover your mouse pointer over an icon to find out if it’s included.
If you go ahead and use a premium tool anyway (adding polygonal shapes or new text boxes, for example), your document will be watermarked. Look out for a warning message underneath the main toolbar before saving your work, just in case.
The paid-for downloads, PDF-XChange Editor costs $43.50 (£35) for the normal version, but for additional features such as form creation and use you will need to buy PDF-XChange Editor Plus, which costs $54.50 ($48).
Good selection of editing tools
Sessions expire after three hours
Free online PDF editor Sejda offers an excellent range of tools, with an added layer of security: all files are deleted from its servers after five hours.
You can add text, images and links, sign documents, add annotations, and insert ellipses and rectangles. There’s also a ‘whiteout’ option, though this simply draws a white rectangle – it doesn’t remove any data. There’s no OCR either, so you won’t be able to edit text in scanned PDFs.
When you’ve finished editing, click ‘Apply changes’ and you’ll be able to download the document, send it to Dropbox or Google Drive, delete it, or access a shareable link. The link will expire after seven days.
There are limits on the free service: every hour, you can process no more than 200 pages or 50MB data (whichever comes first) and perform no more than three tasks. That’s pretty generous, but if you need to perform more tasks, there are weekly, monthly and annual passes available.
At $5 (about £4, AU$7), a weekly pass would work out quite expensive over a long period, but is perfect if you’ll only be needing the full tool for a short time and don’t want to commit to a longer subscription.
Lets you add media
Free element is online-only
There are two versions of the PDFescape PDF editor: a free web app and a premium desktop program. Here we're using the online editor; if you download the desktop software, you'll only receive a trial of the premium edition. It's suitable for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, Internet Explorer, Opera and Safari, and will probably work fine on other Chromium-based browsers too.
PDFescape's online editor lets you create new text boxes on the page, but unless you upgrade to the full desktop software there's no way to edit existing text either, you you can create simple geometric shapes and – as with Sedja, above – add white rectangles to obscure parts of the document when it's printed.
PDFescape lets you select a picture from your PC, then drag a rectangle to insert it. You can insert text fields too, enabling you to create simple forms – a rare and welcome feature for a free PDF editor.
- Check out our guide to the best free PDF to Word converters