The 5 Best PDF Editors on Earth Today

Laptop computer displaying the icon of PDF file

The 5 Best PDF Editors on Earth Today

Key Points

  • Our choice for the #1 Best Overall PDF Editor is Adobe Acrobat DC.
  • The PDF is a standard file type for sharing documents via email and other types of electronic platforms. 
  • PDFs were designed with efficient sharing in mind and as such they can be difficult to edit unless you have the right software
  • A PDF editor enables users to make changes to PDFs without converting them to a different file type (such as .docx)
  • When shopping for the best PDF editor, consider features, subscriptions and pricing, security, and mobile compatibility.

The very idea of sharing documents with full text and graphics was unthinkable in the early days of the Internet. Then in 1990, John Warnock started an internal project at Adobe that would eventually lead to the creation of the Portable Document Format, or PDF. A file format that could retain its look whether on a screen or a printed page was an idea long overdue. More importantly, the way it allowed people to share documents reliably, securely, and easily with others was revolutionary.

Today PDFs are one of the most common file types, and it’s hard to imagine a world without them. But as convenient as they are for sharing, they are also notoriously difficult to edit. While most people can open a PDF file without any trouble, editing one can require additional software. Speaking of software, there are a lot of options out there. How do you narrow it down? Well, here are our choices for the five best  PDF editors on earth today.

#1 Best Overall PDF Editor: Adobe Acrobat DC

History Computer’s Top Picks for Best PDF Editors

Best Overall PDF Editor
Adobe Acrobat Professional DC
  • Create and edit your PDFs on the go
  • Collaborate with your team across the web, mobile, and desktop, remotely
  • Early access to the latest Adobe features
  • Convert your PDF without exiting the Office application
  • Modify texts and images, fill and sign any PDF
We earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no additional cost to you.
03/02/2024 08:10 pm GMT

Unsurprisingly, Adobe is top of the PDF game, considering the PDF was their invention. Acrobat Pro DC includes just about any PDF-editing tool you might need, even the ability to edit documents you scanned yourself. Acrobat’s OCR engine converts scanned documents to text, which is incredibly convenient. Acrobat DC also makes it easy to edit images and text in documents that have been sent to you electronically. 

The interface isn’t the most intuitive but is the same on Macs and PCs. This uniformity across platforms, combined with the seemingly endless collection of editing tools, is why this program sits at the top of our list. It is the standard for a reason, after all. 

There are, as with any program, a few drawbacks. Most complaints about Acrobat DC seem to center around the pricing. Gone are the days when you could purchase the license for the program outright. Adobe has completely switched to a subscription model. In fact, the DC in its new name stands for Document Cloud. While the ability to store PDFs in the cloud, which gives collaborators access, is convenient, the monthly payments are an obvious drawback

Also, the aforementioned universality of the interface is a double-edged sword. Designed to work on both Mac and PC, Acrobat DC makes some people feel like it isn’t at home in either environment. It can feel a bit like working in a bubble outside your preferred OS.

It’s loaded with tools for PDF editing and annotation.There’s no lifetime purchase option available.
Adobe is the company that invented the PDF.You may have to pay for tools you’ll never use.
It contains excellent text-editing tools.

Best Subscription-Free PDF Editor: Nitro PDF Pro

Nitro PDF Pro is one of the best alternatives to Adobe Acrobat DC. Nitro Pro has similar tools allowing you to create and edit PDFs, as well as forms. It also allows the addition of digital signatures and comments. Nitro has an integrated optical character recognition (OCR) which, much like Acrobat, allows scanned paper documents to be converted into PDFs that can be edited.  

Unlike Acrobat DC, it doesn’t have its own cloud storage but it is designed for easy integration with cloud services like Dropbox, Microsoft 365, Google Drive, Box, and OneDrive. Nitro also has easy-to-use tools that can change text, insert and edit Bates numbering, rearrange images, and more. 

The main drawback is that Nitro Pro isn’t exactly the cheapest option. Much like Adobe, they have a big toolbox that will come in handy for those who deal with PDFs on a regular basis but may not add much value for casual users. Nitro does, however, offer a free two-week trial with no credit card required, and unlike Acrobat DC, you aren’t required to pay a monthly subscription. However, a subscription option is available for those who prefer it to a lump sum. 

It has a big toolbox that can perform a wide range of functions.The program is relatively expensive compared to some of its competitors.
The interface is intuitive and easy to use.It’s not a great option for casual viewers.
It has OCR functionality.Cloud storage is only available through a third-party.

Best Free PDF Editor: PDF Candy

PDF Candy is our recommendation for free PDF editors. One of the greatest assets of this free program is the OCR feature for scanning text. It doesn’t give you the ability to edit OCR’d text but uploading PDF files and extracting text to create other document types is a powerful and rare ability for a free PDF editor. 

Equipped with 44 tools, including those for creating or converting PDF files, PDF Candy makes it easy to rearrange pages within a document. There are also tools for adding watermarks, editing metadata within PDFs, extracting images, splitting or adding pages to documents, and protecting your PDF files via passcodes. The text editing tool is comparatively limited, but this is a free program and sometimes you get what you pay for.

It’s surprisingly loaded with features and tools.It has a very limited text-editing tool.
Though limited, it has some OCR functionality.You can not use it to edit OCR’d text.
It’s completely free.

Best for Mac OS: Apple Preview

Apple Preview is actually an app built right into your Mac OS. Its best feature is probably the signature tool. This gives you the ability to store your signature and apply it to documents. You can either create a signature using your trackpad or scan one with your computer’s camera. Your signature can be added to PDFs via Apple Preview’s Signature tool. This feature is indispensable if you work with a lot of documents that require a signature. 

Apple Preview provides a modest but valuable collection of tools for adjusting PDF files. The app doesn’t include full-on PDF editing capabilities, but if your needs are basic, this program might be just what you are looking for.  You can make notes, highlight or redact text, or add comments to a document. If you don’t often do a lot of editing to your PDFs, you most likely won’t need much more than what is provided by Apple Preview. The best part is that these basic tools are already installed on your Mac. No subscription or app downloads are required.

The annotation tools are excellent.It is not a full PDF editor.
Its signature-capture tool makes signing documents easy.The annotation tools can be difficult to locate.
If you are a Mac user, it’s free and doesn’t require downloading an app.It is only for Mac.

Best for Windows OS: Foxit PDF Editor

Foxit PDF Editor, once known as PhantomPDF, is available in either a Standard or a Pro version. The Pro version contains the standard tools that you’ll find on most paid-for PDF editors. What makes Foxit unique is that it’s available on Android and iOS. It’s also available on desktops for either Mac OS or Windows. It should be noted that the Pro version isn’t available for Mac OS, which is why we recommend this for Windows users. 

The desktop app has an intuitive interface, especially if you are familiar with Microsoft Office. Also, Foxit provides a fair amount of comprehensive tutorial videos for users who do get lost. A pro license can be obtained through a monthly or annual subscription or simply bought outright if you prefer. 

The Pro subscription will get you tools like advanced editing, shared review initiation, additional file compression, higher security, and much more. Free trials are also available with no payment information required. There’s also a free option, Foxit Reader, for those who need only need the most basic editing tools. 

The interface is intuitive and easy to use.The pro version is only available on Windows.
Its mobile version works on both Android and iOS.
You can choose to pay for a subscription or purchase it outright.

How to Pick the Best PDF Editor: Step by Step

When choosing a PDF editor, there are four main considerations for most buyers.

  • Features
  • Subscriptions and Pricing
  • Security
  • Mobile Compatibility 

Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.


Businessman hand touching plus sign icon means to offer positive thing (like benefits, personal development, social network)
Different editors will have different features.

PDF editors may look similar but some provide a limited set of tools for a narrow range of jobs. Others are loaded down with so many tools, you may end up using only a fraction of them. That’s why it’s important to understand the features provided so that you can find the PDF editor that best matches your specific needs.

Creation, Conversion, and Exporting

If you’re looking for a PDF editor, you want to ensure it can perform the most basic functions. Creating PDFs, whether they be from scratch or scanned from paper or digital documents and converted, is probably the most basic function of such a program. Any PDF editor worth its salt ought to have the ability to convert a variety of file types in a seamless way that still preserves the original formatting. Also, a good editor should include some kind of OCR tool that makes PDF documents text-searchable as well as editable. Lastly, the ability to export PDFs into other editable document types is essential to a good PDF editor. Before making a purchase, you’ll need to know if you can export PDFs as Microsoft Word, HTML, PowerPoint, or plain text while retaining critical elements of the original files such as formatting, images, and hyperlinks.

Content Editing

While not an essential function for everyone, the ability to modify text is probably the one that comes to mind when you think of the crucial functions of a PDF editor. Along those lines, the ability to reorganize pages by inserting, resizing, and moving images is also a fundamental tool. A good PDF editor will be intuitive enough to allow users to perform these tasks easily. If rearranging images, in-line editing, or adding or removing hyperlinks is more difficult than it would be in a Word document or slide deck, it might be time to look for another option.

Review and Annotate

If you collaborate often, you’ll need to look for a PDF editor with a function that allows you or anyone you are working with the ability to add comments or annotations. Tools to mark up either text documents or graphic-oriented files such as web pages can come in handy. Examples of common annotation tools include callout boxes, sticky notes, freehand drawing tools, highlighting, and message stamps that often say things such as “confidential,” “revised,” and “approved.”

Subscriptions and Pricing

Closeup image of female customer paying for service subscription with credit card
Some PDF editors are subscription-based services.

Certain PDF editors are more expensive than others. Many offer free versions but those often lack essential tools or hide them behind a paywall. A subscription is more affordable in the short term than purchasing the license outright, but you obviously pay more in the long run. If you only need a PDF editor for a short time, the subscription may be the cheaper option for you. Purchasing outright may seem like the best long-term decision, but be aware that the program may not be supported by newer OS updates. So, you may end up having to purchase it again somewhere down the road.


A lot of business documents contain sensitive information. Finding a PDF editor with excellent security features, like only allowing access to authorized users, is critical. Secure services will typically provide multiple layers of security. Things such as permission settings, password protection, and content redaction to blackout selected text and images, are worth seeking out. Also, look for PDF editors that provide tools for electronically signing documents.

Mobile Compatibility

Businessman hand touch screen pdf icons on a tablet. internet and technology concept.
Certain PDF editors are more mobile-friendly than others.

Serious PDF editing is best left to a desktop, but being able to review and make minor edits to PDFs when you’re on the go, is a convenient tool to have. If you meet with a lot of clients in locations far from your home base and desktop, you may want to consider an editor with a dedicated mobile app. You never know when an app that works seamlessly on mobile devices and provides cloud access to your files or other tools and features, might come in handy.

What to Know Before Buying a PDF Editor

When choosing a PDF editor, it’s critical to know what functions are most important to you. If all you need is the ability to add notes and digital signatures to documents, most basic PDF annotation programs will be able to accommodate your needs. This is good news because there are a plethora of decent PDF annotation programs available for free. If you only need these basic functions, you can pursue a free option and save yourself a couple of bucks, and possibly even a small headache. For example, we mentioned the Apple Preview app earlier, and this could be the perfect choice for Mac users with fairly simple requirements. Plus Preview even includes annotation and signature tools.

If you’re in need of more advanced functions such as text manipulation and document creation, you may need to consider obtaining a full-fledged PDF editor. Even then, you should take a serious look at your individual needs and find a program designed with your situation in mind. Apps with decent OCR tools are typically going to come with a heftier price tag. So ask yourself if you really need OCR capabilities. If not, you may be able to get away with using a free PDF editor. Be honest about your needs and your budget and you should be able to find an editor that’s right for you. 

Using a PDF Editor: What It’s Like

It’s important to understand the distinction between a PDF reader and a PDF editor. Readers are primarily intended for viewing documents. While some of these programs have some basic editing capabilities, they do not contain the various tools of a true PDF editor. With a PDF editor, you typically have the ability to build PDF documents from scratch. They usually allow you to annotate and make changes to the entire file. Editors are hands-down the better option if you need a lot of control over your PDFs. They will give you a lot more tools and functions, making them a must-have for anyone who does a lot of work in the PDF file format.

  1. Adobe Acrobat Professional DC
    • Create and edit your PDFs on the go
    • Collaborate with your team across the web, mobile, and desktop, remotely
    • Early access to the latest Adobe features
    • Convert your PDF without exiting the Office application
    • Modify texts and images, fill and sign any PDF
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Summary Table

RankPDF Editor
Best OverallAdobe Acrobat DC
Best Subscription-Free PDF EditorNitro PDF Pro
Best Free PDF EditorPDF Candy
Best for Mac OSApple Preview
Best for Windows OSFoxit PDF Editor

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use a free PDF editor?

It all depends on your specific needs and budget. The best PDF editors will cost a bit of money. However, if you take a look at the tools and realize you won’t use most of them, you may want to consider starting with a free app. If you find you need more tools than the free one provides, you can always upgrade. Better to do that than to end up paying for features you will never use.

Are PDFs and Word documents all that different?

In a word, yes. Word and PDF are completely different document formats. However, you can export a PDF from Word, and often a Word document from your PDF editor depending on its features. Doing edits in Word and exporting to PDF can actually be a workaround if you only have the free version of a PDF editor. However, you will have to export a new PDF every time you make an edit, and all those files of various versions can be cumbersome on your hard drive.

Can you protect “lock” PDF documents when sharing them with other people?

Absolutely. If you don’t want someone else editing your PDF, you can add protections to the file in Acrobat. Other PDF editors typically have this function as well.

Can you combine PDFs with a PDF editor?

Most PDF editors, even free versions, allow users to combine multiple PDFs into one document.

Is a PDF form the same thing as a PDF document?

This may get a little confusing, but there are several different kinds of PDF file formats. However, all of them fall under the umbrella term “PDF documents.” PDF forms are a type of PDF document containing form fields a user can edit.

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