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How To Edit PDF For Free

How To Edit PDF For Free

 Why Are PDF Files So Hard to Edit?

The PDF format was devised before everyone started using web browsers and is based on the printed page. That means you can’t add a few lines of text in the middle of page one, for example, and make the remaining text flow smoothly into page two, as you can in a word processor.

Instead, you need to resize the fonts on page one or change the size of the box that contains the text. If you want to add more text than will fit on the page, we offer some tips in a later section, but don’t expect perfect results.

While many apps call themselves PDF editors, they can’t actually edit the text and graphics in a PDF file. They only let you add comments to the PDF file—either boxed Post-It-style notes or lines and text boxes that appear on a layer above the PDF’s actual contents.

When you add a comment to a PDF, it’s akin to putting a piece of paper under a pane of glass and writing comments on the glass.

You can’t make any permanent changes to the text, such as removing sensitive data, and anyone using a free PDF viewer like Adobe Acrobat Reader or the Preview on macOS can change or remove the comments you make.

With that in mind, we detail a roundabout way to bake comments permanently into a PDF file at the end of this article.

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A true PDF editor lets you change, move, delete, and add actual content to the PDF, in a way that won’t let anyone else change your edits unless they also use a true PDF editor.

You can use a high-priced one like Adobe Acrobat DC ($12.99 per month), with unique features for matching fonts on scanned images, but for many purposes, you can get good results from less expensive editors such as EaseUS PDF Editor, PDF-Xchange Editor (Windows), Nitro’s PDFPen (macOS), or Wondershare PDFelement 8 (macOS or Windows). The basic techniques are the same in all PDF editors.

You can also find plenty of websites that offer to let you upload your PDF files and edit them in your browser without paying anything.

Maybe you don’t care about security as much as I do, but I’m not ready to upload my documents to websites that I know nothing about, and that mysteriously offer free services in exchange for harvesting my data.

How To Edit PDF

Editing a PDF With Acrobat DC

Adobe Acrobat DC, the ultimate PDF editor, offers a spacious interface with fine-tuned controls for editing text and images.

With your PDF open in Acrobat’s window, choose Edit PDF from the Tools menu. Blue boxes then appear around each PDF element—text or graphics.

To correct an error in the text, simply click on the text box and start typing. Below is an example of using Acrobat DC to change the text in a header.

Cheaper PDF Editing Tools

The same basic principles apply in more budget-friendly apps such as PDF-XChange Editor ($46.50).

With the PDF open in the app, click Edit in the Home toolbar, then select the kind of content you want to edit—whether all the content on the page, text, images, or shapes.

Below is an example of what it looks like to replace or modify images in a PDF using PDF-XChange Editor.

Editing a PDF in PDF-XChange Editor

Notice the default option lets you edit text elements as blocks. If you turn this setting off, the app will only let you modify blocks of a few words, and you may end up with awkward-looking spacing between words.

Simply click on the text and make your changes. From the gear icon at the bottom left, you can select Properties Pane to get a menu with options for fonts and paragraph alignment, but you won’t find the fine-tuning controls that Acrobat offers.

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The Problem With Cheap PDF Editing Tools: Fonts

One subtle problem with this kind of editing involves fonts. If the font used in the original PDF isn’t also installed on your system, the PDF editor may use a different font when you insert or change the text.

Acrobat DC is smart enough to use a similar font, but a sharp-eyed reader will see the difference, perhaps picking up on the fact that you changed the original PDF.

The only Windows-based PDF editors I’ve found that came close to the Apple-only PDF Expert are EaseUS PDF Editor ($79) and PDFelement 8 ($69.99).

How To Edit PDF For Free

Like PDF Expert, these two apps try to use the font already embedded in the PDF when you change or insert text, but in at least one PDF that I tested, when I tried to insert text between ordinary lower-case words, both apps formatted the added text in small capitals and didn’t provide menu options that would let me choose lower-case instead. It could have been worse.

For example, when I tried adding text to the same file in Qoppa Software’s PDF Studio Pro 2021, it converted the entire page to small caps. You may need to experiment to find the app that works best for you.

 Formatting Your PDFs

No matter what PDF editor you use, don’t expect the same ease of use you get with a word processor. Some PDF-editing apps claim to let you edit as smoothly as you can in Microsoft Word. It’s simply not true. (You need to convert your PDF to a word processing file to truly edit it anew—more on that in a moment.)

If you add a word or two that makes the current paragraph longer by one line, the paragraph will probably overlap the next paragraph, and you’ll have to move the paragraph below the one you’re working on—and there may not be enough room on the page to fit your changes.

When you edit a line in a justified (full-width) paragraph, the text is likely to lurch to the left, leaving a blank space between the end of the line and the right margin.

You can fix this by right-clicking on the line, choosing Paragraph from the pop-up menu, and setting the alignment to Justify.

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