Since its invention in 1993, the Portable Document Format—or PDF for short—has become so commonplace that it was standardized in 2008. This means that while Adobe may have been the company to bring the content-rich PDF to the world, others are now freely able to provide PDF services, including creating, editing, and signing.
From Adobe’s flagship product to ambitious competitors including Foxit and Nitro, the best PDF editors are continually adding new features and qualities to ensure the best experiences for users.
In this article, we’ve listed the advantages, drawbacks, and costs of each software, allowing you to make an informed choice on which PDF editor to download.
- Also check out our roundup of the best free office software
Given the company’s integral role in the creation of the PDF document, it is no surprise to see Adobe still leading the way. Adobe Acrobat was the original software to enable users to read, review, print, and edit this file format, and it has survived the test of time. Adobe claims that over five million businesses are using Acrobat all over the world.
Today’s version comes as part of Adobe’s Document Cloud, with all the advantages that cloud-based software can bring. This includes simple workflows that ensure that PDFs can be edited and shared across devices and locations.
The Acrobat Reader app gives users the ability to view, sign, make notes, and share PDFs from their mobile devices. Advanced features—including editing, exporting, and combining files—are only available with an Acrobat Pro DC subscription. Acrobat Pro DC, costing $180 for an annual subscription, also works across both Windows and Mac devices. Note that its Standard DC version, at $156 a year, is Windows-only.
Where Foxit immediately leapfrogs Adobe with its PhantomPDF software is in its price. A single license will set you back a one-off payment of $168, which is already cheaper than Acrobat Pro DC’s annual subscription. Foxit’s annual fee is $119, while those who’d prefer to pay monthly will set themselves back $18 per month.
These prices are for the Standard 10 version for Windows, and the Mac equivalent named Mac 4. Those opting for the Business 10 version should expect to pay a little more at $20 per month, $159 per year, or $216 as a one-time cost.
Perks for Business 10 users include reflow editing mode, which offers a slicker editing experience akin to using a word processor. You’ll also get advanced options, including image editing and object shading, and increased security features such as the ability to redact sections of text.
The standard versions are no less impressive when it comes to editing features, however. All versions include password permissions, template creation, and the ability to add watermarks. You can also convert other document formats into PDFs.
Mac users may want to skip this one, with Nitro’s Pro desktop software designed exclusively for Windows operating systems. Like Foxit’s PhantomPDF, Nitro Pro can be purchased via a one-time transaction, costing users $159.99. Nitro honors this price for up to 20 licenses, and also offers discounts for multiple purchases. For businesses requiring more than 20 licenses, Nitro recommends its bespoke Productivity Suite team and enterprise plans.
While the cost may seem reasonable compared to competitors, do note that a single license is only valid for use by a single user, on a maximum of two devices. Nonetheless, if you’re only ever likely to edit PDFs from one or two desktop computers, Nitro Pro offers a ton of useful features.
You can edit, annotate, and merge PDFs into one document, and also make use of the e-signature workflows, which are compatible with multiple devices. As the software is Windows-only, there's also seamless integration with top Microsoft tools including Office and OneDrive.
While several editors on this list offer limited free trials, Sejda comes with the undoubted bonus of providing a version of its software that is free forever. It also comes as both a desktop solution and an in-browser online service. Be aware, however, that it is still a freemium model, and users will be required to pay to remove some of the restrictions in place on the free version. These include a limit to three tasks per day and document sizes no bigger than 50MB or 200 pages.
These limitations may count Sejda out as a viable option for businesses or individuals with regular PDF editing needs. But as a basic solution, it’s hard to argue with what you get. Particularly as its top package, which includes page compression, extraction, cropping, and merging functionality, can be purchased for just $7.50 a month, or an ad-hoc fee of $5 for a week pass.
Whether you own a Mac, iPad, or iPhone, Apple users can enjoy a seven-day free trial of PDF Expert. This provides ample time to test out the benefits of a PDF editing tool that is specifically designed for Apple devices.
As one might expect for a macOS-only solution, the interface is slick and intuitive. Navigation is chiefly directed through two tabs labeled Annotate and Edit, with a wide range of tools filed under each option.
You'll find text and image editing, link adding, and redaction options in the latter section, with highlighting, stamps, notes, and signatures tools in the former. The software works particularly well on iPads when teamed up with an Apple Pencil. The cost is also eye-catching, with a one-off purchase of $79.99 granting users lifetime access.
- We've also rounded up the best free PDF editors