Editing PDF files is much more complicated than it seems it should be. So, how do you go about editing forms without shelling out hundreds for Adobe?
Your boss asks you to sign a PDF contract, and you’ve heard Adobe Acrobat is the industry standard for editing PDF files.
Okay, great. Then you might as well get Acrobat, right?
Not so fast. With a subscription plan that keeps billing as long as you use it, Adobe Acrobat will cost a pretty penny. You could get by on the free trial for short-term tasks, but what will you do when it runs out?
Lucky for you, you’re not the first person to face this dilemma. This problem has been solved not just once, but many times over. If you want to edit PDFs without paying a fee, you have options.
Here’s our guide to PDF editing for free:
1. Editing PDF Files With Preview
If you have a Mac, you’ll have the choice to use the built-in PDF app to view and edit your files. It’s called Preview, and it will likely already be the default option on your computer.
Signing a PDF
To sign a PDF file in Preview, you’ll first need to save your signature in the system. Go to Manage Signatures, and then use the trackpad or camera to capture your handwriting.
Then, whenever you need to sign a PDF document, you can go to Tools, then Annotate, and select Signature. Your saved signature should pop up, ready for you to make your mark.
For more information, you can find a comprehensive explanation for how to sign a PDF on a Mac here: https://setapp.com/how-to/sign-a-pdf-on-mac-quickly.
If you’re going to be using Preview regularly, you have to get familiar with the markup toolbar. This is what you’ll need in order to draw, insert shapes, and type text over a PDF.
To get to the toolbar, click the circular icon to the left of the search bar on the main screen. The top section of the page will drop down slightly to reveal a long row of editing possibilities.
Most tools will be made up of a couple of different parts to give you more options. For example, to customize the text insertion tool, you can use the text color and font tools.
And highlighting is so important that it’s kept on its own button, separate from the markup toolbar, for easy access. It’s on the main screen along with the markup toolbar button.
Preview uses a unique system to combine PDFs. If it doesn’t make sense for your project, just use a free web service instead.
The Preview method is to always insert one PDF into the other. Even if you’re attaching two PDF documents end-to-end, you’ll need to “insert” one into the beginning of the other.
Find the insertion spot you need, and then go to Edit, Insert, and Page from File. Then open the PDF file you want to combine.
This process means you can only combine two PDFs at a time. If you’re trying to combine lots of PDF files, like separate pages of a portfolio, you might be better off with a different method.
The advantage of the Preview way of combining PDFs is that you can insert one PDF into the middle of another. Web options don’t always have this nice feature.
2. Using Other Apps
If you use a Windows or Linux computer, or if you just don’t like the Preview app, you have some other options at your disposal. Search for free apps lists, like this one from TechRadar, to compare between the apps that are compatible with your computer.
If you’re looking to work with text that’s already on the PDF file, you should look for an app that comes with OCR.
OCR, or optical character recognition, is a technology that recognizes letters, numbers, and symbols in a PDF. It’s not a given—in fact, the Preview app doesn’t have it. But if you need to edit a PDF as if it’s a word document, OCR is what you need.
For documents that need to stay secure, you might want to go with an app that focuses on security. For example, some apps wipe their servers of your uploaded files multiple times a day, which works to prevent information leaks.
For those out there who are charmed by a high-quality app experience, you can invest in some PDF editing apps that are cheaper than Adobe Acrobat and that come with free trials. This way, you can use the alternative app’s free trial for short tasks, and keep going at a reasonable price if you want. You can also use a few different apps’ free trials back to back.
3. Finding Web Services
Sometimes the most intuitive option is an online service that can do the work for you. Free apps and Preview are typically pretty user-friendly, but they still might take a little practice to get the hang of.
If you need to get an editing job done quickly, a web service might be your best option. Unlike an app, a website won’t expect you to know how or learn which buttons to press. It’ll spell everything out as clearly as possible so you know exactly what to do.
In most cases, you’ll even be able to find a PDF editing website that focuses on the exact job you need.
Trying to sign a PDF? There’s a website for that.
Editing an image in PDF? There’s a site for that as well!
In fact, there are several websites for these tasks. If you’re going for maximum user-friendliness, do a quick web search for the exact task you need. It won’t take long to find a free website that does the job.
Enjoy Your PDF Freedom!
Adobe Acrobat is great if you have the cash, but you can get by just fine without it. Whether you’re editing PDF files with the default app on your computer, installing an Adobe lookalike, or using the good ol’ internet, you’ll find a free alternative that works for you.
For more tech tips to improve your daily life, check out the rest of our blog!