6 Best Free PDF Editors

Make changes to your PDF with these free programs and online tools

Illustration of pencil erasers
Westend61 / Getty Images

It's not easy finding a truly free PDF editor that lets you not only edit the text in the PDF but also add your own text, change images or add your own graphics, sign your name, fill out forms, etc. However, below is just that: a mix of the best free PDF editors that include all of those features and more.

Some of these are online PDF editors that work right in your web browser so all you have to do is upload your PDF file to the website, make the changes you want, and then save it back to your computer. That's the quick way, but often times an online editor isn't as fully featured as its desktop counterpart, which usually has a much wider range of abilities.

Since not all of these free PDF editors support the same features, and some are restricted in what you can do, remember that you can process the same PDF in more than one tool. For example, use one to edit the PDF text (if that's supported) and then put the same PDF through a different editor to do something supported in that program, like to edit a form, update an image, or remove a page.

Note: If you don't need to change the contents of the PDF, but instead just need it changed to another format (like DOCX for Word or EPUB for an e-book, etc.), see our list of free document converters for help. On the other hand, if you have a file you created yourself that you want to save as a PDF file, see our How to Print to PDF tutorial for help doing that.

Important: If you already own Microsoft Word 2016 or 2013 then skip all the suggested programs below because you have a great PDF editor at your disposal right now. Just open the PDF like you would any Word document, give the program a few minutes to convert the PDF, and then edit away!

Screenshot of Sejda PDF Desktop
Sejda PDF Editor (Desktop Version).

Sejda PDF Editor is one of the very few PDF editors I've seen that actually lets you edit preexisting text in the PDF without adding a watermark. Most editors will only edit the text you add yourself, or will support text editing but then throw watermarks all over the place.

Plus, this tool can run entirely in your web browser, so it's really easy to get going without having to download any programs. You can, however, get the desktop version if you'd rather.

What we like:

  • Can edit existing text and add custom text
  • Online editor lets you load PDFs from other websites
  • Supports adding hyperlinks
  • Includes a signature tool
  • Lets you insert blank pages into the PDF
  • Can remove pages from the PDF
  • Supports whiting out parts of the page
  • Can insert images and shapes into the PDF

What we don't like:

  • Can only be used on three PDFs every hour
  • Limited to PDFs with less than 200 pages
  • Doesn't edit PDFs larger than 50 MB

Works with: Windows, macOS, and Linux

Visit Sejda Online PDF Editor

There are some differences between the online and desktop version that you should know about. For example, the desktop edition supports more font types and doesn't let you add PDFs by URL or from online storage services like the online editor does (which supports Dropbox and Google Drive).

Another neat feature supported by Sejda's PDF editor is their web integration tool that lets PDF publishers provide a link for their users that they can simply click to automatically open the file in this online PDF editor.

All uploaded files are automatically deleted from Sejda after five hours.

Tip: Both Sejda's online and desktop service can also be used to convert PDF to Word or Word to PDF. Open the Tools section in either program to find that conversion option. More »

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Screenshot of Inkscape
Inkscape.

Inkscape is an extremely popular free image viewer and editor, but it also includes PDF editing functions that most dedicated PDF editors only support in their paid editions.

What we like:

  • Can edit PDF text
  • Supports manipulating graphics
  • Includes lots of image editing tools

What we don't like:

  • The number of graphic editing tools can be overwhelming

Works with: Windows, macOS, and Linux

Download Inkscape

Inscape is a wonderful image editing program but probably shouldn't be used by someone who isn't already familiar with programs like this. It's similar to GIMP, Adobe Photoshop, and other image editors.

However, if used in the context of PDF editing, Inkscape should only be considered if you want to delete or edit the images or text in the PDF. Our suggestion, then, would be to use a different tool in this list to edit PDF forms or add shapes, and then plug that PDF into Inkscape if you need to actually edit the preexisting text. More »

Screenshot of the PDFescape online PDF editor
PDFescape.

PDFescape is a wonderful online PDF editor with lots of features. It's 100% free so long as the PDF does not exceed 100 pages or 10 MB in size.

What we like:

  • Works online through your web browser
  • Lots of tools are provided
  • Lets you add your own text and images
  • Can delete and add PDF pages

What we don't like:

  • Can't edit existing text
  • Doesn't edit large PDFs

Works with: Any OS

Visit PDFescape

The way you're allowed to edit PDFs on this website is not in the sense that you can truly change text or edit images, but that you can add your own text, images, links, form fields, etc. 

The text tool is very much customizable so that you can pick your own size, font type, color, alignment, and make the text bold, underlined, or italic.

You can also draw on the PDF, add sticky notes, strike through text, put white space over anything you want to disappear, and insert lines, checkmarks, arrows, ovals, circles, rectangles, and comments.

PDFescape allows lets you delete individual pages from the PDF, rotate pages, crop out parts of a page, reorganize the order of the pages, and add more pages from other PDFs.

You can upload your own PDF file, paste the URL to an online PDF, and make your own PDF from scratch. 

When finished editing, you can download the PDF to your computer without ever having to make a user account. You only need one if you want to save your progress online without downloading the PDF.

PDFescape has an offline PDF editor too called PDFescape Editor, but it isn't free. More »

Screenshot of PDF-XChange Editor in Windows 10
PDF-XChange Editor.

There are some really great PDF editing features in PDF-XChange Editor, but not all of them are free to use. If you use a non-free feature, the PDF will save with a watermark on every page.

However, if you stick to just the free features, you can still do some editing to the file and save it back to your computer.

What we like:

  • Uses OCR to identify the text in the PDF
  • Can import a variety of shapes and images
  • Supports adding QR codes to the PDF
  • There's a portable version

What we don't like:

  • Many features require a license

Works with: Windows

Download PDF-XChange Editor

PDFs can be loaded from your computer, a URL, SharePoint, Google Drive, or Dropbox. The edited PDF can be saved back to your computer or any of those file storage services.

The PDF-XChange Editor program has lots of features, so it might seem overwhelming at first. However, all of the options and tools are simple to understand and categorized into their own sections for easier management.

One nice feature is the ability to highlight all the form fields so that it's easier to know where you need to fill out information. This is really helpful if you're editing a PDF with lots of forms, like an application of some sort.

Although they result in a watermark in the free version, this program does let you edit existing text, add your own text to the PDF, and add or delete pages from the document.

You can download this program in portable mode to use on a flash drive or as a regular installer.

Many of the features are free but some are not. If you use a feature that's not covered by the free version (you're told which features are not free when you use them), the saved PDF file will have a watermark attached to the corners of every page. More »

Screenshot of the Smallpdf online PDF editor
Smallpdf.

One of the quickest ways to add images, text, shapes, or your signature to a PDF, is with Smallpdf.

This is a website that makes it really easy to upload a PDF, make changes to it, and then save it back to your computer all without needing to make a user account or pay for any anti-watermarking features.

What we like:

  • All the features are free
  • Lets you add more text to the PDF
  • Can put white space over areas you want to erase
  • Supports importing shapes
  • Can load and save PDFs from various sources

What we don't like:

  • Doesn't let you edit existing text

Works with: Any OS

Visit Smallpdf

You can open and/or save your PDF to your Dropbox or Google Drive account too, in addition to your computer.

There are three shapes you can import into a PDF with Smallpdf: a square, circle, or arrow. Once added, you can change the object's main color and its line color, as well as the thickness of its edge.

Text size can be tiny, small, normal, large, or huge, but there are only three font types to choose from. You can also change the color of any text you add.

When finished editing the PDF, just hit the APPLY button and then decide where you want it saved. You can also run the edited PDF through Smallpdf's PDF splitter tool if you want to extract the pages from the document. More »

Screenshot of PDFelement Pro
PDFelement Pro.

PDFelement Pro, just as the name sounds, is free but with a major limitation: it will place a watermark on every page of the PDF. That being said, the watermark doesn't cover the majority of the pages and it's important to realize that it supports some really great PDF editing features.

What we like:

  • Lets you edit the PDF's text directly
  • Supports adding images, links, and custom watermarks
  • The background of the PDF pages can be edited
  • Headers and footers can be included in the PDF
  • Supports combining several PDFs into one
  • PDF pages can be cropped
  • Supports OCR
  • Can insert, extract, delete, and rotate PDF pages
  • Makes it easy to edit embedded forms
  • Can password protect the PDF

What we don't like:

  • Free version places a watermark on the PDF
  • Works on Windows only

Works with: Windows

Download PDFelement Pro

This program is a true PDF editor if it weren't for the fact that the free edition will not save without first putting a watermark on every single page of the PDF.

However, depending on what you'll use the PDF for, the features it supports might be enough to consider living with the watermarks.  More »