How to Edit PDF without Adobe Acrobat? 5 Alternatives (Free & Paid)

Last updated: Apr. 6, 2017

PDFs are like the universal language for business documents, and they are everywhere these days. While PDFs have a number of advantages over other document file types, being easy to edit or make changes isn't one of them. Why? Because they are essentially images which are restrictive. However, with some tools, editing a PDF file can be easy.

Acrobat, created by Adobe, is a well-known software that you can use to create, export, and edit PDFs. There are so many features, both basic and advanced, in Adobe Acrobat — boasted as the world's most powerful PDF solution. There is one thing that keeps many users away from Acrobat — its price. Billed with $300 in a flat purchase or $15 per month in subscription, many individuals and small business owners feel being ripped if they decide to invest in the software.

That's why in this article, we've determined to share with you several alternatives to Acrobat so you can edit your PDF files in a cheaper way or even for free.

Please note: depending on your editing needs, you may not need to download any software at all. For example, there are some online editing services or even Google Drive that enables you to directly edit PDF without Acrobat.

Okay, now let's jump right into the topic.

#1: Online PDF editing services

If you only have a couple of PDF file to modify, and you're in a hurry, and your documents do not contain sensitive or confidential data, then the best way is to go for an online editing service. Just upload your PDFs to the server of the service provider you choose, and you'll be able to make changes almost instantly.

Here are a few popular services that you can try (note: limitations may apply):

  • PDFescape — free. It allows you to edit, annotate, password protect any PDF files. Also, you can create new forms or fill out existing forms. Limitation: up to 10 MB and 100 pages.
  • PDFBuddy — free. You can use it to edit and sign PDF files. Limitation: you'll need to sign up to save any changes. Upload up to 3 PDFs for free each month.

#2: Basic PDF editing with Preview app (Mac only)

Preview app on Mac

If you are on a Mac and you only want to make a few basic changes to your PDF files such as annotate, highlight, create/add signature, delete/add pages, merge PDFs, etc; then the Preview app is enough to handle your needs. The app is installed in any modern OS X (including macOS Sierra) by default, so you don't have to re-download it. Just open the PDF you want to edit in Preview, and you'll be able to alter it using the tools in the pane as shown above. The app itself is quite intuitive and easy to use.

#3: Edit PDF in Google Docs

Many of us who use Google Drive daily actually don't know that Google Docs is an excellent tool to convert and edit PDF files. What's more awesome is — it allows you to turn a scanned PDF into editable text. See this article how to convert a scanned PDF to Word for more.

All you need to do is sign in Google Drive (if you don't have a Google account, register one), upload your PDF file, right click it and select to open with Google Docs. Now edit the file directly. Once done, in the menu, click File > Download as and choose PDF Document (.pdf) as the output format. This video has more: 

#4: Use PDFelement to edit PDF files

Get PDFelement for Windows ($69.95)          Get PDFelement for Mac ($99.95)

PDFelement is a perfect alternative for Acrobat. It has almost all the features that Adobe Acrobat offers and it's much cheaper. The software suite is packed with dozens of small useful tools that let you edit, convert, combine, and organize PDFs in a professional manner. It also comes with OCR (Optical Character Recognition) technology that allows you to turn scanned PDFs into searchable and editable texts. The application is compatible with the Windows, Macintosh and iOS platforms.

#5: Edit PDF on Mac with PDFpen (Mac only)

Get PDFpen Now ($74.95 Basic, $124.95 Pro)

Like the name indicates, PDFpen is like a pen that allows you to edit PDFs effortlessly. If you are looking for a tool to deal with PDFs on your Mac, PDFpen is the only one app that you'll need. It's more powerful than the Preview app in PDF editing, and you can use it to complete any basic and advanced PDF editing tasks efficiently. In addition, the software offers an amazing user interface and makes the editing experience a breeze. The app is for Mac OS X (10.7 or above) only, latest macOS Sierra is supported.


Adobe Acrobat is a good PDF editor for PC, Mac, and iOS. But the price is killing it. Fortunately, there are several other options that allow you to alter PDFs without Acrobat or even without downloading any third-party programs. Hope you find the above five Acrobat alternatives useful, and you've managed to modify your documents as you want. If you have any additional questions or suggestions regarding the topic, feel free to comment below.

Influenced by the startup culture in the Silicon Valley, Jessica loves building things from zero to one and is keen on following news related to the Big Five tech giants and many SaaS startups.

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