Best free PDF editors in 2021


Free PDF editors are great for a variety of tasks, but you won’t get the same advanced features as a paid version.

Many free PDF editors can be used to create and edit Portable Document Format files. However, this is unlikely to be a lot of use. You might want to use the best PDF editors if you regularly need to create or edit PDF files.

The best PDF editors for everyone offer all the basics of editing and document-creation tools that you would ever need.

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There are many free PDF editors. Some do not offer much. Many let you scan text and allow you to edit it, annotate or recognize it — all for no charge.

We have used half a dozen free PDF editors, and we have compared them with the best-paid ones. These are the best PDF editors that you can find for free.

What are the top free PDF editors?

PDF Candy is your best choice for a PDF editor. It offers many file-conversion options and features that you’d expect to pay for.

PDFescape is second only to PDF Candy. The free service provides excellent form-creation, annotation, and editing tools. (There are also two paid levels.)

Mac users don’t need to look further than the PDF editor tools that come with their MacBook or iMac. Preview is an integral part of macOS. This includes both image editing and annotation tools. If all you need is an electronic signature attached to a PDF, this should be your first port of call.

We also tested FormSwift (a good choice if you work in forms) and Smallpdf (a basic program that excels in converting files). Smallpdf, which is similar to Preview, can add electronic signatures.

Here are the top free PDF editors.

The best free PDF editor


Developer: Icecream Apps

Compatibility with Chrome, Firefox Edge, Opera, Safari

Category: PDF editing, file converter, OCR

Upgrade from the Free Version: None

There are several reasons to purchase

+OCR feature+Extensive File-Conversion and -creation Features+SolidPDF-layout Tools

There are reasons to avoid

-Limited text-editing capabilities

PDF Candy may be the best free PDF editor because it provides an OCR option which isn’t available in other free editors.

Although OCR text cannot be edited directly within PDF Candy’s web-based PDF editors, you are able to upload a PDF file and have PDF Candy extract it and create a text, RTF, or Word file in both.docx and.docx formats.

PDF Candy has an impressive tool list. You can use 44 tools for creating or converting PDF files. Tools are available to arrange pages within a file, add watermarks and protect PDF files using passcodes. You can also edit metadata in PDF files, split pages or add them to documents, extract images, and alter page layouts.

All you have to do is select the tool and upload a document. Then, PDF Candy will work its magic.

After you’ve completed one task on a particular document, you’ll be given a list that will contain other tools you could use for other tasks. Once you have made all your changes, you will be able to download the edited document and upload another document. PDF Candy allows you to download all of your documents at once after you’ve completed making any changes.

PDF Candy is limited in its text-editing capabilities, but it has everything that PDF Candy does not have.

Free Annotation Tools


Red Software for Developers

Compatibility with Chrome, Firefox Edge, Opera, Safari

Category: PDF annotation

Upgrade from a free version: $36, $72 (ultimate), per year

Reasons to Buy

+Web-based tools for annotation are easy to understand.+The page limit has been increased to 100 pages.+Impressive features set for a FREE app

There are reasons to avoid

-Very limited fonts

PDFescape allows you to edit PDF files online. PDFescape is very easy to use, and anyone can access it via a web browser.

PDFescape was limited to a maximum of 10MB and 50-page PDF files. You can edit files up to 100 pages for free, although the file-size limit of 10MB remains.

PDFescape comes with many annotation tools. The app lets you fill out forms, add text and web links to them, highlight and strikeout text, crop or rotate images, and lock or encrypt PDF documents.

The font options are limited. PDFescape offers five fonts. One is a generic font called “signature”, which looks nothing like your signature. Other than that, you will find more tools within PDFescape than the typical, stripped-down PDF editor.

Mac users can get this free option


Apple Developer

Compatibility: macOS

Category: PDF annotation; image Editing

Upgrade from the Free Version: None

Reasons to Buy

+Included on every Mac+Includes Image-Editing Tools+Excellent Annotation Tools and Options for Adding Signatures to Documents

There are reasons to avoid

-Nonavailable on other platforms – Markup tools are difficult to find – No OCR

Apple’s Preview program is available in all versions of macOS, including macOS Big Sur. It’s capable of working with PDF files. But it also has a lot of other image editing features. It is a multitool for image editing, able to open virtually any image file.

Preview’s markup capabilities won’t be apparent when you first launch the app. However, you’ll find some basic tools for rotating pages or highlighting text on its basic toolbar.

Preview’s complete set markup tools are available by clicking a small button that looks like an eraser next to the Preview toolbar search tool.

These tools include text selection and drawing options that you can use for freehand drawings in a document. A text tool allows you to add text to a file; it also includes a text tool that adds text; shapes and notes tools; and a signature tool that captures your signature using your Mac, tablet, or trackpad.

A preview is a good option for basic editing PDFs. If you’re a Mac user, you can access Preview’s features by simply opening the app.

Forms – A great resource


Developer: King Street Labs LLC

Compatibility with Chrome, Firefox Edge, Opera, Safari

Category: Legal forms, PDF annotation

Upgrade from the free version to $89/year

Reasons to Buy

+Extensive Library of Legal and Business Forms+Solid Annotation Tools

There are reasons to avoid

-Limited tools for text modification – No way to alter the existing text

FormSwift has a new approach to PDF editing. It offers the ability to upload and edit PDF files and also provides a large number of business forms, including legal and other forms that can be filled out online. These forms can then be downloaded as a Word or PDF file.

FormSwift has excellent offerings that are well worth checking out if you need basic business documents like 1099s or lease agreements.

After you’ve filled in the information, all of these forms are available online. Or, you can download blank copies of these forms and additional information to your computer.

It’s easy to modify PDF files. Drag a file from your browser to edit it. It can be up to 10MB in size. Next, use FormSwift’s tools for adding new text and images. Highlight, redact or delete existing text. Sign documents.

FormSwift’s text tools can be limited. There are four fonts that you can choose from. But, you have the ability to resize these fonts to almost any size you wish. You can also change text colors and styles. You can add a new field to your document, change the text and move it around the document.

You cannot make any changes to text other than by redacting. All other tools work well, including a signature tool, which allows you to sign documents with the keyboard, your computer mouse, or an image uploaded.

This is a good file converter


Smallpdf GmbH, Developer

Compatibility with Chrome, Firefox Edge, Opera, Safari

Category: PDF Conversion and Editing

Upgrade from the free version to $108/year

The Reasons Why You Should Buy

+Basic Editing Tools for PDFs+Includes File Conversion Tools

There are reasons to avoid

-No annotations or markup options-Limited font options-Limit 2 documents per calendar

Smallpdf’s PDF editing online service is simple and only allows for minor changes.

Smallpdf offers other features for free that may appeal to you. These include tools that convert PDF files to Word Excel PowerPoint PowerPoint, JPEG, and PowerPoint. All of these file types are also possible to be converted into PDF.

Smallpdf is a simple tool that can add pages and compress existing PDF documents. Smallpdf also offers tools to add signatures on documents, which are very similar to those that can be found with Apple’s Preview program on a Mac.

All of this is available without file-size limitations. However, Smallpdf limits you to processing two documents per hour. You will need to upgrade to the Pro plan if you wish to do more.

Smallpdf is just like other online editors for PDF files. To get started, drag the file directly to your browser.

You can edit PDFs using four options: Add text, Add an image, Add shape, and Draw. You will not be able to add comments or notes, nor highlight existing text. There are other places to go if you need to annotate or markup a PDF document.

Even though the options are enough, you might feel limited within each of them. Add text and you’ll have only five size options. There are no font options. You can however choose from monotype, sans serif, or serif styles. You are limited to seven font color options.

Smallpdf might not have all the necessary tools to edit PDF files but it’s still very useful for adding electronic signatures, compressing and converting files, and merging documents.

How to pick the best free PDF editor

Selecting the best PDF editor for free is not unlike choosing a paid program. Simply identify what you want to do with PDF files and choose the program that provides the necessary features.

It’s as easy as deciding whether you want a PDF editor that manages document design and creation or just one that can comment and make suggestions on a digital document.

You need to be careful about any limitations on the free version of this software. Are there restrictions on what size documents you can edit? Or is there a paywall that prevents you from using certain tools? If the answer is yes, consider whether it’s worth it to pay for that particular feature.

Make sure you have the appropriate software installed if you are doing PDF editing on a computer. Mac users may not know how great Preview is at adding signatures to PDFs and annotating documents. Saving time by searching for the best free PDF editor can be a huge help.

How to test free PDF editors

When testing free PDF editors we follow the same procedure as when testing paid versions. However, we do take into consideration the limitations that may be present with free software. Both general PDF editors are taken into consideration, as well as those specifically made for annotations.

I have a few types of documents that conform to the limitations on file size when using the free PDF editors. These include large files with lots of text, mixed images, or simple documents with just text.

Though text recognition is not an option in many free apps, it was something I tried. I also tried changing the text, adding and replacing images, and annotating each product.

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