Adobe Acrobat can cost anywhere from $300 to $500 per user license, depending on the version you purchase, so replacing it with a free or lower-cost alternative can save your company big bucks. Here’s a list of some great alternative PDF tools.

Adobe Acrobat can cost anywhere from $300 to $500 per user license, depending on the version you purchase, so replacing it with a free or lower-cost alternative can save your company big bucks. Here’s a list of some great alternative free PDF tools.

PDF Viewers

The free Adobe Reader has been the de facto standard for viewing PDF files ever since it was introduced in 1993, but it has become bloated and vulnerable to malware attacks over the years. There are some free alternatives for viewing PDF files that are more streamlined and faster.

  • Foxit PDF Reader is a lightweight PDF viewer for that is popular. (Windows)
  • CoolPDF Reader is freeware that claims to be the smallest PDF reader available, at only 650kb. It can also convert PDF files to many different formats such as TXT, GIF, JPG and more. (Windows)
  • PDF-XChange Viewer reads and edits PDF files for free. (Windows)
  • Skim is an open-source PDF reader. (Mac)

Tools for Creating, Editing & Converting PDF Files

The good news is that just about every popular office application — including Microsoft Office 2007/2010, OpenOffice, Google Docs — now include built-in ways to save documents as PDF files. This means that many people no longer needs that expensive Adobe Acrobat license if all they need to do is create basic PDF files from documents. That said, there are also some useful standalone free tools for creating and editing PDF files:

  • CutePDF Writer is my favorite free tool for creating PDF files outside of using the built-in PDF features of tools like Office and Google Docs. It installs a PDF printer that you send documents to in order to create them as PDF files. (Windows)
  • PDF Creator creates PDF files for free, as well as converting them to other usable formats. (Windows)
  • PrimoPDF is another free PDF writer for personal and commercial use. (Windows)
  • HelloPDF converts PDF files to Microsoft Word document format, for free. (Windows)
  • PDFill PDF Editor is the most robust free solution in this bunch, so don’t let its rather unimpressive website give you the wrong impression. It is chock full of features normally only found in premium PDF editors, such as the ability to merge files, convert files to multiple image formats, e-book options and more. (Windows)
  • Skim, the open-source PDF reader I listed above, also includes some editing tools. (Mac)

e-Book Creation Tools

If you want to distribute your PDFs as e-books, you can use one of the free eBook publishing platforms.

  • Stanza has a powerful e-book publishing solution for Windows and Mac.
  • Calibre provides a publishing platform for Windows, Mac and even Linux.

Online PDF Tools

There are some free online tools that do the same things as the desktop tools listed above. Some let you edit PDF files, some convert them and others merge them. Here are some of the most popular solutions.

  • PDFescape lets you create PDF files online; you don’t even need to register without even registering. However, if you do register (for free) then you can do other things such as save the PDF files online in your own secure account. There’s also a free PDF reader. You can create PDF files with up to 50 pages and up to 2 MB in size for free. Commercial use is acceptable, and there is no watermarked logo on any of the PDF pages. You can also password protect your PDF files.
  • PDF to Word Convert PDF files to Word format with Nitro PDF’s online tool. The only catch is that it might take a little while to get the converted file.
  • Nitro PDFHammer allows you to edit PDF files online and convert them to other formats.
  • PDF2Word Online is another tool for converting PDF files to Word documents.
  • Free OCR is a useful online service for extracting the text from PDF and image files. The one caveat is that it will only scan one-page PDF files or the first page of a multi-page PDF for free (although, of course, you could convert multiple page PDF files to images first, before uploading them to Free OCR).

Let us know your favorite free PDF tools in the comments.

Photo credit: cohdra

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  1. Vitor Gonçalves Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    I use PDF Creator and I think is best one to create a PDF, and you can use to print to PDF all that you want.

  2. I prefer to use Sumatra PDF reader. It’s very basic and doesn’t come with all any fluff. :)


  3. I use PDFredirect (http://www.exp-systems.com/). Very easy to use. There a two flavors: Free and Pro.

  4. My two favorites are CutePDF Writer fore creating PDF’s (never gives me any problems …Adobe Acrobat actually locks up on some larger PDF files I try to create), and PDF-XChange Viewer. I started off with Foxit PDF viewer but had some issues with it (that I don’t recall at the moment). I also use Sumatra PDF viewer on my 16 Gig netbook to save space and RAM. It works nicely for a no frills PDF viewer.

  5. PDFpen for Mac is a wonderful tool: edit, comment, correct, OCR image texts! Wonderful.

    1. SmileOnMyMac, the developer of PDFpen, sponsors the MacPowerUsers podcast. Their last promo code (http://www.smileonmymac.com/mpu/) ran out on 28 February, but there might be another chance. And the podcast is great.

  6. For simple edits under Linux, you can try Xournal (http://sourceforge.net/projects/xournal). It’s actually a note-taking app (for use with your stylus or mouse), but with it you can also open and edit/annotate PDF files, and export again to PDF.

  7. Paul A Norman Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Don’t forget pdfLaTeX and cousins!

  8. Nice overview. However, I think Skim deserves a little more love. It’s not just an open-source reader, it’s also great for commenting. The feature I really like is the possibility to export all comments to an RTF document.

  9. Leslie A. Joy Wednesday, May 19, 2010

    I use PDF X-Change as my PDF reader and love it. So much better than Adobe.

    I also make good use of http://www.pdfmyurl.com/ It’s really nifty and allows me to easily work offline.

  10. Reference to Online PDF Tools section. You didn’t listed my favorite one http://www.freepdfconvert.com
    Do not only Word and other documents conversion to PDF but also PDF to Word conversion.

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