Roundup: Free PDF Tools

19 Comments

Adobe Acrobat (s adbe) 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 (s msft), OpenOffice, Google Docs (s goog) — 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

19 Comments

Dmitry

There is a free tiny pdf tool to sign your PDF documents at http://www.digisigner.com. DigiSiginer works also as a viewer so you can open your documents and apply a visible or invisible digital signatures to them. It supports smartcards and is available for Windows, Linux or Mac OS X.

chinmay

i found a program pdf2word it converts documents in doc meaning we can edit pdf files for free with no water marks

chnmay

i use pdf fill & editor. i fill it is best we can merge pdf files and much more. i use pdf x viewer. i think you should try these peograms.

dojo

Where were you 2 months ago when I needed this article? :D

Excellent and useful information, it’s good to know there are still so many tools available for us.

Paul Walsh

Interesting list of tools. One to add is gDoc Fusion from my company Global Graphics – see http://www.globalgraphics.com/en/gdoc/ for information and a free evaluation.

One useful feature that isn’t explicitly covered under tools for creating, editing & converting PDF files is the ability to drag and drop pages from multiple documents into one PDF. This document assembly is very powerful when you need to pull together information from different applications into one report. It saves sending multiple email attachments which are less likely to be all opened by the reciprient.

You’re right that the popular Office applications can generate PDF outputs, but there are also a lot of legacy file formats still around and it is very useful to be able to convert these by just dragging them into gDoc Fusion.

Finally, it’s not that efficient for everyone in a company to download their own tool, and it is isn’t likely to make the IT department happy either. That’s why being able to get volume discount pricing with an Enterprise level support package is also important.

Alex

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.

rogeleo

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

Alex

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.

Tony

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.

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