The best free PDF editors let you create, edit, and work together on files without any subscription fees or one-off payments.
We all know how important PDF files are. They literally keep millions of businesses on the same page. The best PDF editors we’ve tried – yes, even free versions – let you create and design seriously professional documents. There are limitations, and few free PDF editing software is as feature-packed as the likes of Adobe Acrobat. But add in e-signatures, forms, and enhanced security tools, and you do have some of the best Adobe Acrobat alternatives without any subscriptions or lifetime licenses.
Our team of PDF experts have been hand-testing the top-rated apps and platforms to find out which is really the best. Here’s what we learned and why we recommend using these apps and platforms online, on desktop, and on mobile. As part of our review process, we’ve tested out each free PDF app’s integrated tools, filetype support, collaboration and cloud storage facilities. Optional pricing upgrades are always noted, but every apps and platforms we tried here offers a completely free PDF editor.
Top 3 editor’s picks
You may have to pay for these, but they’re some the top PDF software we’ve tried.
What’s the best free PDF editors in 2023?
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Best free PDF editor overall
PDF24 Creator is our pick for best free PDF editor overall. You may find the website a tad dated, but the tool is surprisingly feature-rich.
The free PDF editor is a very small program that can easily run on older systems – ideal, then, for businesses with limited resources or a suite of low-spec computers.
When we tested the software, we rated it as one of the best free tools, going above and beyond what’s expected. It’s full of features, and has everything needed to create and edit PDF documents. While we noted that it lacked more advanced features usually found in premium tools like Adobe Acrobat DC, we felt that most users will find more than enough utility within PDF24 Creator.
The Windows-only tool serves up a PDF editor for free document creation, PDF merging, PDF compressing, and converting PDFs into other formats. You can even optimize a PDF for the web or apply OCR to a PDF, so that you can convert scanned images to text.
PDF24 Creator has a minimalistic user interface and it’s clear that the program is designed around speed first and foremost. The interface can feel a little clunky at times, but all of the important features are easy to find and when you first open the software, you’re presented with a grid of editing options. And yes, our top choice for best free PDF editor is genuinely free and unlimited, through and through.
Read our full PDF24 Creator review
Best free PDF editor online
PDF Candy is ideal if you want a free online PDF editor and a way to edit PDF files in your browser. You’ll also find a desktop version available for Windows if you upgrade to the lifetime license.
Easily one of the best free PDF editors online, it’s delightfully simple to use – everything is clean, clear, and easy to navigate. And it’s absolutely packed with functionality, with an impressive 47 different tools for editing, altering, converting PDF files, and so much more. During our tests, we found PDF editing as effortless every other function in the software, delighted that “editing text in a PDF file isn’t a million miles away from editing a word processor document.”
The free version places a one-task-per-hour limit – e.g., processing an edited PDF file or converting a document. This can be removed by setting up a monthly or annual subscription, or purchasing it outright for a one-off payment. The latter also grants access to the Windows-only desktop PDF editor app. If restriction is too much to bear, and you don’t need everything the platform offers, try PDF24 Creator – it’s fully free across the board.
Elsewhere, PDF Candy has a good amount of useful tools and features. This includes the option to edit PDF files online, convert documents to a variety of formats, merge and compress PDFs.
On top of that, PDF Candy lets you easily extract text and images, resize pages, and add watermarks. In total, there are an impressive 47 different tools to help you manage and edit PDF files. All features are found in a handy list of buttons, so you won’t spend ages looking for what you need. Overall, we found service delightfully simple, but as with even the best free PDF editors, an upgrade unlocks its full potential.
Read our full PDF Candy review
Best free PDF editor for Android and iPhone
Smallpdf was created with a single goal in mind: edit and compress PDFs.
But what sets it apart from the competition is its extensive multi-lingual support, available in 24 different languages and used in 195 countries around the world.
Long considered one of the best free PDF editors online – you can make all the changes you need from your browser – the user experience is excellent and incredibly easy to use. When we tested Smallpdf, we found the lightweight, cloud-based tool perfect for simple tasks, but not ideal for high-volume editing or advanced features.
We found using the PDF editor very straightforward. Upload your PDF via the website, and begin making annotations and taking notes. We also liked the option to add pictures, text and shapes to a PDF. Once the necessary changes are made, Smallpdf gave us the option to compress a PDF or export it as a Word, Excel or PowerPoint file.
There are restrictions, as you’ll find in many of the best free PDF editors. Chiefly, you’re locked to two tasks per day – so a fully free tool like PDF24 Creator or Canva might be a better choice for more consistent use.
If you want even more functionality, you can upgrade to Smallpdf’s premium edition. While the web version is slightly cheaper, you can pay a bit more to take advantage of the desktop version so you can work offline. Alongside a web PDF editor and Windows desktop app, users can also install the PDF editor on Android and iOS phones.
Read our full Smallpdf review
Best free PDF editor for signatures
If you’re looking for a free PDF editor with signing capabilities, DocHub is worth considering. When we went hands-on with the software, we described it as “a true gem, delivering comprehensive functionality without burdening users with unnecessary expenses.”
The free plan has limits, but it’s relatively generous if you’re only a casual user. You’re allowed 2,000 documents, five eSignatures, three sign requests, and three email attachments per day. The pro plan, which costs $10 per user per month, lifts these restrictions for unlimited document editing. Subscribing also adds a handful of features and tools, like a wide font library and the ability to add drop-down menus to PDFs.
During our time with DocHub, we found it intuitive and easy to navigate, with a good line in security for businesses. You’ll find an excellent page manager, where you can rearrange, label, rotate, add, or delete pages – just right click for all the options. And field creation was equally wide-ranging, letting you add extras like text boxes and legally binding signatures. Sharing and collaboration tools, ensuring you get documents signed by others, are also plentiful.
But it’s not as feature-filled as dedicated PDF editors, and on the free plan, you’ll only have access to three basic fonts – Courier New, Times New Roman, Helvetica. But for getting your documents signed, it’s absolutely up to job.
Read our full DocHub review
Best free PDF editor for designers
Canva’s free PDF editor is a good choice if you’re looking to create documents from scratch or re-edit an existing file.
Like the platform’s design app and logo maker, the browser-based editor is pure child’s play. If you’re familiar with Canva’s other free tools, you won’t find any surprises here. And if you’ve never made or edited a PDF document before, it won’t take long to master the tools and build professional-looking assets. Select an element, drag it into position, and that’s that. It offers a decent amount of customization. You’ll also find it packed with stock images and vector graphics that can be added to your file.
When we reviewed Canva – one of the best free PDF editors with design capabilities – we were especially impressed with its ability to turn existing PDFs into editable documents. Upload your file and the tool smartly identifies the different elements on the page – text boxes, images, background colors, that sort of thing. You’re then free to click and modify (or delete) any of these.
There is also an app library for added utility. This is where you can connect your cloud storage services, add links, and even create QR codes. This is all free to use, but there is a monthly/annual subscription available, adding business-focused utilities such as brand kits, more cloud storage, premium graphics, and social media scheduling. Subscribers gain access to these across the Canva platform; it’s not limited to the PDF editing tool.
Effortless is, perhaps, the best way to describe this top free PDF editor. But while the tool excels on the design side, it lacks many of the advanced features you’ll find in full-fat software like Adobe Acrobat. There’s no OCR, for example, and no eSign integration. That makes it best for teams and marketing departments largely focused on designing their own PDF assets.
Read our full Canva PDF Editor review
Best free PDF editor for Mac
Apple’s Preview app is free, and as you’d imagine, only available on Apple devices like the MacBook. It’s designed to let you preview many different image formats, but its most interesting feature is its ability to view, interact with, and manipulate PDFs.
After testing our choice for best free PDF editor for Mac, we concluded that Apple’s product was a remarkably powerful editor, allowing you to perform what could be considered advanced content manipulation and note taking tools.
The basics are seamless: open a file, scroll through the pages, search for specific words, print the whole document, or just parts of it, fill in specific fields, add notes, it’s all there, and you can’t really ask for an easier-to-use PDF reader.
But Preview goes one better: you can manipulate PDFs files to a certain extent. There’s no text editing, but you can reorder pages, rotate them, and even delete them.
On the downside, despite being one of the best free PDF editors on the market, it lacks OCR tools. But most other functions should cater for most users. For custom PDF creation, you have the option of copying and pasting pages into new documents – as long as those original PDFs allow you to copy their pages.
Read our full Apple Preview review
Best free PDF editor for minor edits
I Love PDF is an online service that allows you to manipulate PDF files in a number of ways. You can merge files together, split a single one into multiples, and convert documents to and from the PDF format. The only thing you can’t do is alter the original content of a PDF, although you can add additional text boxes, images and shapes.
So, it’s not a full PDF editor like Adobe Acrobat DC. In fact, we noted in our review of the PDF editing tool that while it lets you manipulate documents in many ways, the drawback is that you can’t actually change the existing content of these files. You can only add extra text boxes, shapes, images, and the like.
Despite this, it does contain a number of interesting features that are cleverly implemented. This includes being able to use your phone’s camera to scan pages, and have them appear back on your page on your computer, once done. You can easily add page numbers to every page, or even a watermark, and of course add a digital electronic signature to a document.
The online PDF editor is free, as long as you access it from a web browser. A handful of tools have limited functionality in this way, but should be suitable for most people’s needs.
If you require more advanced features like OCR and offline PDF editing , then you’ll need to consider subscribing.
Read our full I Love PDF review
Best free PDF editor for data security
Sejda, like PDF Candy and Smallpdf, is one of the best free PDF editors available online in your browser. You can also grab a separate free downloadable, editable PDF app for desktops.
What sets it apart from other similar offerings, however, are its security features. All files uploaded to the service are automatically wiped from its servers after two hours. This means you can use it to work on sensitive documents without having to be worried about your data being leaked or stolen.
Sejda as a convincingly power PDF editor – in our tests, we found that using it is incredibly self-explanatory, and it was frankly difficult to fault the tools on offer. On the other hand, we were disappointed by the lack of precision over layout and movement controls. In fact, during our time on the platform, we were noted a big flaw: “While you will find that it is possible to edit text, you’re likely to find that fonts are changed, making it apparent precisely where edits have been made.”
Sejda also offers a desktop version with the biggest difference being that all of the processing is handled locally as opposed to in the cloud. Regardless of which free version you choose, Sejda limits you to working on a maximum of three tasks per day, one file at a time and files can’t be larger than 50MB or 200 pages.
In addition to being able to edit PDF text, you can add new text as well as images including shapes and drawings. Sejda also lets you add annotations, create forms, whiteout sections of a document and more. However, it’s worth noting that free users will get hit by the file size and time restrictions. For those that do decide to upgrade, Sejda is available as a weekly, monthly or annual subscription though there are discounts for larger teams with multiple users.
Read our full Sejda review
Best free PDF editor: FAQs
What is a PDF editor?
A PDF editor lets you assemble a Portable Document Format (PDF) file from scratch, as well as amend the content of existing PDF files. The format was released by Adobe in 1993 as a way to standardize documents viewed across different platforms, devices, and screens. Most PDF editors come with the ability to convert, or batch convert, common file types such as Microsoft Office’s Word, PowerPoint, and Excel to and from the PDF format. You’ll also find more advanced tools like optical character recognition (OCR) software.
Are the best free PDF editors good?
Whether or not a free PDF editor is best for you will largely depend on how you’ll use it, and where. While there are some free PDF desktop apps that work offline, they don’t always feature multi-platform and mobile support. Many others are only available online in your browser. You’ll find some have extra features, complete with the best PDF merger tools and best PDF compressors for most home and office uses. But others are bereft of anything but the basics. So, it can be hit-and-miss. Free PDF editors can also impose usage limits, such as the amount of files you can import, or export, per day. As such, they’re often better for light users, or to get a taste for the tool. After testing out paid-for editors, we wanted to take a look at the good and the bad of the best free PDF editors to see what’s there and what’s not and whether a free PDF editor is a good alternative to a paid app.
Should I use a free PDF editor?
Free PDF editors are popular and good for general use, though they lack the advantages and features of paid versions.
Many free tools impose limits that can only be unlocked with a lifetime license or subscription. If you open and editor a lot of PDF documents, you’ll need to be selective choosing the best free PDF editor. This is one of the main reasons why we loved PDF24 Creator and if you’re a heavy PDF user, this is the one we recommend.
Most free PDF editing software, however, is fine for occasional or semi-regular use. If you don’t need a lot of features and fancy tools, there’s plenty of options out there.
Where businesses may hesitate in choosing a free PDF editor over a paid app is data security. It’s worth being aware of some of the reasons why organizations often tend to go premium in our guide 5 reasons why you should avoid free PDF editors
How do I edit a PDF for free?
All PDF editors are designed differently – although tools and layouts follow a similar pattern. We’ve covered several ways to alter documents in the most popular paid-for and free PDF editors with our guide How to edit a PDF.
We’ve also highlighted the best method in Sedja PDF editor in our guide How to edit a PDF for free.
Is there a completely free PDF editor?
PDF24 Creator is a completely free PDF editor. It’s free of charge, free of spyware, and it’s our pick for best free PDF editor overall. But there are loads of amazing free PDF editing software depending on your needs and device/platform – many also include paid-for upgrades for premium features.
Does Windows 10 have a free PDF editor?
Windows 10 doesn’t include a built-in free PDF editor. You’ll need to download a third-party app to create and edit any PDF files. However, like most browsers, the Windows 10 Edge browser features one of the best free PDF readers. It’s a little basic, but ideal for quickly viewing and highlighting documents online.
How to choose the best free PDF editor for you
Trying to decide which free PDF editor is best for you? Free PDF software tends to be less feature-filled than premium counterparts like out Editor’s Picks. But there are a few features to look out for.
Make sure you can edit documents. We’ve tested plenty of the best PDF readers Windows and the best PDF readers for Mac, and while some let you modify a document, they don’t offer full editing capabilities. You don’t want editing software that won’t let you design a document from scratch.
PDFs are essential in digitally minded organization – so check your free PDF editor has tools for sharing, commenting, leaving notes, and making annotations to documents.
With uses from HR to sales, digital signatures are fast becoming business-critical. Some of the top-rated free tools include the best eSign software for collecting and securely storing legally binding signed documents.
A really good free PDF editor will include conversion tools, letting you change a filetype from or to an editable PDF document. We’ve hand-tested everything from the best Word to PDF converters to the best PDF to AutoCAD converters, and we know how useful this feature is for all kinds of workflows.
Reducing and saving storage space is one of the big benefits to PDF documents, so it’s worth checking whether the best cloud storage is integrated into the platform. This will mean you can easily and securely access and share documents from connected devices.
Optical character recognition
Optical character recognition (OCR) may be a nice-to-have for some users, but it will be essential for anyone with too many paper files unsecured and taking up space. When a free PDF editor has the best OCR software equipped, it can scan and convert paper documents into digital documents, making them easy to securely store.
How we test the best free PDF editors
We’ve tested a host of PDF apps, including the best PDF readers for Android and the best PDF to PowerPoint converters. We take the same user-centric approach to all our testing, reviewing, and rating. We’ve looking for seamless user experiences, clear signposting, documentation, and support. We’re also looking for toolkits that match the workflows of intended users.
To test for the best free PDF editors, we first set up an account with the relevant software platform, whether as a download or as an online service.
We then tested the service using a handful of PDF files to see how the PDF editor could handle editing not just text, but also images, as well as tables imported from Microsoft Excel.
The aim was to push each software platform to see whether it could simply and easily not just edit a range of content types but also do so faithfully and consistently without introducing formatting issues or similar problems.