How to edit, sign or convert a PDF

·Contributing Writer
·5-min read
Jane Kelly via Getty Images

PDFs were designed to be a universal file format. If you send someone a PDF, you can be assured that they’re looking at an identical copy of what you sent — regardless of their operating system or what software they have installed. But what if you need to make changes to a portable document? Luckily, Adobe has packed Acrobat with more advanced features over the years, including the ability to add text and images, adjust fonts, add comments, sign forms, add images and more. The latest versions of Acrobat allow you to merge PDFs, delete pages and convert PDFs to practically every file format, and you can do a lot of this for free. Alternatively, a number of third-party PDF editors offer more options for altering documents, and many are free or include a free tier, too.

How to edit a PDF

In order to edit a PDF, you have a choice between using Adobe’s programs (Acrobat Pro or Acrobat Pro DC) or a third-party PDF editor.

It’s important to note that Adobe offers a number of PDF editing tools for free, but limits this perk to two free transactions every 30 days. You’ll only need to sign up for a free account, which allows you to convert PDFs to a number of different file formats as well as merge, split, delete, reorder, extract and insert new PDF pages. You can also sign a PDF, request a signature and password protect your PDF with a free Adobe account. If you only need to highlight text, add comment or text boxes or draw on the PDF document, Adobe allows you to do this for free with its online tool. And if you don’t want to sign up for an Adobe account, the company still lets you perform one task and download the file for free.

But if you need to fix a typo, change the font, add new text or do anything more advanced, you’ll need to pay for an Adobe Acrobat Pro subscription. While there’s no real substitute for Acrobat (given the company is the literal creator of PDFs), some users may balk at the $14.99 per month subscription price for Acrobat Pro DC. If your workplace or school doesn’t allow you to access Acrobat’s premium software for free, you can try a 7-day free trial of Acrobat Pro DC. Just remember to cancel the trial before the trial period is over.

There are also numerous PDF editors that offer editing tools for free like Sejda, PDFescape, SodaPDF, PDF Candy and many others. Keep in mind that free editing programs won’t have as wide of an array of tools as Adobe Acrobat, and many have limits on storage. But if you need to quickly delete a chunk of text or add a few images, a third-party PDF editor is a budget-friendly alternative. Be sure to shop around in order to make sure you find the right program for your project.

How to sign a PDF

Close up businessman hand electronic Signature on Tablet by Stylus. Write business agreement of contract. Man signing contract on tablet. Business and technology concept.
Close up businessman hand electronic Signature on Tablet by Stylus. Write business agreement of contract. Man signing contract on tablet. Business and technology concept.

If you need to sign a lease or a tax form, you’ll have your choice of free form-filling programs. Adobe Acrobat has a free online PDF form filler tool that lets you fill out PDF form fields, add text boxes, checkmarks, circles and other symbols. The program also includes e-signing tools that allow you to add your signature or initials to any form.

If you don’t want to visit a website every time you need to sign a PDF, Windows users can download the free Acrobat Reader application and use the “Fill & Sign” functionality, macOS users can open a PDF in preview, click the Toolbox button and then click Sign. On mobile, Adobe’s Fill & Sign application does exactly what it sounds like and is available for Android and iOS.

Many third-party PDF editors include form-filling and e-signing tools. If you need to quickly sign a document, DocFly lets you directly drop or upload your document and either write out, draw or upload an image of your signature. You can get three free downloads per month, or pay extra for a monthly or annual subscription. Some signing programs with free tiers include DocuSign, HelloSign, PandaDoc and eSign.

How to combine or merge PDF files

Luckily, Adobe allows users to combine or merge PDF documents for free. Simply drag and drop your files, select the ones you’d like to merge and then reorder them if needed. Adobe’s tool lets users create a merged PDF of up to 1,500 pages and combine up to 100 files, with each file limited to 500 pages. You can also delete, move or rotate pages. Adobe’s tool works on any web browser and is compatible with any operating system, including Windows, Mac and Linux.

How to convert a PDF to Microsoft Word or another file format

In a similar fashion, Adobe allows users to convert PDFs to Word documents for free with its online tool. Keep in mind that fonts, images and alignment can go haywire when you switch between file formats (though Adobe does its best), and you may not be able to convert some protected PDFs at all. Just open the browser of your choice, go to Adobe’s site and either drag and drop or upload a PDF. Adobe will then convert it to a fully editable Microsoft Word document. The company’s free tool also allows you to convert PDFs to JPGs, Excel and Powerpoint documents, as well as vice versa.

If you need to convert your PDF to HTML, you’ll need to pay for the premium version. There are also a number of free conversion tools, like CloudConvert.

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