10 alternative tools for working with PDFs

Lightweight Adobe Reader alternatives


Everybody deals with PDFs at some point, but most use Adobe Reader and remain unaware of other excellent apps that provide extra features and work much faster. Let's look at some great alternatives.

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1. Split and merge files

PDF Split and Merge enables you to combine multiple PDFs into a single file. For example, you could archive a year's invoices as a single document instead of individual files.

Go to here, install the program and click 'Add files'. Browse to the files you want to merge and select them, holding down [Ctrl] to make a multiple selection. Click 'Open', followed by 'Merge/Split'.

The merged file is saved in the source location as 'output.pdf'.

2. View in Gmail

Gmail has a built-in PDF reader courtesy of Google Docs. This makes it easy to view attached PDF files without having to download them and open them in a local application. Click 'View' next to the attachment in Gmail and it'll open in a new tab in your browser.

You can print directly from this reader and move between pages using its thumbnail views. Select text and copy it using [Ctrl]+[C].

3. View as plain HTML

Gmail used to display PDF attachments as plain HTML, which meant you couldn't see any embedded images or much of the formatting.

You may find this format easier to use if you want to highlight, copy or paste any of the text in a PDF. Get this view by clicking 'Plain HTML' in the Gmail PDF viewer.

4. Reorder pages

The PDF Hammer tool provides you with simple PDF-editing capabilities in your web browser, including page reordering. Go to here and click 'Start PDF Hammer'. This launches the online application.

Click 'Browse' in the right-hand pane and select a PDF file from your computer – you can use multiple files if you like. Click 'Upload' to transfer them to the web interface.

Now select a page and use the arrow buttons to move it forwards or backwards in the document. Alternatively, click 'Delete' to remove it.

When you've finished editing the document, choose 'Export Final PDF' and then save the file to your hard drive.

5. Edit PDFs offline

For the ability to edit PDF files offline, try PDFill. You may need to download and install Ghostscript if you don't already have it.

Once done, launch the program and choose 'File | Open new PDF project'. Browse to your PDF file and wait for it to be imported. You can now edit it, import images or fill in forms.

When you're done, choose 'File | Save the edited PDF as…' and enter a filename and location.

6. View files quickly

Adobe Reader has a heavy footprint and can drag its feet when loading. If you want an app that will open PDF files quickly, you're better off with something smaller.

Foxit Reader is a fraction of the size and makes opening PDFs much less of a chore. Get a free copy from here.

7. Add arrows and notes

PDF Escape is a free way to edit PDFs online. Go to here and hit 'Click here to use PDF Escape now free'. Opt for unregistered use.

Click 'Open a file from your computer' and browse to the PDF that you want to edit. You can now edit the file by adding arrows, sticky notes, text or form fields. When you're finished, click 'File | Save and Download PDF'.

8. Create PDFs quickly

Generate PDF files from anything that can be printed in Windows using PDF Creator, which is available to download from here. The program adds a virtual printer to your PC.

When you want to create a PDF, opt to print using whatever app you like and then select 'PDF Creator' as the printer. This brings up a dialog where you can enter document details such as the title and author. Click 'Save' and provide a filename and location to finish.

9. Turn PDFs into Word docs

PDF Online enables you to convert PDF files into editable Word documents and vice versa. Browse to here and select 'Free PDF services'.

You can choose 'Doc2PDF online' or 'PDF2Word online'. Browse to the file you want to convert, select it and click 'Upload and convert'. You'll be given a link to download the Word or PDF document, which you can then open on your PC.

10. Fill in forms

PDF forms are becoming more common. You often have to download the form, print it out, fill it in by hand, then scan in the pages to upload it and send it back.

A simpler option is PDF Filler. Upload a PDF or provide its URL and click 'Fill Now'. Once it's uploaded, you can type directly onto the form. Download the finished article or send it by email to those who need it.