The best free PDF editor 2016

Edit images and text, split and merge documents, add annotations and convert formats

Download the best free software for editing images and text in PDFs

The best PDF editor

Adobe describes PDF as "three letters that changed the world", and it has a point: the Portable Document Format, to give it its Sunday name, was invented by Adobe to make it easy to share electronic documents. It's now an open standard used in everything from publishing to public bodies, and there are stacks of tools to create, edit, annotate and organise PDFs. But which is the best? We've sorted through the options and picked out the very best PDF editor you can download.

If you're a Mac user, don't forget about the Preview app - it's a very useful PDF editor in its own right, although some other programs can do even more.

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Download Foxit Reader free
Foxit Reader is ideal for working on multiple PDFs at once, and is expandable via extensions

1. Foxit Reader

Flexible and powerful, Foxit Reader is the best free PDF editor around

Foxit Reader - top downloadOf all the free PDF tools available for Windows, Foxit Reader is our favorite. It looks and feels rather like Microsoft Office so it's instantly familiar, it has a tabbed interface for working on multiple PDFs simultaneously, and it enables you to complete forms and annotate documents. It also includes security tools for protecting your PDFs.

Download Foxit Reader freeIt's expandable via a bunch of add-ons and if you find yourself needing even more power its paid-for sibling, PhantomPDF, has extensive organisation, sharing and document tracking features for a very reasonable US$109 (about £80, AU$140).

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Download Adobe Reader free
Adobe Reader is a stalwart of the PDF scene, and for good reason. You'll need Adobe Acrobat to create your own PDFs, but Adobe Reader is excellent for form-filling and annotations

2. Adobe Reader

Adobe's cross-platform PDF editor is superb for marking up documents

Yes, Adobe Reader on the desktop has a reputation for being overly complex and overly needy - but the iOS and Android editions haven't inherited its flaws and stand on their own virtual feet as fast, flexible and lightweight PDF editors.

Download Adobe Reader freeSome of the best features require an Acrobat Pro subscription, so for example editing text isn't possible without Pro, but you can sign and fill forms and export Office documents to PDF. There's support for Dropbox too.

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Download PDF24 Converter
Your PC will see PDF24 Converter as a printer attached to your PC, but it's actually a powerful PDF editing and conversion tool with support for watermarks and password protection

3. PDF24 Creator

A printer driver with added editing features for perfect conversions

One of the simplest ways to create PDFs in Windows is to install a PDF printer driver. Windows sees it as a printer driver, but instead of controlling hardware it actually converts documents to PDFs.

Download PDF24 Creator freeThat's what PDF24 Creator offers, but it also adds its own Assistant that can split or merge PDF files, adjust document properties, re-order pages, password protect PDFs and add digital watermarks or signatures. It's hardly the prettiest PDF editor around but it gets on with the job and doesn't require loads of system resources.

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Download Adobe Acrobat DC free
Adobe Acrobat DC uses Adobe's cloud services to deliver every function you can think of. It can convert just about any document into a PDF, making it particularly handy for multimedia projects

4. Adobe Acrobat DC (trial)

Edit text, replace and tweak images, add signatures and much more besides

The DC stands for Document Cloud, and Adobe Acrobat Reader DC is designed to cover every eventuality - for a price. You can try out the software for free, but the license is an annual subscription that works out at £11.42 (about US$15, AU$20) per month for the Standard editor and £13.33 (about US$18, AU$20) per month for Pro.

Download Adobe Acrobat DC freeThe Standard edition gives you online access via Adobe's Document Cloud, the ability to create PDFs from almost any source, to work on PDFs via the mobile apps and to electronically sign documents. Going Pro adds multimedia support, the ability to edit scanned documents and the option to request electronic signatures.

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Download Nitro PDF Reader free
Unlike many free PDF readers, Nitro supports editing of both images and text

5. Nitro PDF Reader

Surprisingly powerful, with support for both image and text editing

Download Nitro PDF Reader freeHere's another free PDF editor that looks awfully like Microsoft Office, and once again that's no bad thing. Nitro PDF Reader has a feature set that shames some paid-for apps: despite a price tag of zero it offers document to PDF conversion, annotation and highlighting, image extraction, text editing and e-signatures. It's definitely one to try before you consider paying for a PDF app.

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Download PDF XChange Editor Free
PDF-XChange Editor, the successor to PDF-XChange Viewer - has a killer feature in the form of OCR for converting image-heavy PDFs. It also converts Microsoft Office documents to PDF

6. PDF-XChange Editor

A free PDF editor with OCR for converting image-based PDFs

Tracker's PDF-XChange Editor comes in three and a half flavors: a free Lite version for non-commercial use, two paid-for versions at US$43.50 (about £30, AU$60) and US$54.50 (about £40, AU$70) respectively, and stripped-down version of the less expensive premium edition.

Download PDF-XChange Editor freeThe free version is quite limited - it's a print-to-PDF app to create searchable PDFs from pretty much any Windows app - but it also has has OCR scanning, Google Drive and Office 365 support, commenting and annotation, markup and file conversion. Paying for a license adds the ability to create forms, more advanced organizational tools and more extensive editing options.

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Download SlimPDF Reader free
SlimPDF Reader is a no-frills affair that's light on features, but has an extremely small footprint

7. SlimPDF Reader

A tiny tool that's lacking features, but won't stress underpowered PCs

The name should set expectations here: SlimPDF Reader promises to be "10% of the size of Adobe Reader but views 100% of PDFs". It's microscopic by app standards - just 1.43MB - and that's largely because it doesn't really do anything other than view PDFs.

Download SlimPDF Reader freeThat's not necessarily a bad thing, though: its tiny footprint means it doesn't drag your system down like more advanced PDF editord often do, and it's ridiculously fast on even the most modest PCs.

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Download Icecream PDF Converter free
Icecream PDF Converter converts PDFs to and from almost any format, and lets you split up large documents to make them more manageable

8. Icecream PDF Converter

Split hefty documents into manageable sections before conversion

Icecream PDF Converter comes from the same developer as the useful Icecream Ebook Reader (which also doubles as a good-looking PDF viewer). This PDF editor and reader is all about the file formats, though. You can drag and drop PDFs onto the app and convert them to JPG, PNG, BMP, TIFF, GIF, EPS, HTML or WMF format, and you can also convert ebooks and Microsoft Office documents to PDF.

Download Icecream PDF Converter freeIt can also run batch conversions and partial conversions for when you only need a few pages of a huge document. That's the good news. The bad news is that you're limited to 10 page PDFs when you export and five files per conversion to PDF unless you buy the Pro version for £14.95 (about US$20, AU$30).

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Download AbleWord Free
AbleWord isn't be best looking app, but it's very useful when you need to strip the text from a PDF

9. AbleWord

Convert documents from text format to PDF, and vice versa

Here's a blast from the past: AbleWord looks very like an old version of Microsoft Word or a recent OpenOffice app. It works like those apps too, but the unique selling point here is that it supports PDF files as well as the usual DOC, DOCX and RTF formats, and that means it's a handy PDF editor for anybody who needs to create documents in PDF format or convert between Word and PDF formats.

Download AbleWord freeOpenOffice can export text documents in PDF format too, but reading them requires installing an extension. AbleWord, by contrast, has PDF import built-in.

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Download PDFsam Basic free
When you need to combine or split PDFs, reach for the free, lightweight PDFsam Basic. It gets the job done with the minimum of fuss

10. PDFsam Basic

A versatile tool for merging and splitting PDFs in multiple configurations

PDFsam is an acronym of PDF Split and Merge, so you can probably guess what it does. Yep, it splits and merges PDFs.

Download PDFsam Basic freeYou can use this free PDF editor to combine multiple documents or break a single document into multiples, you can merge alternate pages - handy if you're trying to turn single-sided scans of double-sided documents into something readable - and you can split by size, which is useful if you're splitting a huge document across USB drives or other small storage options. There's also a handy tool for rotating pages across multiple documents.

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