Free PDF editors vs Paid PDF editors: What's the difference?

Person using a PDF editor on a laptop
(Image credit: Unsplash / Thomas Lefebvre)

When it comes to PDF editing software, one of your first choices is deciding between the best PDF editors and the best free PDF editors

Even if you’re on a budget, this might not be as simple a decision as you might expect. We’ll be looking at the differences between the two approaches, to help you decide which could be best for you.

Kofax Power PDF is a top rated PDF Reader

Kofax Power PDF is a top rated PDF Reader
Techradar editors report Power PDF allows easily making alterations to existing PDFs, as well as annotating and converting other file formats into PDFs. Visit for more details.

1. Free PDF editors: Good for quick document editing 

  • Not all tools always included

You can’t expect to have access to all the tools in free PDF editors - even the well-tooled Canva PDF Editor locks premium assets behind a paywall. Still, if your needs are simple, and you’re just merely on the lookout for the odd basic alteration, you may well find that a free app will offer just what you need.

However, you might have to shop around as some software may offer more features than others. Take I Love PDF as an example. Although its free service allows you to add text boxes to an existing document, you can’t actually alter the content of what’s already there, so you can’t fix typos. You’d need to hunt down a different app if that’s important to you. 

2. Paid PDF editors: More tools, more possibilities 

  • Packed with wide range of tools for professional use

If you need as many tools and editing options as possible, premium PDF editing software is ideal. Both Foxit PDF Editor and EaseUS PDF Editor offer good examples here. Some of the interesting features at your disposal include the ability to alter the existing content of a PDF, and linking text boxes together to help the wording flow from one to the other. You’ll also find powerful redacting capabilities and OCR software, among many others.

All of this offers you greater flexibility to your workflow, when it comes to editing, annotating, inserting, deleting and moving content around a PDF document. The more you need to do, the more likely you will need to invest in some paid-for software to achieve it.

3. Free PDF editors: Potential compatibility, tech support & security issues 

  • Check if the product is your software or your data

Not to make you run for the hills when considering free PDF editors, but if the software is actually a standalone product, and not a no-frills alternative to entice you to purchase a more expensive companion app, then you might encounter some compatibility issues, poor tech support, and maybe even security concerns. 

You see, maintaining software, and supporting it costs money, so if the developers don’t charge for a product, how can you be certain the quality of what you’re getting is optimum? Do they follow the Acrobat Reference document to the letter, and even if they do, are they up to date on the latest revisions? If they aren’t, this could potentially lead to some files that can’t be opened by every PDF reader out there. So, workflows grind to a halt, clunky workarounds are sought. Efficiency takes a hit. 

As for tech support, if there’s no money, where is that coming from? Unless of course your data is somehow the product, which could lead to security concerns. We’ve listed why a free tool may not be the right choice for your organization in 5 reasons why you should avoid free PDF editors

4. Paid PDF editors: More likely to meet standards, offer support 

  • Follow official PDF Reference guidelines 

A big benefit of paying for PDF editing software, is there are funds to offer prompt technical support should things go wrong. It’s also more likely that the app will abide by the PDF Reference document, making sure there’s a greater chance your PDF will be fully compatible with the format. 

The more complex the document, the higher the chances something could go wrong of course, but if the company the software is being developed by is reputable, chances are, issues will be minimal to non-existent, as they are more likely to be up to speed with the latest version of the PDF Reference document.

All in all, the difference between paid and free PDF editors is mostly the same as with any other type of software, and your choice will obviously depend on what you value as most important. We hope this list helped you clarify your decision.

5. Paid vs Free PDF editors: Cost 

  • How much, how often

Of course, the real difference when exploring paid-for PDF editors vs free PDF editors is cost.  

When you’re looking at the price of a PDF editor, you’ll want to consider more than just your budget. You’ll also want to factor in what you need to do with your documents, number of users, and frequency of use to make sure it’s a good investment. 

Free PDF editors are ideal for those working to small (or non-existent) budgets, and more casual users. Even opting for a paid-for PDF editor, there are products to suit a variety of budgets and payment preferences. 

For instance, Adobe Acrobat Pro runs on a monthly/annual subscription model - an affordable way to get started, while effectively renting the software. Platforms like Soda PDF follow the same pricing model, although they come in at less the cost compared to Adobe, who created the PDF format.

Others, like Kofax Power PDF, offer lifetime licenses - a one-time purchase ensures you own the software forever. Some companies, such as Foxit PDF Editor, actually offer both, giving you the freedom to pick the one that best meets your needs. 

With subscriptions, you’ll have to pay each and every month even if you don’t use the software, but you’ll have access to all the latest updates, even the major ones, as soon as they’re available. Perpetual licenses are more expensive at the start, but in the long run can be better value, especially if you’re not fussed about the latest features.

Steve Paris

Steve has been writing about technology since 2003. Starting with Digital Creative Arts, he's since added his tech expertise at titles such as iCreate, MacFormat, MacWorld, MacLife, and TechRadar. His focus is on the creative arts, like website builders, image manipulation, and filmmaking software, but he hasn’t shied away from more business-oriented software either. He uses many of the apps he writes about in his personal and professional life. Steve loves how computers have enabled everyone to delve into creative possibilities, and is always delighted to share his knowledge, expertise, and experience with readers.