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The best free PDF reader 2020: the easiest way to open and edit PDF documents

The best free PDF reader
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

PDFs are everywhere, and for good reason. They can be opened on any operating system and they’re fairly easy to attach to an email or a website. Plus, PDFs have the advantage that they can’t easily be altered beyond what the original creator intended.

If you’re just looking to read PDFs, chances are good that you can do it using your favorite web browser. But, if you need to do anything more advanced than that⁠—like sign or edit documents, merge PDFs, or interconvert between document formats—you’re going to need a dedicated PDF reader.

There are a ton of free PDF readers out there, which can make it hard to figure out which one is worth your time. To help, we’ll highlight five of the best free PDF readers for Windows and Mac.

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Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

(Image credit: Adobe)

1. Adobe Acrobat Reader DC

A clear interface and every tool you could want in a PDF reader

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Android

Works with cloud storage services
Handles large PDFs with ease
Tab view for multiple documents
Relatively large

Adobe’s free PDF reader isn’t the most lightweight download, but this software does a lot of things well. If you already use other Adobe products, you can connect Acrobat Reader DC to Adobe’s storage cloud. Alternatively, you can save PDFs to or open them from cloud services including Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Box.

What really sets this free PDF reader apart is that it can handle opening multiple large files at once. That means you can read through and annotate thick documents in this program without worrying that it will crash on you. The layout arranges individual documents in a tab view, so it feels a lot like the experience you’d get looking through PDFs in your web browser.

Acrobat Reader DC includes just about all the annotation tools you could want from a free PDF software. It allows you to highlight text, add comments, and fill and sign forms. There’s even a text-to-speech mode that will read documents out loud for you.

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Foxit Reader

(Image credit: Foxit Software)

2. Foxit Reader

Much more than just a free PDF reader

Operating system: Windows, macOS, Linux

Allows you to create PDFs
Safe mode disables Javascript
Lightweight download
Some features require extensions

Foxit Reader is more than just a free PDF reader – you can also create PDFs from scratch using this software. Integration with Microsoft Office allows you to easily turn documents you’re working on into PDFs. Or, you can scan a document or image and turn it into a PDF using Foxit Reader. The only thing that’s lacking in the free version is support for optical character recognition in scanned documents.

The software can be a little intimidating at first, but it’s relatively straightforward to navigate. That’s thanks to the fact that it uses the same ribbon-style menu as Microsoft Office. Tools for editing, signing, highlighting, and commenting are fairly easy to access. You can also merge or split PDFs by downloading free add-ons for the software. 

Another advantage to Foxit Reader is that it offers security. There’s a Safe Reading mode that allows you to automatically disable Javascript embedded in downloaded PDFs.

Read our full Foxit Reader review

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Slim PDF

(Image credit: Investintech)

3. Slim PDF

A PDF reader that's super fast and super lightweight

Operating system: Windows

Only 1.43 MB in size 
Loads extremely quickly
Can convert file types
No editing features

Slim PDF is an incredibly lightweight free PDF reader. The software is just 1.43 MB in size, so it’s the perfect choice if you’re limited by hard drive space. Plus, that means that it’s able to open and load your documents faster than most of its competitors.

The downside to this small size is that Slim PDF is pretty basic. You can search and rotate documents, but that’s about it. There are no tools for signing, filling, commenting, or highlighting, let alone multiple reading modes. While there is a menu option to convert a PDF to a Word document, doing this requires another software download.

As a result, Slim PDF is truly just a PDF reader. It does a good job at this, though, leaving out the toolbars that can distract you from what you’re reading. If you frequently need to print PDFs, Slim PDF is one of the fastest and most simple options available.

Read our full Slim PDF review

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Nitro Reader

(Image credit: Nitro Software)

4. Nitro Reader

A feature-packed free PDF reader, full of handy tools

Operating system: Windows

Touchscreen mode 
Plenty of annotation tools
Simple ribbon-style menu
No document signing or filling

Nitro Reader is another powerful free PDF reader in the vein of Foxit Reader and Adobe Acrobat DC. What makes this tool different is that it has a touchscreen mode that’s perfect if you’re working on a tablet. Touchscreen mode is especially nice for reading e-books, since you can flick the pages rather than scroll or click on a button.

While you can’t fill and sign PDFs with Nitro Reader, the software does a nice job of enabling collaboration. You can annotate documents with underlining and strikethroughs in addition to highlighting. Comments are also supported, and they appear like sticky notes that are easy to spot as you read through a document. Helpfully, the software also allows you to convert between PDF and other document formats.

The software has a ribbon-style menu that will be familiar to Microsoft Office users. The menu is pretty easy to navigate since there aren’t all that many options available in Nitro Reader.

Read our full Nitro Reader review

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Expert PDF Reader

(Image credit: Visagesoft)

5. Expert PDF Reader

A free PDF reader that's easy to use, with no distractions

Operating system: Windows

Allows attaching extra documents 
Pre-designed annotations
Interface resembles MS Word
No file conversion

Expert PDF Reader is a lightweight software that doesn’t skimp on tools. This software allows you to fill and sign documents, as well as includes a handful of pre-designed annotation markups like an “approved” stamp. You can also create sticky note-style comments or even attach additional documents to a PDF. The reader supports email documents, which makes it a good choice for collaboration.

However, there are a few potentially important features missing. Expert PDF Reader doesn’t allow you to convert between file types. Nor are there multiple reading modes to add to your security when opening downloaded PDFs.

The interface feels eerily similar to Microsoft Word, which will be a good thing for most users. The ribbon-style menu is fairly easy to navigate, and you can hide it when you simply want to read a document without distraction.