Portable Document Format (PDF) is the now standard format used for documents, primarily because it is independent of any operating system, hardware, or software. It stands alone and thus its documents can be viewed on any device.

When you receive or download a PDF document, it will be in read-only, read-and-write, or read and restricted write form, which can be a bit frustrating occasionally.

  • Read-Only: If someone has an e-book and it is available for download, that author does not want you to be able to change anything. If legal documents have been prepared and are being digitally transmitted, the authors of those documents restrict them to read-only, so that nothing may be edited.
  • Read-and-Restricted Write: Many forms are in PDF format, and have fields which the reader is supposed to fill in. This may include, for example, employment applications. The authors do not want the reader to be able to change any of their text or graphics, but they do provide permission within the format for the applicant to fill in the form fields as necessary. Online tax forms are a perfect example of read-and-write PDF forms.
  • Read-and-Write: These are usually common and publicly available documents that have no copyright, legal or other restrictions. They may be samples, for example, which the reader may have freedom to edit for his own purposes.

Working with PDF Documents

You may have many other purposes for PDF documents other than to just read them. If that is all you want to do, you simply download the free version of Adobe Acrobat Reader, and you are good to go. There are other things you may want to do, however, among them the following:

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  • Convert a PDF document to a Word document
  • Create PDF documents for yourself or for your business
  • Merge PDF documents
  • Edit PDF documents that are “protected”
  • Secure documents with password protection so that they cannot be edited by others

For these activities, you need tools and utilities. Depending on what you want to do, here are 22 tools/utilities/apps for just that.

Open Source Software

The value of open-source software is that a lot of talented people have contributed to it, and updates are continually installed. Here are some open-source tools that are highly rated.

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For Reading PDF’s:

  1. The open source version of the Google Chrome browser comes bundled with PDF readers for both Firefox and Chromium.
  2. Evince and Okular are good for Linux users
  3. SumatraPDF is a great Windows tool

Tools for Creating PDF’s

  1. LibreOffice is probably the most popular open source tool for creating PDF’s because it is so comprehensive in options. Users can create most any layout.
  2. Scribus, Inkscape, and BIMP are other options

Tools for Editing PDF’s

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  1. Again, LibreOffice probably wins first prize, if you use the more recent versions which have LibreOfficeDraw. As long as you use the PDF document version directly from the source and not a scanned version, this will be our first choice.
  2. Inkscape is a good choice if you have a lot of graphics to edit.

Proprietary Software Tools – Comprehensive Utilities

All proprietary software utilities have a free version for reading PDF files. To do anything else, however, you will have to purchase the premium versions. Some tools do allow limited free conversions plans, but these will be ad-based, and you must be willing to put up with those. Other options include purchasing the software outright or a monthly subscription fee. Here are several of these that are most popular.

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Adobe Acrobat

This is the utility developed by the creators of PDF. It is free for reading, of course, and is almost always included in your browser. To do most anything else, however, you will need to buy one of the premium monthly versions. But, you can pick and choose which options you want – everything from creating your own documents to access to photos, cloud storage, etc.

Foxy Utils

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This is another comprehensive tool that is subscription-based. From creation to conversions of almost any type, to editing and securing your documents, you can choose a free version (ad-based) for limited use or purchase the full monthly subscription for unlimited use of all features. And additional perk? For every 5,000 conversions made, a tree is planted.

Foxit

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Another popular comprehensive tool with free reader and fee-based premium version. The newest version (8.1) has some great additions such as the ability to connect several PDF documents into one larger one, to adding and verifying e-signatures. A great utility for business purposes.

Preview (for Mac)

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If you want to work with images a lot, this tool is probably one of the best. You can view and edit any type of image, add text, and refine the color. This app can also create, edit and merge PDF documents.

Nitro (for Windows)

With the free version, you can read, convert, and highlight and add notes. The pro version is far more comprehensive, including merging, full editing, security and encryption, as well as e-signature features.

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This is by no means a comprehensive list; however, it does include those that consumers and businesses find the most friendly and easy to use.

Additional Hacks

If you don’t purchase a PDF utility as those mentioned above, there are still hacks you can use to get some things done. Here are some of those for you to try.

For Editing PDF Files

There are three pretty good tools for editing PDF text files:

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  • PDF Escape: This tool is found online, is free, and will let you edit any PDF file, including adding images.
  • Print Friendly: Here is a pretty cool tool if you want to convert a URL page into a PDF document. You can plug in a URL, get a print-friendly format, delete what you want, and then turn it into a PDF file, saving it for future reference.
  • Zamzar: This will convert documents of almost any kind. Once converted, you can then edit as you will.

And for editing PDF images, these are pretty good:

  • Pixlr: Here, you will have desktop publishing capabilities on the web, and it’s free. To use all of the features, check out the You tube tutorials.
  • Aviary: another great photo editor that will let you bend PDF photos to your own will. This tool has both a web version and a mobile app.

Creating PDF Forms (Fillable)

This is probably one of the most important uses of PDF for businesses, whether they want forms for employment application, surveys and questionnaires, consumer opt-ins, etc. There is a really easy way to do this through Nitro 9.

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  • Create your original document in any format (e.g., word) or take an old document you already have. Scan the document into a scanner or with the document feeder on your printer.
  • Nitro 9 will detect it and automatically convert it into a PDF, as well as apply OCR.
  • Then, just click on the “Forms” tab and choose “Text Field.”
  • Drag on the PDF to create your text field over where the original fields are.
  • Use some of the other customizations through the “Properties” tab if you want to change your formatting or do other things, such as do calculations.

There is a video tutorial on the Nitro site – it’s very easy to understand.

Converting Back and Forth

If you have ever tried to copy and paste a PDF into a Word file, you know the mess you get. It is then a long and arduous task to re-write the text. Conversion hacks are all over the place, and you will have no problem finding them. Be careful, though. You are likely to end up with lot of ads and promotions as well as things added to your drive that you will then need to go in and eliminate.

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Here are three of the safest and most used methods of converting PDF to Word.

  • Google Docs: Sign into your Google account and got to “Docs.” Look at the upper right hand corner and click the icon for new file uploading. Upload the PDF file by selecting it from your desktop. You’ll see the file right away. Then just select the “download” option and choose “Word Document.” Voila – you have it.
  • Nitro walks you the process quite quickly and the process is quite similar. Just upload your PDF document and click “convert to Word.”
  • Adobe Acrobat: If you have one of the premium versions that allows you to convert, you will find that the process is very much like Google Docs and Nitro. You will click “File,” then upload your PDF document and request conversion to Word. Just follow the instructions – pretty simple.
  • Foxy Utils: Here is the cool thing about this utility. The free version allows you to convert up to two files an hour. This may be the perfect solution for individuals or small businesses. Again, the instructions are simple and easy to follow.

Note: You can use any of these for vice versa conversions too. Images may not convert, but you can insert those later, using a snippet tool – pretty easy.

There you have it – 22 tools, utilities and hacks for working with PDF files. This is not a full list. You may find other methods and tools you like better, but starting with these will give you a great head start.