Best Tools For Reading And Creating PDFs

Best Tools For Reading And Creating PDFs

There are numerous formats for e-books and other electronic documents, but PDF remains the most common and popular. Here’s the tools you need for reading and working with PDF without spending a fortune or succumbing to Adobe bloatware.

The PDF format was created by software company Adobe as a means of exchanging documents while retaining their formatting. It’s still widely used in publishing and magazine production, and is also often the format used for e-tickets and bills. And (fittingly given that it’s Book Week here on Lifehacker) it’s also often used for distributing electronic books, with support for reading PDF files built into most devices.

Despite its Adobe origins, you don’t need software from Adobe to read or create PDF files, and many users find that the free alternatives work better (as well as costing less). Mac and Linux users already have native PDF support within their OS, while for Windows users there are lots of alternatives.

Reading PDFs

Any web site which includes PDF files will invariably feature a link to download and install Adobe Reader, which can create the impression that it’s the only option. While Reader works well enough, its relatively high processor usage and frequent clunky updates mean it’s definitely worth considering alternatives.

Our Hive Five round-up of PDF readers covers the best options. Personally, after a brief public flirtation with Foxit, I’ve settled in happily with PDF-Xchange.

Google has dramatically improved its handling of PDF files in search results in recent years, making it possible to view many files found in search results via its Google Docs viewer.

Creating PDFs

What if you want to save an existing document in PDF format? We’ve covered a number of specialist PDF creation tools in the past, including Print2PDF and MergePDF, and there are lots of commercial options. However, unless you have particularly complicated design needs, creating the document in your preferred word processor and then saving it as a PDF is the most straightforward option.

Free and open source office suite includes the ability to save files as a PDF as a standard feature. Microsoft’s Office suite was slower to make that possible, but has caught up in recent years. If you use Microsoft Word 2007, you can install an add-in to save files as a PDF. Service Pack 2 for Office 2007 includes this feature, so if you’re fully patched and up-to-date, it should already be present.

Many sites now include the ability to generate PDF documents, including Wikipedia and ComedDocs.

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  • pdf-xchange viewer (free) is great. i really like the note-taking capability, and text-addition capability, as well. both of these allow me to save the file in its intermediate form. their associated pdf tools (not free) application allows me to digitally sign files, and make other edits, as well.

    as for pdf creators, cutepdf ( is free and allows me to print pdf files from all my applications.

    also, from you can get pdftkbuilderportable, which allows me to join pdf files and extract pages.

    these three cover all my basic pdf needs.

  • Best combo I’ve found is Foxit for the reader & CUPS-PDF running on a Linux box as a shared printer printing to home directories. Everyone in the house can create PDFs, hell, even friends VPNed in can create PDFs.

    The best option for web pages seems to be web2pdf.

  • Have to be seriously boring here – but having tried a lot of non Adobe apps there is just no real competition to Acrobat!
    Any of the free printer drivers do the job fine for everyday jobs which lack complexity or the need for signing or locking but for anything beyond that the competition is badly lacking in sophistication and reliability.
    For reading Acrobat is, again, outstanding (if not perfect). I often use Google Docs (esp for pdfs in gmail).
    Having said that, wild horses and a their 7 riders would never force me to install Adobe Reader – the bastard overweight and wayward son of the reputable father.
    So after all that I don’t have much to offer – except – throw the baby out but keep the bathwater – Acrobat is great software for serious work.

  • Cute PDF mentioned above is my favourite free creator

    For editing I use PDF Annotator – almost essential if you have a Tablet PC. Besides allowing me to ink or type on a PDF page, it also allows for page operations like deletion or appending documents. It’s very useful for signing documents without having to print them out and mail/fax them.

  • I’m not a big fan of Adobe either. I find it really cumbersome and quite irritating frankly. I prefer Primo PDF. Easy to use, quick to install and it does the rest for you. You can’t ask for much more really – so I guess Primo PDF is my personal favourite FREE PDF creator.

  • Matt … are you kidding … for Mac users it’s easiest!! just go into the print dialog box, down the bottom left hand corner there is a drop down box titled ‘Save As’, select the ‘as PDF’ option and you’re away

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