Five Best PDF Tools

Five Best PDF Tools

PDF is the de facto standard for electronic document sharing or distribution. There are many PDF utilities to choose from when you want to create, edit, and view PDF documents, but here’s a look at five of the best tools for working with PDFs.

Four of the most popular picks are good old standards, having been on our previous list of the five best PDF readers. Those four, plus Nitro PDF, are highlighted below.[imgclear]

Foxit (Windows/Linux, Reader: Free, Pro: $US129)


Foxit Reader is a free PDF reader with a small footprint but a slew of features, including PDF markup and commenting, advanced multimedia insertion, five levels of security, and even the ability to run JavaScript on the document. There are other versions of Foxit that serve different purposes: PDF Creator ($US29.99) converts other file formats to PDF, PDF Editor ($US99) lets you modify any part of the PDF file, and the Foxit Phantom PDF suite ($US129) includes all of the above capabilities plus additional ones like comparing PDF files.[imgclear]

Preview (Mac, Reader: Free)


Preview is the built-in PDF viewer on Mac. In addition to quickly opening PDF files, Preview on Mac OS 10.5 (Leopard) allows you to annotate PDFs (highlight sections, add notes or links), rearrange PDF pages, merge PDFs, and add keywords to your file for easy searching from Finder. Preview is also a pretty decent image viewer with some editing capabilities.[imgclear]

PDF-XChange (Windows, Reader: Free, Pro: $US34.50)


Voted the best PDF reader in a previous Hive Five, PDF-XChange is a lightweight, fast PDF reader with a long feature list, including page markup, exporting the document or pages to images, text extraction, support for 256 bit AES encryption, customizable interface, and more. The Pro version includes more page manipulation capabilities, PDF conversion and creation tools.[imgclear]

Adobe Acrobat (Windows/Mac, Reader: Free, Pro: $299)


Acrobat Reader is Adobe’s free PDF viewing tool that’s most commonly integrated into people’s browsers. It offers commenting tools, integration with online services, and a protected mode to safeguard your computer from malicious PDFs. Although it’s not as speedy as the other PDF viewers, Reader has the broadest access to all types of content embedded in PDF files. For creating, editing, and more advanced features, you’ll need to upgrade to either the Standard or Pro version or get the Suite — something probably more appropriate for businesses, given the pricing.[imgclear]

Nitro PDF (Windows, Reader: Free, Pro: $US99)


Nitro Reader is a free PDF viewer that’s technically in beta but offers advanced features like PDF creation, converting to text, typing text anywhere on a page, form saving, and previewing of PDF files in Outlook or Windows Explorer. Upgrade to the Nitro PDF Express version ($US49.99) for PDF creation and page manipulation capabilities — including unique batch-processing functionality — or Nitro PDF Professional, “the original Acrobat alternative” for just about everything else you need to do with PDFs.[imgclear]

Got a favourite feature that makes your PDF tool of choice stand out? Let us know in the comments.


    • +1

      Tiny TINY footprint, and perfect for someone who doesn’t need to do anything other than view PDF’s. Even more-so when you’re using Chrome and want a program that can handle PDF’s outside of the browser.

  • I find the pdf format is usefull but also brings a lot of headache with it when working in the printing industry. 90% out of 100 they are always
    supplied wrongly.

    Also, what is it these days with employers asking for your CV in pdf and rejecting a good oldfashioned word or text based documents?
    Today, if your cv is not in pdf you don’t even get a job. I think this a load of nonsense.

    Anyhow thats a gr8 list of progs

    • “Today, if your cv is not in pdf you don’t even get a job. I think this a load of nonsense.”

      If you can’t be arsed providing a CV in the format the prospective employer asks for then you don’t deserve the job. PDF files are creatable on all OSs for free. Word is a proprietary format that requires an expensive application.

      • O no that’s not the case at all Graeme.
        I was actually totally arsed, and made my CV in pdf and would definatly make a pdf if the employers
        asks it.

        Thanks for your concern anyway, remind me
        never to say anything when you are lurking around.

        • I don’t think he was responding to you directly , rather making the point that if you don’t want to follow a prospective employee’s requests (regardless of the nonsense it might be) then you don’t fit the needs of the job. And he’s right, word documents are a pain in the arse to open and read etc, whereas pdfs are heavenly in comparison. Trust me, it’s no fun reading through hundreds of pages of specifications with green and red squiggles everywhere.

  • For Mac there is also Skim ( It is PDF centric (unlike Preview), and has some nice features like better control of viewing mode and automatic resizing.

    I have used FoxIt on Windows since I found it, and got everyone else hooked. You usually finish reading the document by the time Adobe starts up 🙂
    I did mean to give Nitro and PDF Xchange a go, but have not worked extensively on Windows for a while.

  • For those who only need a pdf reader and don’t use the commenting tools, you can’t beat google chrome’s built in pdf reader. I haven’t installed acrobat’s plugin and use chrome as my default application to open pdfs. Could not be happier!

      • My original innocent comment about Nitro’s compatibility problems seems to have been moderated away. However given Nitro still doesn’t support transparency which severely limits its annotation capacity.

        Again: Grahl’s PDF Annotator – awesome annotation and editing tool

  • If you are talking tools, include PDFSAM as a free and easy way to split a PDF document into multiple documents.

    Also, Google Docs can now load up PDFs and even export them into a Word format. Any PDF to text/word processor program will be limited by the program constructing the PDF though, and PDF was never designed to be reverse engineered back to a word processor style document.

  • i use tkpdf to concaternate multiple pdf files, works great for batch processing allong the lines of:

    $tkpdf *.pdf output out.pdf

    tkpdf can also remove pages from documents.

    What I would really like is a command line tool for resizing pdfs, I make compilations of documents which are variously in US Letter, A4, etc, and I want to batch convert them to A4

    Currently I’m viewing with gnome document viewer, printing to a new pdf, and scaling to A4. This works but i would prefer to batch them.

  • Is anyone aware of a tool that takes a PDF file and spits out an HTML equivalent. Ideally with the images references embedded in the HTML (but exported as separate files)?
    This would be very useful to utilise brochures as a starting point for material for a website. Much better than just uploading a bunch of PDFs.

  • When it comes to PDF accessibility, which should really be a concern for anyone publishing to the web, Acrobat Pro is way out in front of all the rest.

  • Nitro Reader wins hands down! The clean uncluttered interface paired with its powerful tools make it the best all rounder of the lot. And the fact that it’s 100% free (no strings attached, no spam) makes it especially awesome.

  • + 1 PDF-XChange Viewer. One time I tried some of these, иut when I had downloaded PDF-XC I dropped them. I found all necessary features in PDF-XChange and it works all time very fast. It has really nice and versatile interface and many features to work with PDF-s. I can’t imagine life without it now.

  • PDF-XChange Viewer is one of the best pdf-tools. After a few days to try PDF-XChange Viewer I decide to upgrade it. I now use Pro version at workplace.

  • Now PDF-XChange Viewer has Free OCR functionality. We can get text from image/scan based PDF’s and will have a text search – able layer – for FREE ! Wonderful gift for Christmas time!

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