The Best PDF Viewer/Editor For Windows

The Best PDF Viewer/Editor For Windows

The PDF viewer you choose is really dependent on what you need to do with the PDFs you download, but when it comes to viewing and editing PDFs, PDF-XChange Viewer is the best program around.

Note: There are a few ways you could define a PDF viewer/editor, as features can range from simple form-filling to complete PDF manipulation. For this post we’re concentrating on the features the average person would use, meaning viewing, form completion, annotation, and so on, especially in the free version of an app, where applicable.


PDF-XChange Viewer

Platform: Windows

Price: Free, $US37.50 Pro

Download Page

  • View PDF pages and files
  • Very fast to open files, no splash pages or long loading times
  • Annotate and markup PDF files in many ways
  • Multiple encryption and security options
  • Convert PDF to image
  • Manipulate and modify existing PDF files (limited in free version, unlimited in pro version)
  • Extract content from PDF to text, image, and other formats (pro only)
  • Convert images/text directly to PDF (pro only)
  • Digital signature support (pro only)
  • Add clickable links to a PDF (pro only)
  • Add/edit/modify bookmarks (pro only)
  • Merge PDF files, insert, delete, rotate, & crop pages (pro only)


PDF-XChange viewer is not only very, very fast, but has a lot of annotation and editing features in its free version. Its big strength over other viewers is that it doesn’t add watermarks to your edited files; instead, it just limits what you can edit. If you need to heavily edit a lot of PDFs, you may have to pay for the pro version, but for the occasional annotation or markup, PDF-XChange gets the job done better than anyone else.


PDF-XChange isn’t quite as lightweight as some other PDF readers, like Foxit or Sumatra, but it’s more than lightweight enough for most people’s needs, especially if you have to edit PDFs at all (it blows the pants off Acrobat). Also, the pro version is a little expensive, but you’ll be hard-pressed to heavily edit PDFs without paying $US40 or so, so it’s still the best there is at what it does. It also has an Ask bar in its toolbar, which makes you wonder how much of the junk up there is just a waste of space.


At Lifehacker’s Australian HQ, we’re huge fans of Nitro PDF Reader, which also lets you easily edit, annotate and work with PDF files, and doesn’t have the bloatware nuisance factor of PDF-XChange. The ability to store a signature for easy signing is particularly handy, and there are also useful options for extracting images. There’s also a paid Pro version available, but for virtually anything other than really heavy-duty work, the standard release is more than adequate, and we’d definitely recommend it alongside (or indeed instead of) PDF-Xchange.

Foxit Reader is PDF-XChange’s other main competition. It’s a bit faster and more feature-filled, but any annotations you make will add a watermark to the file in the free version, which is very annoying for some. It also comes with some bloatware in the installer, but it’s hard to knock this when PDF-XChange is even worse, cluttering up its own toolbar when it doesn’t even give you the option to turn it down.

If you never need to edit PDFs, Sumatra PDF is the reader for you. Unlike the other two, it’s extremely minimalist, providing just a simple, super-fast window from which you can read PDFs. No more, no less.

Lastly, we have to mention Adobe Reader. While it isn’t the fastest or most pleasurable to use, it is still the standard reader and editor in the PDF world, meaning that sometimes, when your PDF just won’t open correctly in other programs, Acrobat will have the best compatibility. It isn’t something we’d recommend installing now, but if you ever have PDF troubles, keep Adobe in mind, as it might be the solution.

There are tons of different PDF solutions out there, but these are the best ones around, in our opinion. If you’ve got a favourite we didn’t mention, let us know what it is and why you love it in the comments.

Lifehacker’s App Directory is a new and growing directory of recommendations for the best applications and tools in a number of given categories.


  • Does anybody actually still use Acrobat? I don’t know why, but back in the day when it was the go to for pdf it was incredibly invasive, and well touchy! As soon as a decent alternative came out I migrated to that and never looked back! I love Sumatra, but I’m still looking for a decent free editor. I’ve tried Nitro, but at the time the free version couldn’t properly edit and create text fields, or add images! Is it able to do that now? #]

  • Bluebeam PDF revu. It’s the best out there by far for what I need. It is more expensive but it’s Annotation tools stomp over the competition. (I am an engineer and it is nearly like cad for PDF).

    • Actually – I use Adobe Acro Pro version 8 constantly. Its actually a bit like Excel. The more you get to know Adobe the more you can do with it. The knockers of Adobe are just users who just want to view and maybe basic manipulation. I know as readers go there are others that are prob better. But for all the “other features” Adobe is KING.

      When the others can do Packages or Portfolios I will admit they are better.

      Just cant wait for the other competitors to develop Packages or Portfolios

  • As I never need to edit PDFs I actually use Google Chrome. I always have it open anyway, so files open instantly and there’s zero clutter. the only thing I’m missing very occasionally is rotate!

    • I’m trying to keep my old machine as lean as possible, your solution made realize that I don’t need to really look for a “light” program just to read PDFs. Thank much!

  • I have tried and tried and tried with Nitro PDF. I used it a few years ago to replace foxit and while I liked it for a period of time, I found it was buggy with larger pdf’s – it wouldn’t read them! I just had blank pages.

    Recently bought an SSD for my lappy and tried Nitro again (this is two to three years after my first try). First, it crashed my system (perhaps an SSD issue… dunno), then it still wouldn’t display large PDF’s properly.

    Guess, I have only had bad luck from Nitro.

    On the other hand, PDFXchange is awesome. Have used it for years (aside from my brief liason with Nitro).

    So, plus one for PDFXchange.

    • Sorry to hear of your poor results with Nitro. I use an SSD and have had no issues. I replaced Foxit with Nitro and am very happy with the decision. As is says on the home page

      “Nitro PDF Reader is the only PDF software you’ll need.”
      Angus Kidman, Lifehacker

  • PDFXchange’s export to image feature is particularly useful for making comic book archives from PDFs.

    Just export the pages to jpg, zip them up and rename the zip to cbz.

  • Quote:
    …but it’s hard to knock this when PDF-XChange is even worse, cluttering up its own toolbar when it doesn’t even give you the option to turn it down.

    Its not true. The Ask button resides in the ‘Find’ toolbar which you can either hide completely, or just remove the Ask button by customizing the toolbar.

  • Every time you’ve mentioned PDF editing here I’ve brought up Grahl’s PDF Annotator, which outperforms and outfeatures most everything you list. It gets 5-stars from CNet editors. You don’t pay more for the PDF-XChange Pro features. I’ve edited literally thousands of PDFs with it

    However you still keep dragging out Nitro which is taking an appalling long time to even do things like support transparency.

  • I am fan of PDF-XChange Editor too. I found it’s better in work than Foxit. Previous PDF-XChange Viewer is replaced by the PDF-XChange Editor, which is similar to Viewer. Why I think about this Editor? For example, I can use a nice feature – Redaction – it helps to hide (fully clean) the part of page content (e.g. personal data). Foxit promises to secure data too, but it doesn’t work perfect. Editor Plus is exactly what you can use to work with PDF forms. And really good thing – PDF Tools – to work with many kinds of files without opening them in a program. Just great!

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