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5 cheaper alternatives to Acrobat for PDF editing

Christopher Null | Feb. 14, 2014
Sure, you can edit that PDF--for $299, if you pay Adobe for Acrobat's Standard edition. I don't think so. And the Pro edition costs $449.

Sure, you can edit that PDF — for $299, if you pay Adobe for Acrobat's Standard edition. I don't think so. And the Pro edition costs $449. 

Fortunately, there are plenty of less expensive options in the form of both traditional software and cloud-based services. The alternatives we chose would work before for a "light" user — someone who needs more than a PDF reader and who makes regular use of more typical PDF editing functions, including annotations and markup, adding signatures or watermarks to documents, converting documents to and from PDF format, and combining/splitting/rearranging/reorienting PDFs. These users aren't typically using a PDF editor to create documents from scratch, though these tools could do the job in a pinch.

NitroPDF Pro 9 ($140)
Arguably the second-biggest name in PDF editing, Nitro is a venerable and mature editor with plenty to recommend. However, at $140, it's on the pricey side considering the many sub-$100 products in this field.

All the major PDF features you need are here — even relatively uncommon ones like functions for splitting large documents into smaller chunks, watermarking, metadata redaction, and page numbering — but more importantly, they're easy to find. With a design that heavily borrows from Microsoft's ribbon system, everything you need is front and center. If you can't find it, (admittedly clunky) help is just a website away. Doing markup and basic design work with NitroPDF is a breeze, and the options are nearly endless.

On the more advanced side, Nitro's OCR system is impressively fast and accurate, turning a jumble of scanned files into searchable and/or editable text. Another key (and rare) feature is the ability to export PDFs to a variety of Microsoft Office formats, including PowerPoint (a feature that Adobe only makes available on Acrobat Pro). NitroPDF menus also appear in Office applications after you install, tying the two together fairly seamlessly. An optional cloud system adds basic sharing, workflow, and group markup functions (including e-signatures) to the mix. Prices for the add-on range from free (very restricted) to $20 per month.

A few installation hiccups aside, NitroPDF is an excellent all-around PDF editor if you need advanced options and don't mind paying a bit more than the rest of the field.

Qoppa PDF Studio 8 Pro ($129)
Like Acrobat, Qoppa PDF Studio comes in two flavors. The cheaper Standard option ($89) covers the basics, including annotations, importing Word documents, watermarking, and merging/splitting files. The pricier Pro version (reviewed here) adds OCR and more advanced content editing and page assembly tools. If you just need markup features, the Standard version will be fine, but more regular content creators will likely do better with Pro.


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