It happens all the time: you create a document in Word, Publisher, InDesign or some other program. You save it as a PDF so it can be read by folks without your fancy software, but you neglect to save it into your application’s native format. It may be tomorrow. It might be next year. But inevitably you need to make changes. This is when you realize you are completely screwed.
Do not despair! There is hope! Here are just a couple of ways you can edit PDF documents.
Method 1: Don’t Make it a PDF in the First Place
Right now you’re probably clicking you’re back button because you came here for a solution, not to be scolded for not using the right file format in the first place. This point is important enough to say it first: Save your document in it’s native format, and save a COPY as a PDF. PDF is meant to be a digital, searchable copy of a printed document, and that’s pretty much it. If you save your document in a native format (Word, Excel, etc.) you won’t have to worry about how you’re going to make changes to it later.
Method 2: Acrobat Professional
If you’re lucky enough to have the professional version of Acrobat, the Export feature provides you with numerous options for exporting your PDF to an editable format, like Word, or Rich Text. Be warned that if your page contains anything other than text, Acrobat does a magnificently poor job of recognizing the text. To give it a shot, go to File > Export in Acrobat Professional. Acrobat also has a Tools > Advanced Editing > Text Touchup tool that can be used for simple changes to a document’s text. Remember, these features are only available in Acrobat Professional.
Method 3: Photoshop
If you are lucky enough to have Photoshop, it will happily open PDF documents and is an excellent tool for making edits. Photoshop is also available as a trial download from Adobe.
Method 4: GIMP
GIMP, which stands for the Gnu Image Manipulation Project, is a free open source image editing application with features similar to Photoshop. It will open and allow you to make modifications to PDF documents. And did I mention it’s free? No trial. No expiration. Real free software. Just be sure to hit “decline” to all of the free offers it asks about during the install.
Method 5: Convert it using Zamzar.com
Zamzar is a free service that will convert your PDF’s to a variety of editable document formats. Initially I had mentioned zamzar.com under the heading of “Other Suggestions” below because I hadn’t received my converted documents, but shortly after publishing this article my samples arrived. I’ve got to say, zamzar did a much better job converting my samples to Word format than Acrobat’s export feature. It’s a little slow, but I highly recommend giving zamzar a shot. (Thanks to Pass_The_Soma for the suggestion.)
A couple of users made some suggestions in a reddit tech support post that I participated in. One user suggested using Foxit Reader’s editing capabilities. While Foxit Reader is great for viewing PDF’s, its editing capabilities are no better than Acrobat’s own and they’re only available on a trial basis. I tried editing a campus map for a local university. I could add new content over the document, but I couldn’t change or remove what was already there.
The PDF file format is not meant for extensive editing. Think of PDF as a digital representation of a printed page. You can annotate around the text and in the margins, but you can’t erase and make changes to what’s already there. Luckily you can get around this limitation using GIMP, Photoshop, or Acrobat Professional, but the extent to which you can make changes will still be limited. Text will not flow with the page the way you expect. If you have small changes to make, you can probably get away with one of these programs. But if you need to make extensive changes, do yourself a favor and recreate the document in program that was original used to create it, save it in the program’s native format, then save a copy as a PDF. In the future you’ll always be able to make changes to the original without the need to work around the limitations of PDF.