Adobe PDF is probably the best format for sharing documents as the layout and formatting is preserved across all platforms, the documents are read-only and also because most computers and mobile devices can easily open PDF files.
This guide shares a host of useful things you can do with the PDF file format with the help of software tools and web apps that don’t cost a penny. You can edit PDF files (no Adobe Acrobat required), combine multiple PDFs as one, extract pages from PDFs and so much more. Let’s get started.
The Best PDF Tools & Apps
1. How do I create PDF documents without Adobe Acrobat?
You can use Google Chrome to print web pages as PDFs (see how-to) without any extensions. Mac OS has PDF printing capabilities built-in while Windows users can install a virtual PDF printer like Nitro Reader to create PDF files from any Windows application using the regular Print command – just choose Nitro from the list of available printers.
2. I don’t want to install any software. Are there any web apps for converting a bunch of documents to PDFs?
Sure. You can upload your documents to Google Drive and then export them as PDF files using these special links. Alternatively, you can email the documents to firstname.lastname@example.org and perform the conversion by email. The latter options comes handy when you need to convert documents to PDFs on a mobile phone without any apps.
3. How do I convert a PDF file to another format like Word or HTML?
4. Someone sent me a PDF document in Chinese. How do I translate the PDF into English?
You can easily translate PDF files from one language to another using Google Translate. Go to translate.google.com, upload the PDF file, choose the destination language and hit the Translate button. The document text is translated though the formatting won’t be preserved.
5. How do I edit a PDF document?
PDF files are essentially read-only documents but there are workarounds to help you edit PDF files.
6. What is the easiest way to extract text from a scanned PDF document and use it in a Word document?
You can easily extract text from regular PDFs using the text selection tool in Adobe Reader but for scanned PDFs, Google Docs OCR is a good choice. Upload the scanned PDF document to Google Docs, select the option that says “Convert text from PDF and image files to Google documents” and then choose File – Download as Word to save the extracted text.
Alternatively, you can download FreeOCR, a Windows-only app for extracting text from PDFs.
7. How do I merge two or more PDF files into one? Can I also change the page order in the PDF?
You should use PDF Fill, a versatile PDF editing tool that lets you combine multiple PDF files into one. PDF Fill can also be used for rearranging pages of a PDF file or for rotating pages – a handy option for fixing the orientation of scanned PDFs. And if you prefer online apps, a good option is PDF Mergy.
8. I have a restricted PDF document that neither allows printing nor can I select text from the PDF. Can these restrictions be removed?
9. Some PDF files on our intranet are password-protected and the employee who created those PDFs is no longer with the company. How can we open these PDFs?
10. How can I apply annotations or add text notes to my PDF documents?
You can use the free Adobe Reader app, available for both Mac and Windows, to annotate and comment inside PDF files. Go to the View menu and choose Annotations under the Comments menu. The toolbox has tools for highlighting text, you can add text blocks, create freehand drawings or even add sticky notes to the document.
Alternatively, use PDF Escape to add annotations, call-outs and text to your PDFs online in the browser without requiring any software.
11. How can I fill PDF forms online without Adobe Reader?
Go to PDF Filler, upload the PDF form and start typing. You can even pull PDF forms from your Dropbox or Google Drive.
PDF Filler will convert your PDF form into images and the user can type right on top of these images. When you have filled the form and are ready to print, the images and user text are combined into a single image. The other good option is FillanyPDF.com that is free as well.
12. How can I add watermarks or even my signature to a PDF document?
First draw your signature in Paint (or other photo editing tool) and save it as an image. Now open Adobe Reader and choose Tools – > Place Signature. Copy-paste that signature image anywhere on the PDF page. You can use the same technique to insert watermarks inside the PDF.
If you are on a Mac, open the PDF file inside the Preview app and choose Tools – Annotate – Signature – Create Signature from Facetime Camera. Sign your name in blank ink on a piece of white paper, hold the paper up to your webcam to scan the signature and you can then place it anywhere in the PDF.
13. I have a PDF ebook that contains 200+ pages. Is there a way to extract selected pages from the PDF and save it as another smaller PDF?
You can use the free PDF SAM (split and merge) utility to extract one or more pages from a PDF document and save them as separate PDFs. The tool, available for both Mac and Windows, can also be used to merge multiple PDFs into one file.
14. How can I protect my PDF documents with a password?
Upload the PDF file to pdfprotect.net, set a security password and export it as PDF again. The service can be used to password-protect files up to 10 MB in size.
15. How do I embed PDF files on my blog?
You have several options. Upload the PDF file to Google Docs and then embed it in your web pages using the Google Docs Viewer. Alternatively, upload the PDF to document hosting sites like Issuu, Scribd or SlideShare and use their Flash based viewer for embedding PDF into your web pages.
Bonus Tip – Manage your PDF collection
Did you know that you can upload all your PDF files to Google Play and read your PDFs in the web browser or any of your mobile devices. The Google Play Books app is available for both Android and iOS platforms and thus your collection always stays with you wherever you go!