How to Edit a PDF: The Ultimate Guide for 2024

Editing PDFs can be a daunting task, especially if you‘re not familiar with the right tools and techniques. Whether you need to make a quick change to a contract, fill out a form, or collaborate on a design document, knowing how to edit a PDF is an essential skill in today‘s digital world. In this ultimate guide, we‘ll walk you through everything you need to know to edit PDFs like a pro, from basic text editing to advanced workflows.

Why Editing PDFs Can Be Tricky

PDFs, or Portable Document Format files, were designed to look the same on any device or operating system. This is great for preserving formatting and ensuring that everyone sees the same thing, but it can make editing a bit challenging. PDFs are essentially snapshots of a document, with all the text, images, and layout elements locked in place.

When you try to edit a PDF, you‘re not actually changing the original content, but rather adding a new layer on top of it. This is why editing text in a PDF can sometimes result in misaligned or overlapping elements. PDF editors have to work around these limitations by using techniques like optical character recognition (OCR) and vector editing.

Despite these challenges, editing PDFs is far from impossible. With the right tools and a bit of know-how, you can make changes to PDFs quickly and easily. In fact, according to a recent survey by Adobe, 73% of business professionals say they use PDF editing tools at least once a week.

How to Edit a PDF in Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat is the gold standard for PDF editing, offering a comprehensive set of tools for modifying text, images, and pages. Here‘s how to use Acrobat to edit a PDF:

  1. Open your PDF in Adobe Acrobat.
  2. To edit text, select the "Edit PDF" tool in the right-hand toolbar. Click on the text you want to edit and start typing. Acrobat will automatically match the font and size of the original text.
  3. To edit an image, double-click it and use the options in the "Objects" toolbar to crop, resize, or replace the image.
  4. If you‘re working with a scanned PDF, you‘ll need to use the "Enhance Scans" tool first to recognize the text. Then you can edit it like a regular PDF.
  5. To add new text, images, or shapes, use the tools in the "Edit" toolbar. You can also add comments, highlights, and stamps using the "Comment" toolbar.
  6. When you‘re finished editing, click "File" > "Save" to save your changes.

Here‘s a quick demonstration of how to edit text in Acrobat:

Editing text in Adobe Acrobat

Pro Tips for Editing PDFs in Acrobat

  • If you need to make extensive changes to a PDF, it‘s often easier to export it to a Word document or another editable format first. Then you can make your changes and convert it back to a PDF.
  • When editing scanned PDFs, use the "Recognize Text" settings to fine-tune the OCR process for better accuracy. You can choose the language, output format, and whether to detect tables or flow text around images.
  • If you need to edit a PDF that was created from an image (like a JPG or PNG), use the "Enhance" tool to clean up the image and make the text more editable.
  • To rearrange or delete pages in a PDF, use the "Organize Pages" tool in the right-hand toolbar. You can drag and drop pages, add or remove them, and even combine multiple PDFs into one.

How to Edit PDFs Online for Free

If you don‘t have access to Adobe Acrobat, or if you need to make a quick edit on the go, there are plenty of free online PDF editors that can get the job done. These browser-based tools let you upload your PDF and make changes right in your web browser, without needing to install any software.

Some of the best free online PDF editors include:

  • Smallpdf: A simple, intuitive editor that lets you add text, images, and shapes to your PDF. Smallpdf also offers a suite of other PDF tools, like conversion and compression.
  • Sejda: Another user-friendly option with a clean interface and basic editing tools. Sejda lets you edit up to 200 pages or 50 MB for free, with no watermarks.
  • DocFly: A more advanced online editor that supports annotations, form filling, and e-signatures. DocFly offers a free plan with limited features, as well as paid plans for more advanced needs.

Here‘s a comparison of the features and limitations of these popular online PDF editors:

Tool Free Plan File Size Limit Page Limit Watermark
Smallpdf Yes 50 MB 200 pages No
Sejda Yes 50 MB 200 pages No
DocFly Yes 10 MB 10 pages Yes

To use an online PDF editor, simply go to the website, upload your PDF, and start editing. Most tools have a simple drag-and-drop interface for adding text boxes, images, and shapes. When you‘re done, you can download the edited PDF back to your computer.

Keep in mind that online editors may have some limitations compared to desktop software like Adobe Acrobat. For example, they may not support advanced features like OCR or redaction, and they may compress images or fonts to reduce file size. However, for basic editing tasks, online tools are a quick and easy solution.

How to Edit a PDF on Mac and Windows

If you don‘t want to use Adobe Acrobat or an online editor, there are several other options for editing PDFs on your Mac or Windows computer. Here are a few of the best:


  • Preview: This built-in PDF viewer for Mac actually has some basic editing capabilities, like adding text boxes, shapes, and signatures. To edit a PDF in Preview, open it and click the "Markup" button in the top toolbar.
  • PDFelement: A full-featured PDF editor for Mac that offers many of the same tools as Acrobat, but at a lower price point. PDFelement supports OCR, form creation, and batch processing.
  • PDF Expert: Another popular choice for Mac users, with a clean interface and powerful editing tools. PDF Expert also integrates with cloud storage services like Dropbox and Google Drive.


  • Microsoft Word: Did you know that you can edit PDFs right in Word? Just open the PDF in Word, make your changes, and then save it as a new PDF. Keep in mind that this method may not preserve all formatting.
  • Foxit PhantomPDF: A feature-rich PDF editor for Windows that supports all the basics, plus advanced tools like security encryption and digital signatures. Foxit offers both a free and paid version.
  • Nitro Pro: A powerful alternative to Acrobat that‘s designed for business users. Nitro Pro has a Microsoft Office-style interface and integrates with popular productivity tools.

No matter which tool you choose, the basic process for editing a PDF is similar. Open the PDF, use the available tools to add or modify text and images, and then save your changes. Some programs may have more advanced features, like the ability to edit scanned PDFs or export to other formats, so it‘s worth exploring the options to find the best fit for your needs.

Advanced PDF Editing Techniques

Once you‘ve mastered the basics of PDF editing, there are several advanced techniques that can take your documents to the next level. Here are a few to try:

Redacting Sensitive Information

If you need to share a PDF that contains confidential or sensitive information, you can use redaction tools to permanently remove that content. Redaction goes beyond just covering up the text – it actually deletes it from the PDF so that it can‘t be recovered.

To redact a PDF in Acrobat:

  1. Open the PDF and click the "Redact" button in the right-hand toolbar.
  2. Select the text or area you want to redact, then click "Apply Redactions".
  3. Choose whether to redact the entire page or just the selected area, then click "OK".

Keep in mind that once you apply redactions, they can‘t be undone, so it‘s a good idea to save a copy of the original PDF first.

Creating Fillable Forms

Fillable forms are a great way to collect information from clients, employees, or customers. With a fillable PDF, you can add text fields, checkboxes, dropdown menus, and other interactive elements that users can fill out and submit electronically.

To create a fillable form in Acrobat:

  1. Open the PDF and click the "Prepare Form" button in the right-hand toolbar.
  2. Acrobat will automatically detect any form fields in the document. You can also add new fields by clicking the "Add New Field" button and choosing the type of field you want.
  3. Customize the appearance and behavior of each field using the options in the "Fields" panel.
  4. When you‘re finished, click "File" > "Save As" to save your fillable form.

You can also use online tools like JotForm or Google Forms to create fillable PDFs from scratch, without needing to start with an existing document.

Batch Processing

If you need to apply the same changes to multiple PDFs at once, batch processing can save you a ton of time. Acrobat and other PDF editors offer batch tools for tasks like adding watermarks, optimizing file size, and converting to other formats.

To batch process PDFs in Acrobat:

  1. Click "File" > "Action Wizard" > "Create New Action".
  2. Choose the files you want to process and click "Next".
  3. Select the actions you want to apply, like adding headers and footers or converting to a different format.
  4. Click "Save" to run the batch process.

Batch processing is especially useful for large volumes of PDFs, like invoices or legal documents. By automating repetitive tasks, you can save time and ensure consistency across all your files.

PDF Editing Best Practices

To get the most out of your PDF editing tools and workflows, keep these best practices in mind:

  • Always work on a copy: Before you start editing a PDF, save a copy of the original file. That way, if something goes wrong or you need to revert your changes, you‘ll have a backup.
  • Use OCR for scanned PDFs: If you‘re working with a scanned PDF, run it through OCR software first to make the text editable. Acrobat and most other editors have built-in OCR tools.
  • Compress images: If your PDF has a lot of images, they can quickly bloat the file size. Use compression tools to reduce image resolution without sacrificing too much quality.
  • Use templates: If you find yourself creating the same types of PDFs over and over, consider making a template. This can be a blank document with your logo, headers, and other common elements already in place.
  • Collaborate with comments: Instead of emailing PDFs back and forth for feedback, use commenting tools to add notes and suggestions directly to the document. Most PDF editors support comments and annotations.
  • Flatten before sharing: If your PDF has interactive elements like form fields or annotations, flatten them before sharing the file. This will ensure that everyone sees the same thing and that your content can‘t be edited inadvertently.
  • Protect sensitive information: If your PDF contains confidential or personal data, use security tools to encrypt the file or add password protection. You can also redact sensitive information before sharing.

By following these best practices and using the right tools for the job, you can streamline your PDF editing workflows and create professional, polished documents every time.


Editing PDFs may seem intimidating at first, but with the right tools and techniques, it‘s actually quite straightforward. Whether you use Adobe Acrobat, an online editor, or built-in tools on your Mac or Windows computer, the basic process is the same: open the PDF, make your changes, and save the edited file.

As you explore more advanced features like OCR, redaction, and batch processing, you‘ll find even more ways to optimize your PDF workflows. By staying up to date with the latest tools and best practices, you can become a true PDF editing pro.

So the next time you need to make a change to a PDF, don‘t panic – just follow the steps outlined in this guide and you‘ll have your document edited in no time. With a little practice and patience, you‘ll be able to handle any PDF editing task that comes your way.