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Although PDF (Portable Document Format) is now the ubiquitous file format of choice for disseminating information across the web and on the cloud, it has a major drawback. Since it is primarily used to share information, the source file isn’t usually in PDF. That means if you or anyone in the chain of recipients needs to make a change, they end up hunting for the source document, which may be in Word, PowerPoint, Excel, HTML, ePub or one of many other formats in which they were originally created. That poses a huge problem because the source document is not always readily available. Maybe Adobe Acrobat, Wondershare PDFelement will leave you the impression to be the first solution. But now I need to explain more than that.

What Should a PDF Editor Do?

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Enter the PDF editor. Apart from being able to edit PDFs directly because you don’t need the source file, a PDF editor will help you manage your PDF repository in a number of ways.

  • Creating PDFs from other sources, including merging them in the output file
  • Reviewing and annotating a file for the benefit of other collaborators
  • Merging and splitting PDFs
  • Converting PDFs into several other useful formats so they can be edited on their respective native applications like MS Word or Adobe Photoshop
  • Creating and filling forms
  • Converting scanned forms or images into editable and searchable PDF forms
  • Signing files digitally
  • Adding security in the form of access and permissions passwords, with enterprise-strength encryption

How Do I Find the Perfect PDF Editor for Me?

The problem here is not about finding a PDF editor to help you with these tasks but rather about finding the right PDF editor for all these tasks. That’s the real challenge because there’s a deluge of PDF editor products out there – both offline and online. How does an individual or business consumer wade through the options? In other words, how does someone avoid paying hundreds of dollars on well-known software tools like Adobe Acrobat Pro DC and Nitro PDF Suite but still get the same – or better – functionality, experience, and results?

And that’s the purpose of the article – to showcase a few worthy options for you to consider in the offline and online areas. With that in mind, here is the strongest player in each category, together comprising the top 3 PDF tools for PDF creation, editing, conversion, form-filling, security, and other advanced document management features.

Offline PDF Editors

These are essentially downloadable software applications for various OS platforms. They operate offline in the sense that no information is sent to the cloud or an off-site server. Often, you won’t even need an Internet connection unless you’re saving your work in a shared location or the cloud. This makes offline PDF editors a much better option for enterprise use, where sensitive and confidential information is involved. In addition, they offer all the utilities you’ll need to manage your document flows.

Here’s one of the best examples in this category:

PDFelement Standard 7 and PDFelement Pro 7

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Platforms: Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Linux

After Acrobat and Nitro, PDFelement is considered by many to be the most trusted PDF editor around. It has won the much-coveted Top Rated Document Management Software award from the patrons of TrustRadius, and the journey has just started.

Why PDFelement?

First of all, PDFelement is available at a fraction of what it costs you to subscribe to Acrobat or purchase a Nitro PDF Basic license. You get a full suite of editing and annotation tools for starters, and the user interface is almost intelligent in its own way. For example, click on a content element in a PDF file and you’ll get a fully contextual Properties menu in the form of a slide-in tool sidebar; click a different element and you’ll see custom tools for that. It’s all about user experience, and PDFelement rates very high on that front.

But that’s just basic functions that any PDF editor worth its salt should be able to do. PDFelement goes above and beyond to provide a wide range of options like form creation and form filling, optical character recognition (OCR), data extraction, batch conversions, batch OCR, security tools, and so on.

In addition to all this, PDFelement is available for all major OS platforms (desktop and mobile) and also in two distinct flavors: PDFelement Standard and PDFelement Pro. While the standard version offers the versatility to handle almost any straightforward PDF task, the pro version steps it up a few notches with superior and advanced capabilities like data mining and extraction from forms that are image-based, converting scanned documents into editable and searchable PDFs that you can post online, doing lightning-fast batch processes, and more.

Possibly the best thing about PDFelement is that it does a great job of balancing functionality with pricing. And, in the end, that’s exactly what every consumer is after, right? From that perspective, PDFelement Standard and PDFelement Pro are heroes of the PDF game, which is why the brand is quickly growing to be one of the Top 3 powerhouses in PDF document management software.

Hybrid PDF Editors

There are only a few players in this particular arena, which contains a blend of downloadable and online software. It forms a bridge between locally run programs and cloud-hosted ones, and the one we’ve showcased today is a prime example of a robust hybrid PDF editor.

Soda PDF and Soda PDF Anywhere

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Platforms: Windows, Online

We’ve chosen Soda PDF as the second offline PDF editor to showcase here because it is at the nexus between the offline experience and the online one. The downloadable version is only for Windows, unfortunately, but macOS users can take heart from Soda PDF Anywhere, which is essentially a cloud-hosted version of a PDF editor.

Soda PDF for Windows allows you to create PDFs and annotate them, edit PDFs with a full range of tools, perform OCR, convert to a number of output formats, create editable forms, and use a digital signature.

macOS users have the online version to fall back on, which the company claims is “fully functional” as a PDF editor. The online version matches the capabilities of the downloadable Windows software, with the difference is that it requires an active and fast Internet connection. That’s a deal-breaker for many Mac users who prefer an offline version for their OS platform.

That brings us to pure-play online PDF editors, and we’ve showcased two of the best players in this space.

Online PDF Editors

An online PDF editor, by design, requires a robust Internet connection and ‘always-on’ connectivity to the web. It is intended as an alternative to downloadable software because it runs on the cloud. With lightning-fast connectivity being the norm rather than the exception around the world, online PDF editors have gained new prominence in the document management space.


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Platforms: Online, Windows, macOS

Smallpdf is the champion of the online PDF editor space, offering editing, conversion, security, file management, and compression services. To be honest, it doesn’t have the width of offering that Soda PDF Anywhere has, but as a pure-play online utility for PDF management, Smallpdf has most of the tools that regular PDF users typically look for.

Smallpdf does provide all the editing, conversion and security tools that standalone software offers, but it also adds features like file compression and PDF unlocking to round out its selling points.

Since everything is done online, the first step is to upload your document to the Smallpdf web interface. Once you’re in, you have access to all the tools we mentioned. The one major difference between Smallpdf and Soda PDF is that the latter offers the online version almost as an extension to the downloadable Windows version. On the other hand, Smallpdf is primarily an online utility, but you also get a downloadable version if you sign up for the Pro package. In addition, you can leverage the power of a Chrome extension as a power-up option.

And there’s our round-up of the three most competitive PDF editors in the online and offline arena, as well as all the information you need to make the right choice. PDFelement has a clear advantage in that it is a true multi-platform PDF editor with comprehensive functionality that ranges from very basic tasks to complex and intricate batch processes. In addition, the offline design allows for greater security because none of your information is shared online unless you manually share a document. That gives large corporations as well as individuals the absolute confidence that their privacy comes above all else at Wondershare, the makers of PDFelement.