Open source PDF readers, creators, and editors

Open source alternatives to Adobe Acrobat for PDFs

Open source PDF readers and editors
Image by : 

opensource.com

Do you still use Acrobat for working with PDFs?

Aren't we supposed to be living in a paperless world by now?

I can't be the only person who imagined the office of the future, free from the confines of the eight and a half by eleven sheet (or A4, for my international friends), would have long since arrived. Instead, we've managed to land in an intermediate state of not paperless, but less paper.

It could be worse.

Between a trusty scanner, email and various other communication tools, and getting really good at organizing my digital archives, I'm not totally unhappy with where we are today. And I do occasionally admit to reading a paper book, sending a postcard, or (gasp) printing something off to give to someone else.

Until the world moves a little further from paper, print-ready file formats will continue to permeate our digital landscape as well. And, love it or hate it, PDF, the "portable document format," seems to be the go-to format for creating and sharing print-ready files, as well as archiving files that originated as print.

For years, the only name in the game for working with PDF documents was Adobe Acrobat, whether in the form of their free reader edition or one of their paid editions for PDF creation and editing. But today, there are numerous open source PDF applications which have chipped away at this market dominance. And for Linux users like me, a proprietary application that only runs on Windows or Mac isn't an option anyway.

Since PDF files are used in so many different situations for so many different kinds of purposes, you may need to shop around to find the open source alternative to Adobe Acrobat that meets your exact needs. Here are some tools I enjoy.

Reading PDFs

For reading PDFs, these days many people get by without having to use an external application at all. Both Firefox and Chromium, the open source version of Google's Chrome browser, come bundled with in-browser PDF readers, so an external plugin is no longer necessary for most users.

For downloaded files, users of GNOME-based Linux distributions have Evince, a powerful PDF reader that handles most documents quickly and with ease, while KDE's Okular serves a similar purpose. Evince has a Windows port as well, although Windows users may also want to check out the GPLv3-licensed SumatraPDF as an alternative.

Creating PDFs

Personally, LibreOffice's export functionality ends up being the source of 95% of the PDFs I create that weren't built for me by a web application. Scribus, Inkscape, and GIMP all support native PDF export, too, so no matter what kind of document you need to make -- a complex layout, formatted text, vector or raster image, or some combination -- there's an open source application that meets your needs.

For, well, practically every other application, the CUPS printing system does a pretty good job of outputting documents as PDFs.

Editing PDFs

Ah, this is where things start to get tricky. Or at least where they used to. The world has changed a bit and it turns out that recent versions of LibreOffice Draw do a fantastic job of editing PDF files, and not just adding and deleting pages as you might expect, but for editing text and images as well (so long as your PDF was created directly from a source document and not from a scan). It's not perfect, and I've had it choke up on a few more complex documents, but I'm still impressed with what a good job it does on many of the documents I've had to work with.

Inkscape, too, does a good job with opening documents created elsewhere, and may be a more intuitive choice if your document is heavy on graphics. There are standalone tools as well, like the GPLv2 licensed PDFedit, but I've had such good luck with Inkscape and LibreOffice that I haven't had to use a separate editor in recent years.


We know these aren't the only choices in town. Do you work with a lot of PDFs? Have a favorite application to help you along the way? Let us know in the comments below what you use and why it works for you.

33 Comments

elnino

What about digital signing in open source alternatives? Is this available?

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Ruvenss G. Wilches

I totally agree wit Nino, unfortunately governments around the world has been lobyed to use Adobe Digital Signature in tax declarations, and others, blame our corrupt and incapable politicians who 99% of the time think that the internet can be contained in a black box and a firewall is real wall enveloped with fire.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Jason Baker

Check out SignServer (https://www.signserver.org/) or jSignPdf (http://jsignpdf.sourceforge.net/) to see if they meet your needs. So often the digital signing requirements for PDFs are defined not by the individual user, but by the originating organization who sent the document, such that unfortunately end users have little control over the tools.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
elnino

Thank you for reply. I Will try and report.

This is the only reason I still need to use Adobe.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Camilla

Digital signing is also a feature in LibreOffice Draw :)

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Larry Bradley

I use open-source alternatives for virtually everything I do with PDF's, EXCEPT document conversion. There are some decent cloud alternatives for pdf-to-other-format conversions; unfortunately, there is no open-source alternative that comes close to Adobe or other Windows-only software packages (OmniPage is my current favorite paid program) when it comes to complex -- or sometimes even moderately complex -- document conversion. BTW, this discussion, like many others, seems to assume that Adobe is the only viable commercial pdf package; not so, IMO, there are other packages that are just as good, if not better. Why not make this discussion about paid vs. unpaid, not OpenSource versus Adobe?

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
-1
davidpwhelan

I use PDF SAM all the time (http://www.pdfsam.org/). It's an easy utility to use for splitting or merging PDFs. I use it to create an expense report PDF, for example, bringing together invoices and statements from a bunch of different sources. Other than digital signing (which, like @Nino, I haven't found in an open source viewer yet), it's the thing I do most often with PDFs.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
mjjzf

I use PDFSAM a lot as well.
I have written it into some of our workflows in my job, and I completed the Danish translation to be able to give something back.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
jimmysjolund

Lately I've switched from LIbreOffice to LateX or Markdown. The LaTeX editor ports to PDF directly. My markdown notes I run through Pandoc.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Shawn H Corey

Recently, I have switched to Okular for reading because it allows text highlighting. https://okular.kde.org/

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Don Watkins

I use Evince most of the time since it's what comes with Ubuntu. One of the very reasons I loved OpenOffice and now LibreOffice is the ability to easily export any document into a PDF. Linux and Unix have very good command line utilities for reading and writing PDF files too.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
billg

A Gtk PDF reader based on PyMuPDF: https://gitlab.com/mozbugbox/youshen

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Alan

Master PDF is my go-to program for editing pdf's. By far the most versatile and complete pdf editor I've found that runs on KDE. The only drawback is that you can't select multiple documents when merging files.
Not open source but free to use on linux. They even gave me a key for the 'other os' version when I reported a bug so I dumped adobe completely.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
GNUguy

I almost always use Okular to read PDFs. However, I have been using Acrobat to create PDFs from scans.

A while ago I had done a project where I scanned 15 years worth of a company's newspaper (large format; ie, 11x17). I used Acrobat to index all the scans to create a searchable library. Is there an open source solution for something like that?

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Stephen Paul Weber

Inkscape can only open a single page of a PDF

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Jason Baker

Good point. For me, the one only time I need to make detailed changes to vector-based PDFs are when the subject matter is a landscape or site plan or other map, so exporting just the page that needs editing (if there even are multiple pages) is not much of a problem -- I'm generally editing one page in much detail. But for people with other use cases I could imagine that being a frustration, and a good reason to use Draw instead.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Platypus

I use Foxit Reader 7 under CrossOver (Wine). Works well and I can edit! There Linux version is a very poor cousin.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
ttoine

You just forget Scribus, the only open source document editor that manages well CMYK document for printing.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Jason Baker

Thanks, Scribus is actually mentioned under the "creating" section -- I don't have a need to manage precise print color but that's a good point for anyone who does.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
bjrosen

You forgot to mention Atril, that's the best Linux PDF reader, much better than Evince.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Stefan

For reading pdf-files under Linux I use Atril (the Mint "fork" of Evince) most of the time. For splitting or merging of pdf-files I use pdfsam (available for Linux and Windows). For converting scanned images (mostly scientific papers) into searchable pdf-files I use gscan2pdf. It can use either tesseract or cuneiform for doing the ocr - both with mostly very poor results. I have read that tesseract is the "best" ocr-program on Linux but is miles away from "professional" (closed source) solutions like FineReader 10 years back (sorry to say that). I have also tried and used tesseract from the command line with the same poor results (although the scans were of high quality around 600 dpi and without artefacts). Tesseract has massive problems in recognising the page layout (even from pages with only a single cloumn - not to speak of multicolumn pages) and its capability of correctly recognising single characters is bad as well (even if you have chosen the correct language for the text). I have read somewhere, that tesseract has been far better in the past, but that the developers have broken it (not sure, if that is true). Tools like OCR Feeder also offer to save a scanned text image with a text layer - but for me, this does not work (the program completely fails to save a pdf-file at all, searchable or not).
I also sometimes use Master PDF for editing pdfs - mainly for inserting bookmarks for navigation within the document. It looks like, no other open source pdf-editing-solution can do this (Libre/OpenOffice inserts bookmarks from headers when saving a document as pdf, but when you attach additional pages to the pdf-file, you may want to add additional bookmarks).

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
David Topham

I use pdflatex to create pdfs. It is a great program and can embed video and insert hyperlinks. My only frustration is that ONLY acrobat can access those links! I believe the issue is support for javascript from the pdf but I am not sure and hope someone will make a Linux alternative eventually.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Don Watkins

There is an extension for Firefox called PDFEscape which will allow you to edit PDFs as weel.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
gonzalo.san.gil
Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Greg P

Where Scribus shines is with complex layout of text and images and its ability to very precisely handle fonts and color.
It can also import PDFs as vector drawings, or more precisely groups of vector graphics, which can be ungrouped and edited as vector drawings.
Currently there is also work going on to be able to handle complex text layout with non-Latin languages and fonts.

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Larry Bradley

In limited circumstances, I use Google Docs to convert pdf files with straightforward, simple pdf files. I also use CloudConvert, an add-on to Google Drive. The latter works surprisingly well, even with fairly complicated documents. It is free for limited conversions, minimal cost for on-going bulk conversions.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
mhanwell

I didn't know about some of the recent progress in editing PDFs, I use pdflatex a lot, but also a number of other editing tools that support export to PDF.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Arie Morgenstern

What about creating PDFs from the command prompt or opening a PDF with a Viewer from the command prompt? Do you have recommendations for command-prompt-friendly PDF tools?

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Jason Baker

Good question! This isn't an area I've explored much personally but I'd be really interested to do a little exploring and find out what the available tools in this area are. Do you have one that you like in particular?

Vote up!
1
Vote down!
0
Dennis Fowler

I needed to convert a PDF image to JPG and found Image Magick (www.imagemagick.org) worked well. I suppose technically it's not what you mean, since it is used to create, edit, compose, or convert bitmap images, but it worked for me.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
jon.d.slavin

I've found pdftk (pdf toolkit) very nice for splicing together pieces of several different pre-existing pdfs. It's a command line tool. See .https://www.pdflabs.com/tools/pdftk-the-pdf-toolkit/

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
zoedtdt

I'm not a developer, i always use this free online image to pdf converter online merge from pdfcoding.com http://www.pdfcoding.com/online/pdf/convert-jpeg-images-to-pdf/.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0
Samrat Chitta

Hi, I am looking for a open source solution for creating pdfs or documents on which we can have control on options like "save" , "printing" etc , so that i can either disabling/enabling those options.

Vote up!
0
Vote down!
0