The best Adobe Acrobat alternatives

When it comes to PDFs, Adobe Acrobat is the first stop for many. After all, Adobe developed the PDF format, and its applications have become the standard that other software solutions orient themselves around. But Adobe Acrobat alternatives offer other benefits, too: Simple programs with fewer tools are sufficient for many users. Other users are looking for cheaper software. Here, we introduce you to six alternatives to Adobe Acrobat with which you can create, edit, view, and protect your PDF files.

Adobe Acrobat alternatives: why the change is worth it

The PDF file celebrates its silver anniversary in 2018 - Adobe first brought it to the market back in 1993. The company wanted to develop a format with it that could reproduce electronic documents as true to the original as possible, regardless of hardware, application, and operating system. To achieve this goal, Adobe adopted the PostScript format, which is often used for vector graphics due to its basic form. As a result, PDFs display the layout with the help of vectors instead of pixels. The format adapts itself to the output medium and remains proportional to the original format.

Adobe made its new format available for public use. This way, Adobe’s competition was also able to develop programs that could display and process PDF files. The software giant reserved the rights to the specifications, though. In 2007, when Adobe Reader entered the market as freeware, the popularity of the PDF increased rapidly. As the developer of the format, Adobe was of course able to quickly and steadily tailor its Acrobat applications to keep up. However, the price for the full version often prevented individuals or small businesses from acquiring it.

In recent months, Adobe rolled out a large number of security updates. Some IT experts had previously warned that the program was almost as vulnerable to hacker attacks as Adobe Flash. Whether all gaps are filled or whether there are more out there remains unknown. With the high distribution of the program, though, it’s not unlikely that more security gaps will come to light in the future. This is also a reason why many users are on the lookout for an Adobe Acrobat alternative.

A good PDF editor should be able to…

PDF readers are usually free. Processing software is also partially available as freeware tools, which are usually limited to only specific tasks. But the full versions are usually more stable. For the complete range of functions without watermarks, though, you’ll have to give up some money. If you’re looking for a professional solution, you should make sure that the program contains the following features:

  • Convert PDF from other file formats (.doc, .xlsx, .pptx, etc.)
  • PDF for scanned print media
  • Create your own PDF document
  • Convert PDF to various other formats
  • Search text and edit using OCR technology
  • Optimise texts for reading with tags (e.g. for voice playback)
  • Edit PDF like text document (e.g. Add, edit, and delete text, modify images, set links)
  • Enable check and commentary of document (popular functions: marker, notepad, comment box, freehand draw, stamp)

For those dealing with confidential documents, security is very important. With a password, you can make sure that only certain people can open the file. Set who has access to the document and may fill it out or edit it. This way, you can prevent unauthorised changes to contracts, for example. To personally verify a document, you can create an electronic signature with the software.

For the safety of individuals, data protection reasons, or confidentiality clauses, some information must be made unrecognisable. Simply blacking it out is not enough. The corresponding tool has to completely remove the information, including the metadata, from the document before publication. Otherwise, hackers can find this data in the digital version without much effort.

Do you also want to read documents on the go? Then be sure to note whether the program is available for mobile devices. Smartphones are not very well suited for editing because of their small screen. An optimised app at least displays the content and allows line breaks so that you can easily read the document. Access your files from anywhere with the help of an interface from your desired cloud storage service.

Which Adobe Acrobat alternatives are there?

Adobe Acrobat is a product family for PDF solutions. If you want to use the tools in their full range, you’ll have to buy the quite expensive full version. In the meantime, a subscription system has lowered the price barrier. It’s a practical solution for big business customers – updates and support are even included. If you want to avoid running costs or constant updates, though, you can still find a one-time payment offer with other providers. Alternatives to Adobe Acrobat are oftentimes cheaper – regardless of whether they’re a subscription or purchase version. Many of them offer also offer a similarly large range of functions.

For private users who just want to read PDFs or create them out of other formats, a free PDF reader is often sufficient. In the meantime, office programs are equipped by default with plugins that convert documents into PDFs. Readers usually include most comment functions as well. If you want the entire range of functions, you’ll need either standard or professional versions.

Foxit Phantom PDF

Foxit offers its high-performance alternative to Adobe Acrobate, PhantomPDF, as a Standard, Business, or Education version. The provider also offers a mobile app and cloud integration. With these tools you can easily edit, share, and comment on PDF documents from anywhere. Even the free Foxit Reader delivers some features beyond simple reading. In the image below you can see a selection of comment functions such as sticky notes, a callout box, and text highlighting. Secure the authenticity of the document with a digital signature.

The reader converts popular formats to PDF, recognises scanned print media, and allows you to create a simple document on your own. Of course, the software also prints without format loss. The intuitively arranged operating interface with ribbon menu lists allows for effortless use by beginners as well. The safe reading mode stops unwanted remote interference by JavaScript or hyperlinks.

PhantomPDF is suitable for users that most often work privately or professionally with PDF documents and want to use functions such as ConnectedPDF, OCR, and overall security features. With ConnectedPDF you can manage access rights, have a constant overview of who is changing the document, and exchange information about the project via the cloud. OCR makes texts within images and scans machine-readable and allows you to edit the content.

Note

OCR (“Optical Character Recognition”) is a technology that automatically recognises text within images. The enables the reading out and editing of scanned texts or PDF documents.

The well-designed accessibility features are particularly noteworthy. The reader plays back text in the selected language output and offers various magnification tools. With PhantomPDF, you can also create tagged PDFs, convert in barrier-free formats, and check the document for accessibility before publication. Foxit also attaches the utmost important to security: In addition to access management, you can secure your document using electronic signatures, send them over a secure connection, set time stamps, and black out confidential information. For the latter, the program also strictly deletes metadata. When it comes to security and usability, Foxit is in no way inferior to its competitor Adobe. Linux users can also find with this software an alternative to Adobe Acrobat, which hasn’t supported the operating system for some years now.

Benefits Drawbacks
Good usability  
Large range of functions, even for free reader Weak spots with JavaScript (safe reading mode should be turned on and JavaScript off)
Selectable skin color Official language version only in English (community translations available in various languages)
Accessibility tools Telephone support only over US hotline
ConnectedPDF  
Optional one-time payment or subscription, both are cheaper than comparable Adobe Acrobat products  
Linux version available  

Nitro Pro

The software provider Nitro has been on the heels of Adobe for a long time. Its PDF solutions impress with a full range of functions for professional PDF processing and an intuitive operating interface. Like its competitor Foxit, the interface is based on the ribbon menu structure of Microsoft Word. This saves the user from extensive training time, and the task-oriented structure is very efficient. Whether for individuals or large company: Nitro has solutions for financial services, healthcare, energy providers, and others. Nitro’s offer is focused mainly on professional use.

This is then also a reason why Nitro is one of the more expensive alternatives to Adobe Acrobat. Up to 10 licenses can easily be purchased on the website. Companies that need more must contact the provider. The single licence includes support and updates for the purchased version. There is no subscription system like there is with Adobe, and there’s also no app. The PDF software is optimised for Windows tablets, and the function-rich PDF reader is free.

Nitro Pro provides all the necessary functions for professional work with PDF documents. In the above image, you can see the tools as well as an example of their use. With Nitro Pro, you can create PDF files – also including tagged PDF – import Word, Excel, or PowerPoint documents, and integrate e-mails. Nitro works cross-platform and has a small tool plugin in the popular Office programs with which you can convert documents to the PDF/A format. Nitro doesn’t support as many formats as Adobe, though for daily use the range is usually sufficient.

The download takes a bit of time. So, during the installation, there’s a short program introduction available. Users who aren’t familiar with Nitro should also have an easy time getting started. A downside, though, is that images added into the document lose quality when converting Word to PDF.

But aside from this drawback, there’s barely anything wrong with the high-quality functions. You can administer access and editing rights and track processing in real time. Electronic signatures and timestamps as well as passwords lend additional security. The erase tool allows for white-outs and complete redaction in the document. With one click, you can delete all metadata and so protect sensitive information.

Benefits Drawbacks
Large range of functions Relatively expensive
Clear, intuitive interface Image quality decreases with conversion
Cloud share support with real time tracking Accessibility tools could use expansion
Strong white-out tool for sensitive information Fewer supported formats than Adobe Acrobat
Helpful community  

Nuance Power PDF

Nuance Communications specialises in language support software and productivity management. In 1974, as Kurzweil Computer Products, the company launched the first text recognition software for all fonts commonly used at the time. Since then, Nuance has collaborated with Apple and helped develop the personal assistant software Siri. It’s no wonder then that Power PDF from Nuance recognises and reads out text directly in the program. You can also edit scanned texts. Support for English, German, and French is included. Other languages can be found as downloads. Power PDF also allows you to edit Asian fonts.

You can get other functions for accessible work and PDFs with the app TALK & ZOOM. Power PDF has two editing modes: check/comment and advanced editing. In the comment function, you can mark passages, set callouts, or share the document with authorised users. With advanced editing you can modify paragraphs, changes formatting, or add text. The software is one of the few PDF solutions that allows you to edit images directly in the program and add effects. Clip-art and symbols are easily added from the menu, as in Word. Complex image editing can be done with one click using a third-party program.

Thanks to password protection, electronic signatures, and drag-and-drop licence distribution, there’s no need to worry about the security of your documents. The standard version unfortunately does not offer the RMS blackout service. It will, though, delete sensitive metadata as desired.

Benefits Drawbacks
Precise OCR conversion No free reader
Audio output in multiple languages No smartphone app
Internal image editing Website could be clearer
Efficient project management tools  
Good cost-benefit ratio  

Qoppa PDF Studio

Qoppa is a comparably small software company out of Atlanta. PDF and document workflow is their passion. In addition to the desktop version of PDF studio, you also get PDF libraries and a server. Qoppa offers two different apps for mobile devices: the free qPDF Viewer, and qPDF Notes, with which you can comment, edit, and sign PDFs on Android devices. The PDF Studio is available in a standard version and as PDF Studio Pro with extended features. If you’re looking for a complete solution, Pro Studio should do it – and it’s still fairly priced. Some functions that other providers offer by default can only be found in the extensions of the Adobe Acrobat alternative.

PDF Studio Standard is one of the cheapest PDF solutions. Accordingly, it has a reduced range of standard features available. If you only want to create, read, and comment on PDF documents, then you should be happy with the lean program. For private use, import and export options are just as sufficient as the possibility to fill out forms. If you want to work professionally with PDFs, your demands will exceed the limits of this offer. Passwords and authorisation management can be defined in the basic version, but digital signatures are only possible in Pro.

If you want to create forms, you need PDF Studio Pro. For converting documents from MS Office formats the standard version is sufficient, but if you want to save the PDF as a .doc/.docx file, you need the professional program. This provides the OCR function that you need to edit original PDF texts. As an Adobe alternative, Qoppa stands out with its low price. If you’re looking for solid PDF editing software, with PDF Studio Pro you won’t be missing much other than cloud integration. If you simply want to read and comment on PDFs, then even the free reader might be sufficient.

Benefits Drawbacks
Inexpensive standard version User interface looks a bit overloaded
Customisable toolbar Few image editing options
File import and export via drag-and-drop No interactive form field designer or digital signature in standard version
Font integration for all languages  
Supports more operating systems than Adobe Acrobat  

PDF-XChange Editor

PDF-XChange Editor is one of the most affordable Adobe Acrobat alternatives. The package includes tools for creating, annotating, and editing compatible PDF documents. It also contains OCR and digital signatures. With the editor, you can export PDF files to MS Office formats as well as Adobe Forms files. Forms can be created in the Plus version. If you only want to convert documents to PDF and print them, then PDF-XChange Standard is sufficient. However, the editor can be equipped with more functions at almost the same price.

PDF X-Change Pro contains all features of the Standard and Plus editors as well as PDF tools. These allow you to assemble PDF documents and edit original PDF documents. If you want to convert PDF files into text or image format, you need PDF tools.

The PDF editor is already a good alternative to Adobe Acrobat. The image above shows some examples of possible editing. With markups and notepads, you can comment on the document. Sensitive information is protected with the blackout tool. For image editing, the PDF editor opens a third-party program. Edit, move, or rotate text passages directly in the program. Text can easily be added, but editing individual words gives the editor some difficulties.

In addition, the program allows you to create clickable links. Stamps and colorful QR codes are also possible. It reads out selected text and can also integrate a translation program. If the menu bar seems a bit overloaded to you, then you can simply modify it to suit your needs. Work with the PDF editor is quite comfortable. If you still have the trial version, you should be sure not to use any functions that are specific to the full version. When you eventually save the document, permanent watermarks appear.

Benefits Drawbacks
Very cheap alternative to Adobe Acrobat Watermarks in the trial version
Large range of functions Detailed text editing can be cumbersome
Customisable toolbar  
Reads out selected text segments  

Sejda PDF Editor

Sejda Cloud is a lite web application that converts, merges, divides, and compresses PDF documents from other formats. As an alternative to Adobe Acrobat, the program is perfectly suited to simple tasks like these. Editing tools as well as password protection and access management are only offered by the program in a limited range.

The desktop version can be obtained as a free download. If you only use the program occasionally for individual tasks, then it remains free. There’s a certain day limit, though, after which you’ll be referred to the subscription or purchase licences. The design of the web application was transferred one-to-one to the desktop program. The only difference: Sejda PDF Desktop processes all tasks locally on your PC, while Sejda Cloud saves documents on the Sejda servers.

The range of functions for free use is adequate. The user interface has a nice and tidy design. In the above image, you see the main page where all of the functions are organised according to action. For example, if you select the PDF editor, you will be prompted to load a PDF file. For editing, there are limited functions available such as markups (highlight and strikeout), blackout (without deleting metadata), signatures, or text additions. The abundance of tools on the homepage is gone, though.

If you want to save a Word document as a PDF file and digitally sign it, for example, then select “Word to PDF” under the “Office & PDF” section. Save the file separately. Then go to “Edit & Sign” > “PDF Editor”. There, upload the PDF file again and sign it in the tool. Do you want to add Bates numbering? Then save the document again, go to “Edit & Sign” > “Bates Numbering” and enter the numbering parameters. For more complex PDF projects, though, other Adobe Acrobat alternatives from this list are more suitable.

Benefits Drawbacks
Lite browser application without download No ribbon menu bar
Clear user interface Saves after every task, not suitable for long projects
Suitable for individual tasks on the go Limited range of functions
Tip

Are you also looking for image editing alternatives? Here are six alternatives to Adobe Photoshop.

The best Adobe Acrobat alternatives: an overview

With Acrobat, Adobe encourages workflow optimisation. The ways in which the software prepares PDF files and makes them both secure and accessible will continue to serve as a model for all other PDF software developers in the coming years. After all, they like to advertise that their PDF applications comply with the Adobe ISO standard. For many private users, though, Adobe Acrobat functions go beyond the scope of their normal use. Others would rather avoid the high subscription costs. From free readers via mobile apps to professional PDF solutions for companies: There are many affordable Adobe Acrobat alternatives that are equipped with similarly good tools and the most important security features.

Feature Foxit Phantom PDF Standard Nitro Pro Nuance Power PDF Qoppa PDF Studio PDF-XChange Editor Sejda Cloud
Type Paid trialware (subscription and purchase), Reader: Freeware Paid trialware; Reader: Freeware Paid trialware Paid trialware; app and reader: Freeware Paid trialware; lite (Printer): Freeware Freemium PDF software (subscription and purchase)
Operating system Windows, macOS, Linux Windows Windows 7-10, (convertor for macOS 6) Windows, macOS, Linux, AIX, Solaris Windows XP (limited), Windows Vista und später Windows, macOS, Linux
Web version ✔ compress and convert in Word Via Nitro Cloud ✔ (not with Standard)
Mobile app No, but supports Windows Tablet Android only
Various reading modes
Create PDF/A/E/X ✔, for Education Version, otherwise just PDF/A PDF/A-1b PDF/A-1, PDF/A-2, PDF/A-3 PDF/A (Pro only) PDF/A 1a-3u
Import/export files ✔ (Not with Standard & Lite)
Compatible formats RTF, HTML, TXT, email, Microsoft Office formats Microsoft Office formats, Outlook integration Microsoft Office applications, WPD, XPS, TIFF, print, audio (output only) TXT, HTML5, SVG, Excel and Word applications, print (Pro), JPEG, TIFF; GIF,PNG Microsoft office formats, FDF, BMP, JPEG, TIFF, RTF, email, print Office formats, images (JPEG, BMP etc.)
Edit text Only digitally created texts Add and format text
Edit objects Add, change size Add and remove Integrated image editing Add, change size Add, change size, edit via external program Add images, change size
Add and edit pages Add, arrange ✔ (limited with Standard)
Security ✔✔✔ ✔✔✔ ✔✔✔ ✔✔ ✔✔✔ ✔✔
Signature options Drag-and-drop, security licences Digital signatures, drag-and-drop, security licences, etc. In Pro version
RMS blackout In Business version For text selections and entire pages, delete metadata In Advanced version, delete metadata in Standard version In Pro version Yes, but can’t delete metadata White-out doesn’t delete metadata
Manage access ✓✔ ✔✔
Create and fill out forms ✔✔ ✔✔ ✔✔ Fill out, assemble (Standard); create (Pro) Fill out, assemble (Editor); create (Pro)
Comment and check Markup, notepad, freehand, online comment board Markup, notes, freehand, compare versions Markup, freehand, Bates stamp Markup, audio commentary, notes, freehand, stamps Markup, notes, dimensions and lines, stamps, audio commentary Markup, forms, text box
Accessibility (audio output, magnifier, tagged PDF) ✔✔✔ Tagged PDF, only zoom ✓✓✓ Magnifier Magnifier, content directory
Track changes in real time With Connected PDF Via Nitro Cloud Integration with SharePoint, NetDocuments, etc.
Cloud storage integration Google Drive, OneDrive, Evernote, Dropbox Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, Dropbox Dropbox, Evernote, OneDrive, SharePoint, Box, Google Drive nein Google Drive, SharePoint, Microsoft Office 365
Touchscreen support
Support Manual, tutorial videos, documentation, developer portal Manual, community, FAQ, security updates, email, tutorial videos Knowledge base, FAQ, telephone, online support, forum Knowledge base, manual, FAQ, email, developer support Manual, forum, FAQ, knowledge base, email, 1 year of upgrades included E-Mail, FAQ
Volume licensing Yes, with one-time payment; for business, education, private Yes, from 11 licences ask for price Yes, with cost estimate Yes, staggered, from 250 licences with cost estimate Yes, for private, education, business, government Yes, from 100 licences with cost estimate