Portable Document Format (PDF) is the most popular format for document exchange. It is a fixed and flat layout which renders the document almost uniformly across all platforms. It became popular for a whole lot of reasons, but editing was probably not one of them. It is possible to convert almost any document format into a PDF and with a much smaller file size. Due to its smaller file size, it makes it easier to share large documents and be sent over emails.
Also, as PDF provides the ability to the author to restrict modifications, copying or printing of the document or even be able to password protect the document. Even though it is up to the client side file rendering software to adhere to these restrictions, it makes it extremely hard to modify a PDF file.
Creating a PDF file is not hard, especially if you are the author of the document. You can pretty much use any of your favorite word processing software. Almost all of them provide an option to convert your document to a PDF document. But editing a PDF is altogether a different beast. There are very few applications which can do it and do it well.
There are primarily two different ways you can approach editing the document. One is to edit the document directly and the other is to convert the PDF to a editing friendly format such as .doc or RTF and then edit the converted document. One of the issues when attempting to edit directly is to make sure that you have the original fonts that were used in the document, otherwise you will lose the fonts while editing or you will have to change the fonts.
There are mainly three different types of editors that you can use to edit the document.
Online PDF editors
There are many online websites which will allow you to upload your document and edit it online. This can be a cumbersome process especially if the website is not your primary document processing website/system. I use Google Docs for creating, editing and storing my documents, so if Google were to offer PDF editing capabilities it would work perfectly for me. It is probably not worth the hassle to upload all your docs to another server to edit it. There is also the issue of security with uploading to a “unknown” server.
Desktop PDF editors
There are several desktop editors which you can install locally on your system. Some are freeware while others are professional/commercial or paid version. As a rule of thumb, the paid versions are much better at editing than the freewares. But for minor editing purposes, it does a good job.
Free Desktop PDF Editors
You can open your PDF documents in Gimp and open them as layers for further processing. It works somewhat like editing images rather than editing a document. It is very workable but not an elegant solution by any means.
LibreOffice (formally OpenOffice)
If you have the Open Office, you will need to install the Oracle PDF Import Extension for OpenOffice Draw. The PDF Import Extension allows you to import and modify PDF documents. The extension also enables the hybrid file mode which allows for better editing capabilities as Open Office will open the file ODF file format. This usually allows for better layout accuracy.
If you are already using Libre Office which is the “latest” version of Open Office, this extension comes preinstalled. If you don’t have it already installed, think about uninstalling Open Office and using Libre Office.
This comes with very good review. I have not used it personally, but it support PDF forms, table conversions, and decrypting protected files.
Commercial Desktop PDF Editors
Adobe Acrobat X Pro
This is Adobe’s application for editing PDF. As you might expect, this is the best option you have. If you have a need to edit PDF documents regularly and directly or have advanced needs for PDF document creation, then this is the best you can get. This also comes with various other advanced features like adding rich media like audio & video and merging documents etc.
Infix PDF editor
This is another commercial editor with good reviews. I have not had the opportunity to use it yet, but they do offer a free trial.
Another option you do have is to convert the PDF document to a word processor friendly format like ODF, DOC or RTF depending on the complexity of the document. Then you can use the word processor of your choice and choose to convert it to PDF format as the final step. This allows for easier editing later, as you can edit the original document and convert it to PDF as often as you need to.
There are many online websites which will convert the PDF to a word format for you. The best i have seen is Nitro Software, which takes a little while for conversion but provides good conversion for complex layouts and designs. Another very good option is Google Docs, which allows you to upload a PDF document and download in various different formats including ODT, DOC, HTML, RTF, and Text.
There are some PDF conversion tools which are available to Linux/Unix. The best and most versatile set of commands comes with the Poppler library. Most distros should come pre-installed with this.
To convert a PDF to text, use pdftotext. This will extract all the text into a text file and you can transfer some layout information using the ‘-layout’ switch.
pdftotext -layout mydocument.pdf
To convert PDF to html set of pages, use the pdftohtml command. You can generate a single html document for all the pages in the PDF by using the ‘-s’ option.
pdftohtml -s mydocument.pdf
You can use ImageMagick library to convert pdf to any of the image formats. The following command will convert pdf to a jpg.
convert mydocument.pdf mydocumnet.jpg
Happy Editing ….