How to Edit a PDF for Free

Have you ever been in a bind and had to edit a PDF but didn’t have access to a program to do it? Most folks use the Pro version of Adobe to do this, but if you’re not on your work computer, you may not have access to expensive licensed software programs to do this. You may not even think about it at all until you’re in a situation where you have to do advanced PDF editing and you realize you have no way to do it!

This was me last year. I was getting my paperwork together for my Italian citizenship and it involved scanning and emailing tons of sensitive documents back and forth with the embassy. At one point, I was asked to upload them into their website, but I couldn’t upload a single PDF with all my documents, I had to separate them into their own PDFs and upload them one by one. Unless I wanted to go back to Kinko’s to re-scan everything and save each individual document, I had to find a way to edit PDFs without Adobe.

With a deadline looming, the whole thing made me feel panicky but after some digging, I was able to find a solution! I humbly present the results for anyone looking for options.

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For basic PDF editing, use Canva

If all you have to do is make some basic edits to your document, I recommend using Canva. This is a BETA feature for Canva, but if all you have to do is change some text or move around a couple of graphics. You can create a Canva account for free and you’ll be able to do everything you need to with the basic account.

To upload your PDF, from the Canva home screen, click on the “Create a design” button in the upper right-hand corner. In the dropdown menu, you’ll see the option to “Import PDF” at the bottom.

Editing a simple document

Since the feature is still in BETA, it’s not perfect. Overall, the feature works and will get you to where you need to be. This was my experience using the feature and how to navigate around the imperfections.

Canva doesn’t recognize the hyperlinks and instead translates them as text and lines. Same with the bullet points, it doesn’t recognize them as formatting and instead renders them as graphic elements.

However, this is easy to fix:

  1. Separate the layer of text so that you can clearly see the lines and bullet points.
  2. Delete the lines and bullets (you can highlight them and delete once, to save time)
  3. Re-center your block of text.
  4. Highlight your URL and click on the link icon in the upper right-hand corner. Add in the URL and click on “Apply.”
  5. In your text block, highlight the portion that should be bulleted, and click on the bullet list icon.
  6. Make any final adjustments and save it as a “PDF Standard” or ”
  1. Separate the layer of text so that you can clearly see the lines and bullet points.
  2. Delete the lines and bullets (you can highlight them and delete once, to save time)
  3. Re-center your block of text.
  4. Highlight your URL and click on the link icon in the upper right-hand corner. Add in the URL and click on “Apply.”
  5. In your text block, highlight the portion that should be bulleted, and click on the bullet list icon.
  6. Make any final adjustments and save it as a “PDF Standard” or “PDF Print” option.

For advanced PDF editing, use Dropbox + plugins

Dropbox has a ton of advanced utilities for document creation and management. It’s my preferred cloud storage for all my personal and professional work, and it hasn’t failed me to date! I have the Professional plan for individuals, but even the free account should let you use the plugins.

Dropbox has a marketplace of apps that you can plug in to your Dropbox account to get advanced functionality out of the service. Feel free to look through the plugins, but there are two big ones that will likely do everything you need them to: Soda PDF Editor and Nitro

If you need to:

  • Convert PDFs to .docx, .xlsx, or .pptx
  • Add Signatures, dates, and custom text
  • Sort, remove, and rotate, pages
  • Reduce file saze for easier sharing

Use the Nitro plugin.

If you need to:

  • Convert PDFs to .docx, .xlsx, .pptx, PNG, or HTML
  • Merge multiple PDFs, MS Office, or Text files
  • Split pages
  • Compress you file size
  • Edit text
  • Draw on your document
  • Highlight text

Use the Soda plugin.

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Between these two programs, and Canva, I hope your use case is covered and you’re able to edit your document! The Canva feature didn’t exist back when I was working on my docs but between these two programs I was able to accomplish what I needed to, and I didn’t have to upload personal documents to any weird online convertor websites or anything like that. It’s nice to have options!