How to edit PDF files

How to edit PDF files

PDFs are one of the most useful and reliable file types for communications, invoices, and so much more. In fact, you probably deal with at least a few every week. However, they can also be one of the most frustrating files when it comes to editing. How many times have you worked with a PDF containing a minor error that you wish you could fix? This guide offers helpful free (and paid) ways to perform minor PDF conversions and edits.

Typical PDF uses

PDFs, or Portable Document Format files, were originally designed in 1992 for “Read Only” applications such as purchase orders, quotes, signed forms, and any other situation where fixed formatting would be preferable. PDFs quickly grew in popularity since they were easy to create from Microsoft Office files and offered a wide variety of uses. In general, fixing mistakes was easy since the original files were readily available. Fast forward to more than 20 years after the invention of the PDF and we see them almost every day in communication memos, survey results, address listings, contact directories, printer scans, and more.

However, in many cases the original Microsoft Office files may have been lost or deleted and the “Read Only” PDF is the only version left. This often creates a headache when the files cannot be easily edited and outdated information is “permanently” stored in the file. Thankfully, minor PDF editing is much simpler than most people realize.

Methods to edit PDF files

Editing PDFs is unfortunately not as quick as re-typing a Microsoft Office file, but the following two methods offer straightforward ways to make changes to your PDF file.

Method 1: Edit comments and mark-ups on a PDF

This method comes in handy when you want to add additional details to an existing PDF without changing the original content. Let’s pretend you are a recruiter who has collected PDF resumes that have been submitted online. Once you’ve downloaded them all, you’d like to add comments to the resumes with details about each candidate.

  1. Open your PDF file using editing software

    Open your PDF resume using one of the following programs:
    Adobe Acrobat DC ($14.99/month) or PDF XChange Editor (FREE downloadable PDF Editor, screenshots shown)

    Note: Certain advanced features of PDF XChange Editor require a purchase, but the majority of features used in this guide can be used without a paid license. During installation select the “Free” installation option to skip the license entry step. For full access to the suite of tools available in PDF XChange Editor, a one-time license purchase of $43.50 is required.

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  2. Highlight text in your file

    Under the “Home” tab, press any one of the highlight, shapes, or text tools to insert comments about your candidate. To highlight text, press the highlight tool (circled in red) and select the existing text on the PDF to highlight. This can be extremely helpful to draw attention to specific items on the resume.

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    Click on the document image to see it more clearly.

  3. Insert a comment in your PDF file

    To insert a comment, press the “Comment” tab at the top of the window (circled in red below) and press either the “Comment” or “Callout” tool (boxed in blue below) to leave a note. These notes can be placed anywhere on the page and moved at any time. The formatting options along the toolbar on top provide easy ways to adjust the shape, text size, or colors of the comment boxes.

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  4. Save the PDF file with your changes.

    When you are finished touching up the PDF, save it with your changes. The new file will remain in PDF format with your comments and highlights now on the page; it’s that easy!

Method 2: Editing PDF text or images

Sometimes, adding comments and mark-ups might not be enough and you need to edit existing text or images. In these situations, both Adobe Acrobat DC and PDF XChange offer ways to edit, insert, and delete PDF components. Suppose you’re assigned to change the new hire orientation process chart to include the name of the new HR manager and the new company logo.

Follow the steps below to learn how to edit existing text on your PDF:

  1. Open your PDF chart using one of the following programs:

    Adobe Acrobat DC ($14.99/month) OR PDF XChange Editor (FREE Downloadable PDF Editor, Screenshots shown)

  2. Select the “Edit” function

    Select the “Edit” function (circled in red) under the “Home” tab of the top toolbar. Each of the existing text blocks will be outlined; select the block you wish to edit as shown below. Once you have selected a block of text it will be outlined in blue indicating that it is ready for editing.

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    Click on the document image to see it more clearly.

  3. Highlight the text you wish to change

    Highlight the text you wish to change and type in the replacement text just like you would do in a Microsoft Word file. The PDF editor will attempt to automatically match your new text to the existing text but this may need to be adjusted using the format tab (circled in red).

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  4. Insert your new image

    Once your text change is completed, select the “Home” tab again and press the “Add” tool to insert your new company logo or image. From the dropdown menu, select “Add Image” and draw a box around the area you would like to insert the image on your PDF.

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  5. Select the image to insert

    Once the location box is drawn, an upload window will pop up asking you to select the image you would like to insert in the box. Select your image and crop or move as needed.

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    Click on the document image to see it more clearly.

  6. Save your edited PDF file

    When finished with your changes, save your file and enjoy your newly updated PDF.

Method 3 (bonus): Advanced PDF editing

In some situations, the basic text editing features of the PDF editors may not provide enough tools to make the detailed changes you are looking for. One advanced solution to this problem is to convert your PDF to a Microsoft Word document using the “Convert” tool (circled in red).

In the convert toolbar, select the “Export to MS-Word” feature (boxed in blue) to convert your PDF to the .doc format. By converting back to the .doc format, you will be able to use the full host of word processing features available through Microsoft Office. When you are finished with your changes, simply export from Microsoft Word back to the PDF format.

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Click on the document image to see it more clearly.

Additional note when editing PDF files

When converting PDFs to .doc formats, certain elements on the page may be adjusted during the conversion. This method works very well for text-heavy PDFs but can be difficult when lots of images or other shapes are involved. Typically this method should be used only if the PDF editing methods described above have not been sufficient.

When is PDF editing useful?

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ve already run into a situation where editing a PDF is necessary. One of the most common reasons to edit a PDF is to correct typos and outdated information on old forms. Using method two described above makes this process easy. Another common scenario for PDF editing is when scanning from the office printer.

When a document is scanned to your email, it will typically arrive in PDF format which can make editing tricky. Using method one or two described above, adding notes and changes to these scans can be a breeze.

If you find yourself in these situations frequently, investing in Adobe Acrobat DC may be a wise choice for you since it offers the broadest range of PDF editing features, including an option to automatically match new text font with the existing text on the page. Next time you’re stuck with what seems like a “Read Only” PDF, remember that you have a wide range of options to choose from when it comes to PDF editing.


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