PDF files are great for sharing documents, but if you don’t have access to the source, they are a pain to modify. Editing the contents of PDFs is hard, but SwifDoo and Sejda make it easier.
PDF files are used for a wide range of purposes, ranging from ebooks to reports, manuals, help files, business documents, forms and scans. What makes them attractive is that they don’t rely on the user having the right fonts or software to display them. Everything s contained in the PDF and what you see is what you print too. Share a Word document and it can only be viewed by people that have Word, or alternative software that can import word. PDFs work for everyone on every device, online and offline.
The biggest problem is that once created, a PDF is hard to change. There are annotation tools that enable you to add text, highlight text, add shapes, color, comments and so on, but most of them do not enable you to edit the original contents of the PDF. You cannot change the text and images in a PDF easily and you can only add extra items to the document, like a comment or shape.
There is a lack of easy PDF editing tools and if you have lost the original document the PDF was created from, like a Word document, what can you do? Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is one option, but it costs $14.99 a month subscription. Is there a cheaper or better alternative to Adobe Acrobat? Yes.
SwifDoo PDF editor
SwifDoo PDF is a utility for Windows PC that enables you to not only annotate PDF documents, but to edit the contents too. It enables you to change the text, delete or add text, modify images, swap them out for different ones, add new images and a lot more.
The app is a PDF viewer and it can be used as your default viewer if you like. The view can be full screen, actual size, fit to the window and so on. It can show single pages, facing pages, or in a grid. A sidebar showing thumbnails of pages allows you to jump to any part. This sort of thing is common to many PDF viewers. In fact, web browsers can do this sort of thing.
Annotation features are good, but again, this is common to many viewers. Notes can be added to PDF documents and lines, arrows and shapes can be drawn. Text can be added to a PDF and text can be highlighted in any color, but the original document contents are not changed. Text and objects are placed on top of existing content.
So far, so normal. Where it gets interesting is the Edit facility. Switch to Edit mode and the original document text becomes editable. Just click in the text and type away. It isn’t quite as easy as editing a Word document and there are limitations, but if you ever wanted to change a heading, some text in a paragraph or rewrite a small section, SwifDoo can do it, sort of.
There are frustrating limitations and text editing is line by line and it does not flow as you would expect in Word or another word processor. Delete text and it leaves empty space at the end of the line, add text and it can run off the right side of the page. This is not SwifDoo’s fault, it is a limitation of PDF files and they just aren’t designed for editing. Text editing is not perfect, but providing you don’t want to change too much, it is possible.
Click an image and a menu enables it to be rotated, replaced or the transparency changed. I found it changed the transparency of the whole page rather than just the image though. Although images can be replaced with different ones, there are layout limitations and text will not move to make room for a bigger one or smaller one.
PDFs can be converted to other formats and PDF to Word is likely to be an often-used conversion. It worked well on the PDF document I used. In fact, if I wanted to edit a PDF document, I would simply convert it to Word and edit it there, then save it out as a PDF again.
Why bother with the PDF editing tools? Well, it is quick and easy for simple changes like rewriting a heading, date, company name or something, but for major document changes it is best converting the PDF to Word.
PDFs can also be converted to text, Excel, PowerPoint, HTML, image or CAD.
There are many more features, in fact, too many to cover here, but basically this is a comprehensive set of tools for viewing PDFs, annotating them, editing them, converting them to other file formats, compressing them and much more. It is not perfect and occasionally a feature was a bit awkward, slow or buggy, but on the whole, this is a good utility.
It can be downloaded for free and all the features can be used for up to 30 days. Then you will need to subscribe. I was offered an annual subscription for $41.40 which is just $3.45 a month. That is cheap for a good collection of PDF tools.
Sejda PDF editor
Sejda is a website that provides over 40 PDF tools across categories like merge, split, edit and sign, convert to and from PDF, security and more. All the tools can be used online in a web browser on PC, Mac or Linux, but there is also an option to download a desktop app to run on your computer.
The PDF tools can be accessed for free, with some limitations, like page and hourly limits. If you only need basic tools and only for occasional use, you might find the free option acceptable. Serious users who process a lot of PDFs should subscribe and the Desktop+Web Annual plan works out at a reasonable $5.25 a month.
I used some of the free tools online and in the desktop app and found them to be pretty good. The PDF editor has a nice looking interface and after opening or uploading a PDF (online and offline tools look the same), the PDF is displayed and a toolbar at the top provides access to editing and annotation tools: Text, Links, Forms, Images, Sign, Whiteout, Annotate, Shapes and More.
Click in the text and a smaller formatting toolbar appears with buttons and menus for bold, italic, font size, font selection and color. You can easily change, delete or add text to the PDF, change the style, color and so on.
PDFs are awkward to edit and Sejda only allows you to edit one line at a time, as do other PDF editors. The text does not wrap, so if you delete words, you get empty space at the end of the line and if you add words, they can run off the right side of the page. This is a PDF limitation, not Sejda’s fault. Editing the contents of a PDF are therefore limited, but it may be all you need, such as updating a title, date, name and other small details in a PDF.
Images can be added to a PDF. Added rather than inserted because they appear on top of anything that is already there and text will not move to make room. Images can be deleted or the whiteout tool can erase them and then you can put another image in its place. This is useful.
The annotation tools are simple, but useful and there is strikeout, highlight, underline and freehand highlighting and drawing. Ellipses and rectangles can be drawn on the PDF and text can be entered. Text or images can be turned into web links.
One minor irritation is that Sejda is a collection of separate tools, so you must load a PDF, do something to it, then save it. Then you can load it into another tool and do something else. The editor has most of what you need, but if you want to delete pages for example, you must save it, open another tool and reload the PDF.
If you only need to make simple edits to a PDF document and add basic annotations and only occasionally, the free Sejda tools may be all you need. I like the PDF editor, it looks good and it is easy to use.
SwifDoo has better PDF editing tools and you can do more with them. However, the software was occasionally frustrating to use, which was caused by being a bit slow and a bug or two.
Subscription prices for SwifDoo and Sejda are similar, but I was offered a 40% discount on SwifDoo compared to 30% at Sejda, making SwifDoo cheaper as well as offering more features.
Bear in mind that PDFs can be locked with security features that prevent editing or even viewing. These tools will not get around security and they only work with normal PDFs that have no security.