PDF editing

Windows doesn’t have an integrated tool like Preview for Mac OS X — it doesn’t even come with a PDF printer. Here’s how to split, merge, reorder, sign, and mark-up PDF files with the least obnoxious software possible.

If you have the paid version of Adobe Acrobat on your PC, it can do this — you might have this on a work computer. Be sure to avoid web-based software tools — don’t upload any PDFs with sensitive personal, financial, or business data to web-based PDF tools.

Split PDF Files

RELATED: Use Your Mac’s Preview App to Merge, Split, Mark Up, and Sign PDFs

You may sometimes want to split a PDF file, extracting some pages from it and creating a new PDF file with them. The PDFSam (PDF split and merge) tool we mention below can do this, but you may already be able to do this with software on your PC.

All you really need for this is a PDF viewer and software that can print to PDF. This could be Adobe’s official Adobe Acrobat Reader application and a third-party PDF printer like CutePDF Writer. However, CutePDF and similar applications have installers full of the terrible Ask Toolbar and other horrific junkware, so steer clear from these programs if possible — or just be extra careful when installing CutePDF Writer (or Download from Ninite).

If you have Google Chrome installed on your PC, it can actually do this. Google Chrome includes both an integrated PDF viewer and print-to-PDF features. Drag-and-drop a PDF file into the Chrome browser window to open it in Chrome. Click the menu button in Chrome and select Print. Click the “Change” button under Destination and choose Save as PDF.

Under Pages, specify the range of pages you want to extract. For example, you could enter 1-5 to extract pages 1-5, or enter 1-3, 6, 9 to extract pages 1-3, 6, and 9. If you want to split a PDF into several files, repeat this process — for example, print one PDF file with pages 1-5 and a second PDF file with pages 6-10.

Merge and Reorder PDFs

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The best free tool we’ve found for merging pages from several PDF files into one on Windows is PDFSam — short for “PDF split and merge.” It’s free and open-source. Unfortunately, it relies on having Java installed on your PC — something we try to avoid. If you do need to merge PDFs with this tool, be sure to at least disable the Java browser plug-in or just uninstall Java entirely after you’re done. PDFSam itself doesn’t try to install junkware on your computer when you install it, but the Java runtime does.

Install the tool, select the Merge/Extract plug-in, and add multiple PDF files. Use the options at the bottom of the window to combine them into a single PDF file.

This tool also allows you to reorder the pages in a PDF file into a different order, which could help if you scanned the pages of a document in the wrong order. PDFSam also has a built-in plug-in for splitting PDFs.

Sign and Mark Up PDF Documents

RELATED: Sign PDF Documents Without Printing and Scanning Them From Any Device

Adobe’s PDF reader app — formerly Adobe Reader and now Adobe Acrobat Reader DC — has some integrated markup features. These allow you to sign PDFs right on your computer and add comments that can include text and drawings.

These are particularly useful for completing documents on your computer. You can fill in a form or contract and apply a signature without having to print, sign, and scan the document back in.

To use these features, open a PDF file in Adobe Acrobat Reader DC and click the “Comment” or “Fill & Sign” options in the righthand sidebar. The “Comment” tool allow you to annotate a PDF, adding text and drawings anywhere you like. The “Fill & Sign” tool allows you to add a signature anywhere in the document. These particular features are free, although many of Adobe Acrobat Reader DC’s advanced features require a paid subscription.

You don’t need paid software for this, although Adobe Acrobat will do all of these things if you have a license. Adobe Acrobat may be provided by your workplace, but home users won’t want to spend over $400 on it. Just use the free tools above for basic PDF-editing — and be sure to avoid web-based PDF-editor tools. Don’t upload any potentially sensitive document to a tool you don’t trust.

Profile Photo for Chris Hoffman Chris Hoffman
Chris Hoffman is Editor-in-Chief of How-To Geek. He's written about technology for over a decade and was a PCWorld columnist for two years. Chris has written for The New York Times and Reader's Digest, been interviewed as a technology expert on TV stations like Miami's NBC 6, and had his work covered by news outlets like the BBC. Since 2011, Chris has written over 2,000 articles that have been read more than one billion times---and that's just here at How-To Geek.
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