Want to edit PDFs, share them, sign them, get others to sign them, and more? Then you need a PDF editor.
Logic dictates that as Adobe invented the PDF (short for portable document format) in the first place, they should be the company to turn to. But is Adobe Acrobat Pro DC really the best PDF editor on the market today?
To find out, I tested the software, which was last updated on 12 April 2022, on a year-old Dell Latitude 9410 laptop running Windows 11.
Acrobat Reader vs Acrobat DC vs Acrobat Pro DC
First of all, though, it's important to distinguish which PDF software we're talking about because Adobe offers three. First on the list is Acrobat Reader, which is free, and the most basic. This allows you to read, sign, collaborate on and annotate PDF files, but not edit them.
If you need a PDF editor, you'll need to pay. And if you use Windows, you have two choices: Adobe Acrobat DC, and the slightly more expensive Adobe Acrobat Pro DC. (If you use a Mac, however, only Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is available).
We'll be reviewing the pricier Adobe Acrobat Pro DC here. But first of all, we'll look at the basic features that are common to both. (If you prefer, you can skip ahead to the features you'll only find in Acrobat Pro DC.)
If you have a document in Microsoft Word or Google Docs that you need to turn into a PDF, it's pretty easy within that software. But what if you want to combine multiple documents and file types into a single PDF? That's something Acrobat Pro DC makes very easy.
And that's not all. You can create PDFs directly from scans, from content stored in your clipboard, or just starting from a blank page. All these options are laid out clearly in the interface, and there are a lot of sub-options to help you create your PDF in exactly the way that suits you.
Admittedly, creating PDFs won't normally be the reason people want a PDF editor: graphic designers, for example, are more likely to use something like InDesign for that. But it's great to know that it's there, and makes it very easy for non-designers to create PDFs if they need to.
One word of caution, though. There's also an option to turn website pages (or even entire sites) into interactive PDFs with working links. I tried this out on Creative Bloq's own homepage, and the homepage for Adobe's Creative Cloud. In both cases, the text was fine, but the images were completely absent. Disappointing.
Having said that, on simpler web pages without too many interactive features, such as the Wikipedia entry shown below, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC did a very accurate job of creating a PDF.
When it comes to editing PDFs, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is a dream. Literally: in decades past I have dreamed of being able to enter a PDF and delete, change and move elements about, just like you can do in a graphic design programme like InDesign. And with Adobe Acrobat Pro DC, that's not only possible, but very easy and intuitive.
You can insert, delete and reorder pages. You can edit text, add new text, and delete unwanted text, and the same with images. You can number your pages. You can insert watermarks, bookmarks, headers, footers, links to other documents and links to web pages.
You can remove backgrounds, add article boxes and attach files. You can split a PDF into multiple files. You can rotate images, bring them to the front and send them to the back. If you make any mistakes, good old Control-Z is there to reset everything.
Quite simply, I couldn't think of anything I wanted to do with a PDF that wasn't covered, and yet for anyone who's ever used a design tool, the interface is very simple and easy to follow.
Once you're done, you have the option of exporting your PDF in a variety of formats, including Microsoft Word (old and new versions), Excel (old and new versions), Powerpoint, jpg, TIFF, png, single or multiple HTML pages, and a number of text-only formats.
Sharing and collaboration
Want to share your PDFs with others? Adobe Acrobat Pro DC makes it easy to do so, either as an email attachment or as link within the Adobe Document Cloud, a free service that anyone can access. Rather than the standard 2GB of free storage, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC users get a whopping 100GB.
That means that as well as letting people view your PDFs, you can also let them collaborate on them by adding comments and @mentions. And if you have a lot of people who need to see your PDF, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC makes this easy to manage.
For instance, it allows you to send one email with one link to multiple reviewers. Everyone in this group will be able to annotate the same PDF wherever they are, on both desktop and mobile devices, without having to sign up for anything. You can get real-time updates when your PDF is opened, or comments have been added, and the software makes it easy to send reminders and update deadlines.
This sort of thing can get very complicated and confusing, so it's to Adobe's credit that they've recently put work into streamlining this process. And it shows: everything is nice and intuitive, and I had no reason to delve into the help files at any point. Okay it still takes a bit of time to get your head around it, but overall this is a far more efficient way to collaborate on a PDF than, say, sending multiple emails and attachments, which usually results in everyone getting hopelessly lost.
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is also nicely integrated with Adobe Sign, which is our number one choice when it comes to the best e-signature software. So if you need your PDFs signed by people electronically, you're well covered there too.
All the features of Acrobat Pro DC we've discussed so far are also present in the slightly cheaper Acrobat DC. But now let's look at the extra features you only get in Acrobat Pro DC.
Adobe Pro DC only features
Compare changes to PDFs
If you send out a lot of PDFs, and lots of people get to tweak them, it can be easy to lose sight of what's changed. That's where the handy 'Compare Files' tool comes in, which highlights exactly what the differences are between two PDFs for fast visual comparison.
You can compare multiple versions of a PDF file using either single page views or a side-by-side comparison view. It's very easy to use in practice, and you can even apply filters to view what’s changed, according to content type, images, text, annotations, or formatting.
Add audio, video, and 3D objects
If you're in the business of creating multimedia assets, you'll want the opportunity to add video, sound, and interactive content to your PDFs. And Adobe Acrobat Pro DC gives you just that option, either by adding files directly to your PDF or by linking to files on the web.
This is very easy to do. You just click Tools > Rich Media > Add 3D / Add Video / Add Sound, then select the area on the page where you want the media to appear. There are also advanced features such as being able to determine when the media is played and stopped, creating a black border around the content, and using Chapter Points to create markers in a video from which to launch specific actions (eg, in a training video they can link to additional information).
Acrobat Pro supports .mp3, .mov, and other files encoded in H.264. You can convert other file types into one of the supported formats by using Adobe Media Encoder.
Search scanned documents
Do you scan in a lot of text documents? Then you'll be pleased that Acrobat Pro DC allows you to convert them into editable PDFs. That means you can tweak the text if you need to, but perhaps more usefully, it means you can search for the text you're looking for. If you have a printed version of an instruction guide or corporate manual that runs to hundreds of pages, you'll probably find that function incredibly time-saving.
This function worked well for me in conjunction with the free Adobe Scan mobile phone app. I was particularly impressed with Acrobat Pro DC accurately transcribing two pages of the brilliant Hunger Games prequel, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes by Suzanne Collins, despite me having only opened the book partially and upside-down. Forty-one languages are currently recognised, including non-Roman scripts like Chinese and Japanese.
Redact sensitive content from PDFs
Whether you're a PR trying to keep details of an upcoming movie quiet, or a government official trying to protect state secrets, you may want to send out PDFs with certain sensitive content removed or redacted. Well, Adobe Acrobat Pro DC makes that easy to do, and provides a lot of granularity in how you approach it.
In place of the stuff you've removed, you can either have coloured boxes, or leave the area blank. In the case of the former, you can layer over custom text or redaction codes to make things clearer to the reader. If you need to remove a lot of repetitive material, you can automate thing using the 'Find + Redact' tool. You can also redact hidden content such as metadata, embedded content and attached files.
To be honest, this probably won't be a key feature for many people. But hey, if you're one of the few who'll find it useful, then you're definitely going to want Acrobat Pro DC.
Other Pro features
The four features above are the main advantages you get in subscribing to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC rather than Adobe Acrobat DC, along with the ability to run it on a Mac. But that's not quite the end of the story.
If you're concerned about pinpoint accuracy, there's a handy measuring tool in the Pro version that lets you measure the distance, area and perimeter of objects in PDFs, and guided actions to help you create PDFs consistently.
When it comes to PDF creation, you can also convert and validate PDFs for compliance with ISO standards like PDF/An and PDF/X; create technical PDFs in Microsoft Project, Visio or Autodesk AutoCAD; and create and validate PDFs to meet accessibility standards for people with disabilities.
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC pricing
Acrobat Pro DC is available for Windows and Mac for $14.99 / £15.17 a month on an annual subscription. The Windows-only Acrobat DC, meanwhile, costs $12.99 / £13.14 a month. If you want to try either software out, you can cancel within 14 days for a full refund.
Acrobat Pro DC is also available through the Creative Cloud, which provides access to the latest versions of Adobe applications for an annual subscription. The price of this varies from region to region, and month to month, so check out our roundup of the best Creative Cloud deals to get the best discount.
Should you get Adobe Acrobat Pro DC?
We'll get to the point. Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is quite simply the best PDF editor available today, for three main reasons.
Firstly, its range of features is quite simply unmatched by any other tool. Secondly, despite this apparent complexity, the interface is brilliantly designed, making it very straightforward to find what you're looking for, and perform the tasks you wish to perform. And thirdly, it joins up nicely with other Adobe tools, such as Adobe Sign and the Adobe Document Cloud, making your workflow as smooth and fuss-free as you could imagine.
So does that mean you should subscribe to it? Well, that really depends on what you wish to use it for.
As we've detailed above, most of what it offers can also be found in the cheaper Adobe Acrobat DC. So whether you wish to pay more really comes down to whether one or more specific features, such as being able to compare PDFs, search scanned documents, or redact information from documents, will actually be of use to you.
If not, then there really is no point in paying the extra price to subscribe to Adobe Acrobat Pro DC alone... Well, unless you're on a Mac, in which case it's your only choice, or if you have added reasons to subscribe to the Creative Cloud as a whole. Read more about these various options in our article how to download Adobe Acrobat.
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