PDF Editors Compared
This mini-review is based on the very small number of manipulations which I need to perform on PDFs. Although I have neither the time nor expertise to write a thorough comparative review of PDF applications, my needs are extremely common and thus this review should be useful to many people.
By far my most common needs involve manipulating pages in scanned files (created using my fScanX® scanning software):
I also occasionally need to redact private information from documents, using a true redaction function that actually removes text from the document rather then merely covering it up by a graphic overlay.
I will cover these actions for Adobe Acrobat, Preview, PDFPen, PDF Nomad, WonderShare, & PDF Studio, and assign each application a letter grade. (Also: Proview, PDFGenius, PDF-Suite, & PDF Editor are listed as “N/R” (not rated) because they do not have the features I am rating, or do not provide a free trial.
For non-US visitors, the grades are “A” for best, “B” for superior, “C” for average, “D” for poor, “F” for failure.
For those who are impatient, the simple summary is: do not buy Adobe Acrobat, do buy PDFPen.
Adobe Acrobat® (versions 7, 8, 9, X & XI): F
In addition to the high price and horrendous user interface with functions scattered around multiple tabs within multiple layers of dialogs with mixed metaphors accessed from a mish-mash of menus and toolbars and panels, Acrobat has a serious data-corrupting bug that is triggered by my uses. If you are using Acrobat, stop right now, read the rest of this review, and consider switching to another application.
In documents which are structured in a certain way, re-ordering pages will result in a corrupted PDF. When Acrobat saves the file, it will either drop a page or add a “phantom” blank page. (The correct pages are actually written to the file, but the data structure that references those pages will have an incorrect page count.) This defect by itself is fatal and should disqualify Acrobat from your consideration.
By “structured in a certain way”, what I mean is “the result of using the most straightforward way of appending new pages to the end of an existing PDF document”. And of course that’s exactly what fScanX’s “Append” function does.
Acrobat respects the compression settings used in your PDFs, and so does not increase your file sizes. (Acrobat has so-called “optimization” features which are intended to decrease file size, and these do of course change compression settings, but you must invoke them explicitly. The quality degradation from some of these optimizations will be the subject of a future article.)
Prior to version X of Acrobat, redaction was problematic with text documents, in that the nearest word or words on the line below the text which you were redacting would disappear. Versions X and XI correct this problem. Acrobat also has a “search & redact” feature which is very convenient for quickly redacting all occurrences of given data. And finally, it has good tools for finding and clearing confidential data in the metadata of the document.
Preview is free, installed on your Mac, has a straightforward interface, and, as far as I know, does not corrupt documents.
Preview re-compresses black-and-white documents with a poor choice of compression algorithm any time you make a change. So any change you make to a black-and-white document scanned with fScanX will result in a file that is typically 3-5 times larger.
Of course Preview also re-compresses color and grayscale files, but in the case of files created by fScanX, the increase is only about 10%, while with files previously optimized by Acrobat, the increase is closer to 50%.
Preview has no redaction function.
PDFPen respects the compression settings used in your PDFs, and so does not increase your file sizes.
PDFPen has a redaction function that works well with only a single exception that I could find having to do with very old PDFs generated from an extremely obscure set of software (pre-dating OS X), where PDFPen had some difficulties with selecting text and shifting the text next to the redaction. Based on my experience I believe that if you need to redact text in a PDF, your odds are about 99.9% that PDFPen will work perfectly.
PDFPen also has a redact function integrated into its search interface, making “search & redact” functionality very convenient. But it does not have quite the same functonality as Acrobat does for stripping metadata.
WonderShare respects the compression settings used in your PDFs, and so does not increase your file sizes.
WonderShare has no redaction function.
PDF Studio: C-
PDF Studio bears the distinction of being the only PDF editor I found that is a port based on some kind of cross-platform framework, and so looks much more like an ugly Windows or Linux/Java application.
That said, it does properly respect the compression settings used in your PDFs, and so does not increase your file sizes.
PDF Studio has no redaction function.
PDF Nomad: D
PDF Nomad re-compresses black-and-white documents with a poor choice of compression algorithm any time you make a change. So any change you make to a black-and-white document scanned with fScanX will typically result in a file that is 3-5 times larger.
Of course PDF Nomad also re-compresses color and grayscale files, but in the case of files created by fScanX, the increase is only about 10%, while with files previously optimized by Acrobat, the increase is closer to 50%.
PDF Nomad has no redaction function.
Could not figure out any way to re-order pages; does not have a redact function.
Does not offer a free trial.
Does not offer a free trial.
PDF Editor: N/A
Does not offer a free trial.
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