In this article, we are going to look at a few widely used Acrobat Pro features that I look for in a real alternative:
- Text Recognition － Does the PDF editor recognize and allow editing of rasterized text?
- Combine PDFs － Can you combine multiple PDFs into one document?
- Fill and Sign － Does the editor allow you to fill the document without text boxes? Can you sign the document?
- Look and Feel － Obviously the most important feature, how pretty is the app?
#1. Apple Preview (Free, Mac Only)
Okay, first thing we need to look at is the app that is included on every Mac. Specifically, I am going to focus on Preview Version 11.0 (the version included with macOS Big Sur).
I use Preview for a lot, it can open many different file types, it isn't the best for any format specifically, but the fact that it can open so many files makes it useful.
The Preview app does not support OCR, so you can not edit the text in your documents which is definitely a bummer.
You can sorta combine PDFs. If your goal is to simply print multiple PDFs in one document and maybe deleting and reordering some pages, then Preview will work for you. But you are not fully combining the PDFs－the original PDFs still need to exist. If you intend to send the PDF via email, preview is not your answer.
Fill and Sign
Preview allows you to drop text boxes anywhere on the document, however, it does not support the fill functionality as seen in Acrobat.
The signature feature is great, they provide multiple ways to load your signature into Preview. My favorite method is to sign your name on a piece of paper and hold the paper up to your webcam. Preview then scans and digitizes your signature and allows you to resize it each time you add it too your document allowing you to sign anything. You can also create a signature via the trackpad on your Mac.
Look and feel
Apple makes beautiful apps. Preview is no exception, it is simple, clean, and functional. It also looks great in Dark Mode.
#2. PDF Expert ($79.99, Mac Only)
PDF Expert has been around for a while now. They are #10 in productivity on the Apple App Store and have been an Editor's Choice. PDF Expert truly is a direct competitor to Adobe Acrobat. The app has a similar layout－as are most PDF editors.
PDF Expert has great OCR support and has been able to read in text incredibly well. It even matches up fonts pretty well. Custom fonts come through as default text, but it still is great.
You can easily combine PDFs in PDF Expert. Simply open up 2 PDFs side by side, you can then drag pages from one side to the other resulting on one PDF. This PDF is truly merged and standalone.
Fill and Sign
With true fill support, you can quickly fill out forms sent to you. It intelligently determines form fields and highlights them for you to easily find. As for signatures, they provide 2 methods of adding your signature. You can either sign your name on your trackpad or type your name and allow them to generate a signature for you.
This is extremely useful if you are like me and have god-awful handwriting.
Look and feel
The app is clean and modern, also works great in Dark Mode on macOS Big Sur. It is lighter than Adobe Acrobat and also includes an iOS / iPadOS companion app which works great too.
#3. LibreOffice Draw (Free, Opensource)
LibreOffice is a very popular open-source Microsoft Office Alternative that has been around for a long time. LibreOffice Draw allows you to open and edit PDFs.