For probably the better part of 15 years, PDF has been the de facto standard for sharing, e-mailing, and printing documents. It is a well-supported format, and Linux distributions have been able to read them since, well, since forever! The only problem is, while Windows and MacOS machines can easily buy and install Adobe Acrobat Pro, there is no native Linux version. Still, there are a few good Linux PDF editors available, and I had a go at testing them for you.
For the purposes of this article, I tested a variety of Linux PDF editors, both open-source and proprietary, with two PDF documents, a PDF generated by Wikipedia, as well as a large PDF from Adobe with many pages and images, in order to see how each program handled them. In this way, readers can see what happens when each program edits a PDF.
5 Best Linux PDF Editors
This, then is what happened when I attempted to open each document in each of the following programs:
1. LibreOffice Draw
Most Linux distributions these days come with LibreOffice pre-installed, and for those that don’t, it is usually easily installed via a Software Centre or Application Store. Best of all, for the past few years or so, LibreOffice’s Draw component has been able to import and edit PDFs!
LibreOffice Draw did a reasonably good job at importing the Wikipedia-generated PDF. It wasn’t perfect - far from it - but it was readable. The large PDF with all the images was a struggle, unfortunately. Draw struggled so much that it hung each time, and I was unable to open and edit that PDF at all.
The good news, however, is that Draw does a very good job at importing PDF’s created by office suites like Microsoft Office and LibreOffice. I have done so very successfully in the past. Thus, in many use-cases, Draw could probably work just fine!
Inkscape is a really well-rounded vector graphics program, and it is used by graphic design professionals all around the world daily. I highly recommend it for such work, and best of all, it can import and edit PDFs! So perhaps should work good as a Linux PDF editor. Let's see!
It was able to import both test documents very well and incredibly accurately. The only thing that might bother some people is that Inkscape is not a multi-page document editor, like Word or LibreOffice Draw, so it only imports one page at a time. That hasn’t bothered me, however, and in the past I have edited many PDF’s page-by-page, just putting all the pages together again afterwards with a tool like pdftk.
3. Master PDF Editor
The first proprietary application on this list, Master PDF Editor is an almost perfect drop-in replacement for Adobe Acrobat Pro. It runs on Linux, Windows, and Mac, and has commercial support.
It was able to flawlessly (as far as I could see) import any PDF’s I could throw at it, including things like annotations and fonts, and I was able to edit as much as I wanted. This is a quality product and, in my opinion, if you decide to buy it, it is money well spent.
4. Qoppa PDF Studio 11
The second proprietary application on this list, and also a paid option, PDF Studio 11 also appears to be written to be a full replacement for Adobe Acrobat Pro, like Master PDF Editor. It is also a mature application with commercial support.
The Pro version has all the features that Adobe Acrobat Pro and Master PDF Editor have as far as I can see, and it opened the test documents just as flawlessly as Master PDF Editor did. This is also a quality product and will probably suit you well if you decide to buy it.
5. PDF Chain
This list would not be complete without mentioning the pdftk tool and the best Linux graphical frontend for it, PDF Chain.
This is a simple but powerful application, but it is not a full-blown graphical editor as the other applications listed here - its usefulness lies elsewhere. It can split a PDF into smaller documents, or merge two into one. It can add backgrounds, stamps, or edit the PDF info, or dump the form data in a PDF, among the many things it can do.
All in all, a really great application if you don’t want to edit the text or images in a PDF. I highly recommend it.
So, is one of these applications better than the others? Well, I suppose it depends on what you want to do.
Do you just want to edit a word or image in a PDF that someone created in Microsoft Word? You will probably do great with LibreOffice Draw or Inkscape.
Do you want to use something similar to Adobe Acrobat Pro, and be able to fully edit almost all PDF’s in any way you want? You might have to buy Master PDF Editor or PDF Studio 11.
Do you want to merge two PDF documents in one? You should try PDF Chain (or pdftk if you prefer the command line).
These are all in their own right good PDF editors - you just need to choose which one will suit you best. If it doesn't work for you, try another!