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aToad #31: pdfescape, pdf2png, ilovepdf

Online services (“SaaS”, yuck) to edit, convert, split, merge, etc. PDF files

In my opinion, PDF is the most toxic file format ever. Not that it’s not convenient to share files that truly don’t need to be edited ever: that’s what it was created for, and at that it is decent enough. But so many people and companies use it all the fucking time to distribute bloody forms, which, as the name implies, will for sure need to be edited.

Of course, if you have the money and disk space to waste (and don’t mind installing software that poops all over your computer), you can get the official Acrobat Pro or Standard software for around 25$ a month (subscription-based local software, even more yuck than SaaS). Or they also do sell rent a SaaS version indeed. But unless you spend your days manipulating someone else’s PDFs, you can probably manage with a bunch of free tools.

I didn’t make an exhaustive comparison, the following are mostly the first tools that I found and that were fit for the job and/or tools that friends recommended me, but let’s say I’m happy enough with them. As happy as I can be when a dickhead shoves a PDF down my throat anyway.

  • PDF Escape: a PDF editor with all the basic features I ever needed: add text, fill form fields, add pictures. The user interface isn’t that great and there are a few bugs (notably, last time I used it, the whiteout zones didn’t appear in the final PDF when I opened it in Sumatra), but still they’re not major bugs and it works fine in Firefox.
  • PDF to PNG: as the name suggests, useful to convert a PDF to a PNG render. Damn useful because the assholes who give you PDF forms often want you to print them and scan them. It’s 2022 and I don’t have a printer, money is better spent elsewhere. That site also has a few other converters and tools, like PDF to and from DOC, JPG, PNG, a PDF compressor (this one is also nice for when people give you huge PDFs to send them back but put a silly low size cap on the form to send it back) and a PDF combiner / merger
  • I Love PDF: what an ironic name. Has all the tools of the previous 2 (except the PDF to PNG conversion, it only does JPG for some reason) and more, notably splitting a PDF and extracting or reordering pages

Last but not least, obviously there are privacy/security concerns with uploading your data to someone else’s computer. It’s obvious but it has to be said.
Unfortunately, I’m not aware of good and free PDF editors that you can run locally, although I was able to do some really nice edits with Inkscape… at the cost of spending way more time on it than I wish I had: that’s a tool for when you need to edit a PDF in a way that it looks like it hasn’t been edited, not for when you just need to fill a form. But otherwise, you can find tools, like PDF Suite 2021, that sell a lifetime license at the price of once month of Acrobat subscription, so that could be worth the try.

Posted in A Tool A Day, Adobe.

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