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An Adobe Acrobat alternatives overview: how to choose a tool that works for you

When PDF files first came out, there was only one software for processing them. Now that the market offers hundreds of PDF management solutions, there's the freedom to choose, but the right choice comes hard. Compare the key market players to find the best Adobe Acrobat alternative for professionally managing your document workflows.

The PDF’s (r)evolution

“PDF –three letters that continue to change the world.” This phrase on Adobe’s main page is so true that it’s more than just a simple slogan. Indeed, with the PDF’s upcoming 30th anniversary, it’s hard to imagine what an electronic document workflow could be without this file type. When Portable Document Format came into play in the early 1990s, a dream of having a versatile format turned into a revolution in data sharing as well as in the printing and publishing industries. It’s a technology that became the first significant step in today’s paperless work. For the foreseeable future, it’s here to stay since no one has been able to invent a better alternative to Adobe’s PDF format.
It all started in 1991 when John Warnock, one of Adobe Systems’ founders, published a paper called “The Camelot Project” dedicated to the problem of the disability “to communicate visual material between different computer applications and systems”. The thing was that documents created in one operational system could hardly be run in another one (Microsoft PCs and Macs didn’t work with each other), and even those created on different versions of the same software didn’t open and display properly. In his paper, J.Warnock wrote: “Imagine being able to send full text and graphics documents (newspapers, magazine articles, technical manuals, etc.) over electronic mail distribution networks. These documents could be viewed on any machine and any selected document could be printed locally. This capability would truly change the way information is managed.” So, Adobe started their Camelot project to create a file that could be viewable on any computer and easily printable on any printer. They presented a PDF 1.0 to the world at the COMDEX (abbr. from Computer Dealers' Exhibition) in 1992 and won the exhibition’s award for the best solution. In 2008 it was standardized as ISO 32000. That's how we got an excellent unified file format that easily combines various sorts of data (from text to images), which you can store and share with any software, operating system, or platform without losing the original formatting. And its evolution continues to progress.
Today the market offers all kinds of PDF-related solutions to choose from. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the most popular Adobe Acrobat alternatives, explore their greatest features, and compare their functionality and prices so you can make a reasonable decision.

Acrobat: the pioneer in PDF management

If you’re already familiar with Adobe’s product functionality and just looking for a different solution, you can just scroll past this block. Here we’ll make a general review of Acrobat and its most significant features before exploring a couple of the best Acrobat alternatives.
The Acrobat software family
For 30 years, Adobe Systems has been developing and improving the PDF to what we have now. Its PDF-managing software has inspired many competitors to appear in the last few decades. It evolved the Acrobat Reader (which used to only be a PDF viewer and very simple editor) into a large suite of software, with both subscription-based and free solutions for viewing, sharing, signing, and editing PDF files. It includes several independent products:
Adobe Acrobat DC. A paid solution for managing files in Portable Document Format. The DC abbreviation stands for the Document Cloud, a cloud-based platform for storing and sharing files within teams. It includes editing tools and an electronic signature solution.
It has a Standard DC version (with tools for creating, editing, and e-signing PDFs on Windows only) and a Pro DC package (Pro DC supports scanned file conversion and allows users to add media files to documents).
Adobe Acrobat 2020. A commonly-used desktop PDF editor without access to the cloud attributes and to the software’s mobile applications. It works with a perpetual license which means that you only pay once when acquiring the product, however, you won’t have access to its future upgrades. After installing the program, you have to activate it. Just as with the DC solutions, it has a feature-limited Standard version that works on Windows only and a more advanced Pro version that also works in macOS.
Adobe Acrobat Reader DC. This part of the software family is free of charge and can only be used for viewing and printing files in Portable Document Format.
Acrobat DC features
Acrobat is a feature-rich solution irrespective of the subscription plan you choose. Both the Standard and the Pro versions have all the necessary tools for creating, editing, merging, splitting, printing, and converting files from PDF to other formats and vice versa. You’ll find a standard package of editing tools such as adding notes and comments, adding or deleting text in the document, inserting images, page numbers, or headers. And, of course, they include e-signing capabilities and provide tools for quick sharing. These features are also commonly found in most of the larger apps similar to Adobe Acrobat.
However, there are several significant features showing that Acrobat Pro lives up to its name — professional. First of all, it contains OCR functionality (Optical Character Recognition). It means that the program transforms scanned documents into editable PDF files and recognizes text as it is, not as an image. Besides, the Pro version also has a language recognition option that allows users to search for text in a particular language. Among its features, there is also the ability to hide a part of a document that contains confidential information from some viewers. Plus, there’s an option of inserting audio and video content into a document.
Prices
Acrobat’s pricing policy is quite high compared to other industry solutions. There’s a free 7-day trial period after which users are charged according to their subscription plans.
The Standard plan costs $22.99 per month or $12.99 for an annual subscription paid monthly. An annual commitment paid in advance costs $155.88.
Acrobat Pro DC costs $24.99 per month but the price can be reduced to $14.99 with an annual commitment. The annual subscription goes for $179.88.
Why is it worth looking for Adobe Acrobat DC alternatives?
No matter how good a product is, it’s always great to have other options to choose from. This statement is true for everything, from food and beverage to software.
Despite the above-mentioned solutions having many essential features, users are often searching for an appropriate Adobe Acrobat replacement mostly because of its high prices.
The modern market is very competitive, which means that in a variety of tools you’ll definitely find the one that suits your needs best. But before you start searching for equivalents to Adobe Pro, ask yourself: What do you need to get done? How often are you going to use the application? Do you need desktop software or an online solution?

pdfFiller vs Adobe Acrobat

Unlike most of the alternatives to Adobe Acrobat that provide installable desktop software and offer web service as an extra option, pdfFiller is an online-only PDF management solution. The advantage of web-based services is that they don't require installation of any kind onto your computer and thus, are compatible with any operating system and device.
pdfFiller was founded in 2008 as a simple PDF editor similar to Adobe for helping users quickly fill out and share forms in Portable Document Format. Today, it has turned into a multi-functional tool with 10 million users and has become a part of the airSlate Business Cloud, an end-to-end platform integrated with the signNow e-signature solution, US Legal Forms’s library of state-specific legal forms, and the airSlate workflow automation solution.
pdfFiller functionality
pdfFiller has many essential features for professional PDF editing, signing, converting, and sharing. From the point of rich functionality, it’s a good Adobe Acrobat Pro alternative that can be used from anywhere, anytime.
To start, you need to create an account and pick a plan (you’ll get a 30-day free trial). You can also connect via your Google account or Facebook profile for faster signup.
pdfFiller has several options for uploading a file for editing. You can browse for it from your computer or mobile device, import it from the cloud (Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, or Box), take it from an email, from a third-party URL, or request a document from your partners or colleagues. There’s also an option to upload a state-specific form directly from the US Legal Forms library or an industry-specific form from the platform's own collection of templates.
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The platform has all the necessary tools for PDF editing: you can add text, insert images, highlight or blackout content, place check/cross marks, and e-sign documents. The interface is intuitive.
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pdfFiller has the most useful PDF editing features making it a great Adobe Acrobat replacement. However, it lacks such options as OCR and document comparison. But if you need to change the text in an original PDF file (not a scanned one), there’s a Replace Text option that can help you do that.
The service doesn’t support digital signature certificates but it allows users to apply legally-binding electronic signatures. You can sign your documents with an image of your handwritten signature, by drawing one, typing your full name, using a secure QR code, and even legally notarizing a form directly from the platform.
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Some of the options are available from the right-side toolbar: watermarks, page and Bates numbering, and the ability to add fillable fields. The service allows you to create a smart fillable form from any template, make fields required/optional for completing, set validation types, default values, add descriptions to each area, and much more.
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When the document is ready, you can click the Done button and choose what to do next with your PDF. pdfFiller has various options to share a file. In the toolbar on the right, you can choose to send a form via email, fax, SMS, United States Postal Service, or forward it directly to the Internal Revenue Service. With the Link to Fill option, you can also publish the form on your website for everyone to fill out.
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Apart from the cloud PDF editing service, pdfFiller also offers applications for desktops. To download these Adobe Reader alternatives for Windows/Mac, simply scroll down to the very bottom of pdfFiller’s web page or pick one from its features page. Once the installation process is complete, you’ll need to enter your login credentials to open the editor.
For users who often find themselves completing their documents on the go, the tool also offers mobile applications equivalent to the Acrobat apps. To install an up-to-date editor compatible with the latest versions of your iPhone/iPad/iPod, go to the App Store and search for the . Adobe Reader alternatives for Android are available on Google Play as well. After installing the app and logging into the account, you get access to your Dashboard and can manage files any time right from your smartphone.
Prices
pdfFiller offers three pricing options for users depending on their needs. The Basic subscription plan for one user has all the key features needed for filling out, editing, signing, and sharing PDFs. It costs $20 per month or only $8 if paid once a year.
The Plus plan for up to 3 users offers more features for form creation and protection, file conversion, signing link generation, etc. The plan costs $30 per month which’s discounted to $12 per month with a one-time annual payment.
The Premium subscription for up to 5 users has the most advanced functionality and grants access to signNow and US Legal Forms. This subscription costs $40 per month which is reduced to $15 per month with a one-time annual payment.
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Verdict
pdfFiller’s flexible pricing policy and rich functionality make it a good alternative to Adobe Acrobat professional software, especially for those looking for economical solutions. It is well- suited to individuals who want the freedom to complete tasks and access documents from anywhere: in the cloud, via a desktop program, or on a mobile application.

Foxit vs Adobe Acrobat

One of the biggest and very popular substitute programs to Adobe is Foxit Software Inc with its many features. It was founded in China, and in 2004 they released their first Foxit Reader for viewing, signing, and annotating files in Portable Document Format. Presently, the company offers a whole set of tools for generating and managing PDFs.
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The core PDF management products by Foxit Software are:
Foxit Reader. It’s a free multilanguage desktop solution for viewing, creating from scratch, filling out, annotating, and signing forms in Portable Document Format. This alternative to Adobe Reader is compatible with Windows, macOS, and Linux. It offers extra anti-malware software, which you can agree or decline to set up during the tool’s installation. One drawback is that it doesn’t support OCR.
The program is small and doesn’t take up space. It even has an MS Office-style toolbar. However, the interface is quite difficult to use and requires time to get accustomed to it.
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Foxit Reader allows users to approve their documents with electronic signatures with its own tool as well as with a DocuSign integration. Also, if you prefer even safer security, you can sign a PDF with a digital signature certificate under the Protect menu.
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Foxit Reader is a good equivalent to Acrobat Reader despite both tools being free. It has more extended functionality.
Foxit PDF Reader Mobile. The application is available for iOS and Android and includes the main features of Foxit Reader and PhantomPDF tools.
Foxit PhantomPDF. A desktop application with extended functionality compared to the Foxit Reader, making it a great Adobe Acrobat Pro alternative. Just like Acrobat DC solutions, it has different software installation packages for Windows and macOS users.
Naturally, the program has a full suite of primary document management elements for creating, annotating, electronically signing, combining, arranging, protecting, and sharing PDFs. It also provides users with sophisticated options such as Optical Character Recognition. While editing a PDF, you can change the position of the document elements/blocks on the page, moving and replacing one with another.
The program automatically converts various files and email attachments into a PDF right when you drag and drop them to the platform. It also allows to create a fillable form from any text document, add extra fields, and quickly fill them out with the Run Form Field Recognition option. Additionally, PhantomPDF helps users to make forms and reports accessible for people with disabilities. And, as a software similar to Acrobat Pro, it also lets you hide sensitive information from some viewers without blacking out or deleting it.
Foxit PDF Compressor. A separate tool with OCR capabilities to compress and convert PDF files. It helps to transform emails and scanned files into searchable tagged PDF forms. It also helps when it comes to scanning papers and pictures with higher resolution. The tool was created for enterprises that need to constantly archive tons of documents. This service can’t be a full-fledged Adobe Acrobat replacement due to it being focused on specific options included in Acrobat’s functionality.
Developer Solutions. Foxit offers a range of SDK tools (Software Development Kits) for developers who create custom PDF solutions.
Prices
Foxit Reader is unlimited in terms of time usage and free for download. Any upgrade with additional features and extended functionality comes at a charge.
Foxit PhantomPDF has several subscriptions to choose from after your 14-day free trial expires. The Standard plan costs $139.00 for a one-time purchase, a yearly subscription costs $99.00, and a monthly one bills $14.99. The Business account offers extended PDF management capabilities for enterprises for $179.00 with a one-time purchase. Its yearly subscription costs $179.00, and a monthly plan goes for $16.99. These two plans are available for Windows users only. The PhantomPDF for Mac4 has the same pricing policy as the Standard Plan.
Verdict
Comparing Foxit vs Adobe, they both have rich functionality, and PhantomPDF can be a good replacement for Adobe’s tools. However, their pricing policies are almost the same so if you’re looking for a more affordable alternative to the Adobe Acrobat Pro solution, then it’s better to look for other solutions.

Nitro Pro vs Adobe Acrobat

Nitro Pro is a popular Adobe Acrobat Pro alternative, a desktop PDF software from the Australian Nitro Software company. Its main difference from other tools is that it works exceptionally on Windows OS. Today, Nitro offers the following products:
Nitro PDF Reader was the Adobe Reader alternative from 2005 till 2017( when the company stopped the project). However, it’s still available as a feature-limited tool, free even after the trial expires. It serves only for PDF viewing, printing, sharing, highlighting, signing, and adding notes to a document. Users can have more features by switching to the Pro account.
Nitro Pro is a desktop application that includes all features for PDF creation, editing, converting, e-signing, and sharing. The program’s interface is similar to Foxit and has the MS Office menu style.
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Its 14-day free trial is limited to simple editing tools, file conversion, document signing, and sharing. All extended capabilities such as OCR, fillable form creation, password and watermark protection, etc., become available after a subscription is purchased.
The program allows users to compare several versions of a PDF file or two different documents. It’s possible to compare visual objects such as scans and images, as well as text documents and their content.
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Unlike Acrobat or Foxit tools, Nitro Pro only offers digital signature certificates and digital IDs for document approval. Users can also add a list of trusted contacts to securely share sensitive documents with.
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After installing the soft, you can create a Nitro Pro account to have access to your documents online from anywhere. Generally, the software has many useful features and can be a nice substitute to Acrobat Pro.
Nitro Sign is a browser-based solution for digital document approval that also allows users to fill out, comment, annotate, and share templates. As it doesn’t require installation, this solution is available for macOS users. It can’t be a real alternative to Adobe Acrobat Pro, but it can substitute Adobe Sign.
Nitro Productivity Suite is a Team or Enterprise subscription for 20+ users that combines Nitro Pro functionality with unlimited e-signing capabilities.
Prices
The Nitro Pro software has several pricing plans. The standard Nitro Pro has a perpetual one-time cost of $159 per user (for up to 20 users). The 4 Pack (three licenses +1 free) for $453 and the 10 Pack Nitro Pro (8 licenses + 2 free) for $1,208 can be a cheaper equivalent to Adobe Acrobat DC for small teams. Companies with 20+ users and large enterprises should contact a Sales representative to get a suitable pricing offer.
Nitro Sign offers annual subscriptions for Individual plans ($10 per month), Team plans ($20 per user per month), and Enterprise accounts (contact their Sales team).
Verdict
Apart from the usual editing tools, Nitro Pro has most of Acrobat’s extended features, including digital signature certificates, document comparisons, and OCR. The paid subscription is a bit cheaper than the Acrobat Pro and their functionality is also generally similar. So, Nitro Pro can be a real substitute to Acrobat Pro.
The Nitro free version has fewer capabilities compared to the paid packages, so it corresponds to Adobe's free tool and is a good alternative to Acrobat Reader.
Here are just a couple of examples of free Adobe Acrobat alternatives:
PDF2GO is an online platform for PDF editing, merging, splitting, and converting. The free paid plans give access to all tools but with a limited number of files that can be processed at a time. Although the service doesn't provide e-signing tools, it can be a kind of replacement for sophisticated PDF editors if you need to modify a couple of documents here and there.
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AltoPDF is a platform with a suite of free tools for online PDF management. It’s very fast and simple-to-use. Each component has a single-function purpose, like converting PDF to Excel, where you just drop the original file and get a modified one ready for download in a few seconds. The service also has a web-page for applying e-signatures. It’s a good Adobe Acrobat DC alternative for those who need a quick PDF editor.
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There are many other cheaper services like Adobe Acrobat available on the web. As you see from the examples, they’re often limited in user capabilities, however, very handy for quick and simple document modifications while on the go.

To conclude

PDF started a revolution in how electronic information was sent and received. In the early 1990s, there was a strong demand for a unified file format to properly work on whatever system and device, with whatever type of data. Adobe Systems was the one who stepped up and saved the day.
Adobe developed the first program for viewing and editing PDF files. During the first years, there was no real equivalent to Adobe Acrobat. But with the PDF's development and popularity, the number of competitors has risen.
Competition leads the market forward and speeds up technological growth. Today, there are hundreds of desktop and online solutions for PDF editing that keep improving their features and creating new approaches to PDF management.
It’s hard to find the best Acrobat alternative. But does an ideal solution exist? For individuals, small companies, and large enterprises "the best solutions" differ a lot. To find the one that perfectly suits you, try to analyze your needs: do you need a desktop application or a quick online service to work from anywhere? How often are you going to use it? What are your professional demands?
In this article, we’ve only just explored the most popular software similar to Adobe Acrobat. If your goal is to constantly create many professional documents, like brochures, books, and others of that kind, a desktop program may suit you. Comparing Nitro Pro and Foxit vs Adobe, it’s obvious that they're quite similar, and you can easily replace one tool with another. For macOS users, the choice is harder because Nitro and Foxit are mostly focused on Windows OS users.
For more economical solutions, online tools are a better choice than installable software. pdfFiller is among the most distinct examples of online Adobe Acrobat replacements because of its rich functionality and affordable prices. Even though lacking some of Adobe's extended features, pdfFiller provides users with the highest capabilities, including desktop and mobile applications for any OS and device.
Online platforms also offer many free Adobe Acrobat alternative solutions. These services are fast and easy-to-use but they lack some sophistication. Their advantage is being accessible from anywhere, anytime. A great choice for agile teams.
We can’t tell you what service to choose or which one is the best Acrobat alternative; every tool has its pros and cons, and each of the above-mentioned solutions has its grateful users. We can give you just a small piece of advice on how to make the most reasonable decision:
01
Navigate through the websites of several Adobe Acrobat DC competitors, look at what they offer and what their prices are.
02
Explore user reviews on trusted platforms, such as Trustpilot and Capterra.
03
Give several tools a try. Sign up for a free trial and find the most convenient service.
Choose the most efficient solution for you!