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Editing PDF files the easy way


Sometimes PDFs just don't turn out as one wants them to. Editing PDFs can be quite a pain, though – the format is primarily designed for viewing, not for editing. However, there's an application which makes PDF editing as convenient as in a word processor: FlexiPDF.

There are many reasons why you'd want to edit a PDF file: PDFs created from web pages seldomly come out just right. Invoices saved as PDF include unnecessary footers and links. Online articles saved for future reference may have parts of the text covered by banner ads.

Another motivation to edit PDFs can be to condense a document by getting rid of cover pages or by removing unneeded chapters. Or perhaps you want to extract a paragraph to quote it in a term paper. Or you need a logo from a PDF for a presentation. Or perhaps you need to translate a document and all that you were given was a PDF file (true story).

Then there's the moment when you realize there's a typo in your otherwise perfect PDF and you really don't want to fire up your desktop publishing package just to fix that tiny mistake. Face it: You need a PDF editor.

Get the basics for free

FreePDF is a Windows application to address basic issues with PDF files. As indicated by the name, it's completely free – simply enter your e-mail, download the installer and activate the application with the code you receive in your inbox.

With FreePDF, you can remove and rearrange pages, remove text boxes and images or move them around. You can add new text and graphic elements to the document, such as notes, drawings or images. You can also use the application to fill out forms.

FreePDF's main limitation is that text cannot be edited.

Fix a "tpyo" in your PDF

For text editing however, FreePDF has a commercial sibling: FlexiPDF. Its additional features include inserting blank pages, spell-checking documents and tracking editing changes between multiple versions of a PDF. The program also offers the option to search and replace text – even across multiple files.

Most importantly, FlexiPDF offers numerous export options. PDFs can be saved as TextMaker, Microsoft Word, HTML and ePUB e-book documents. It is also possible to export images as JPEG, PNG or TIF.

FlexiPDF: Extract image

For the serious stuff: FlexiPDF Professional

Advanced users may need additional features such as the ability to compare PDFs side-by-side, add continuous page numbers, embed watermarks or include Bates numbering for indexing documents. This is where FlexiPDF Professional shines.

FlexiPDF Professional contains an OCR engine which can convert image-based PDFs such as magazine or invoice scans into editable text. It also works with PDFs where all text has been transformed into vector shapes. FlexiPDF Professional can also create interactive PDF forms.

Additional features include the ability to securely redact sensitive information in PDFs by blacking out confidential info. Translators will appreciate the possibility to export content for translation in external translation software such as memoQ or SDL Trados.

A full feature comparison matrix between FreePDF, FlexiPDF and FlexiPDF Professional is available online.

How it works

The Windows installer installs both the application and a virtual printer driver. This means that you can take any document, open the print dialog, choose "FlexiPDF" as your printer and the file will immediately open for editing in FreePDF or FlexiPDF, respectively.

Using FreePDF, you can edit the PDF by creating annotation text blocks, deleting superfluous text, images or pages, and rearranging page elements as needed. Once you are done, you can add password protection to the PDF to keep third parties from tampering with the file.

FlexiPDF: Remove block (before)

Here's a simple example: This PDF from a Time Magazine online article contains banner ads across all pages, covering crucial text. Pick the Object tool (keyboard shortcut: V) and click on the element you want to get rid of. Press the Del key to see whether you've selected the right element. If you've accidentally deleted some of the page's content, you simply choose Edit > Undo or Ctrl+Z, click on a different element and try again.

You can also draw a selection rectangle around the elements you want to remove. If you realize you have also selected parts of the page which you want to keep, keep the Shift key on your keyboard pressed and click on the page elements you want to keep. Once you're done, you can press Del again to remove the elements.

FlexiPDF: Remove block (after)

With FreePDF, you will have to do this for every page which contains the offending element. With FlexiPDF, you can shorten the process by first selecting your elements, then choosing Edit > Delete across pages to remove the element consistently across the document.

A word of caution, however: If the selected element overlaps another page element, "Delete across pages" may delete the contents below the element you want to remove. In this case, you should revert to the original version of the document (File > Revert to Saved) and remove the elements manually.

FreePDF can be used to edit and delete pages and page elements, but it is unable to edit existing text. If you need this feature, FlexiPDF is your solution.

Editing text in FlexiPDF

In many cases, PDF conversion breaks up continuous text into separate blocks and, on occasion, even turns every line into its own text block. This makes text editing cumbersome.

However, FlexiPDF provides tools to quickly fix this situation. "Link text" makes text flow from one text box into another. You select the tool from the toolbar, click on the first text frame and then on the following frames. The order of the linked frames is confirmed by large numbers within each text block. You can modify the sequence by clicking on them repeatedly.

If the text is broken up into lines, this approach may take too much time. This is where the text box rebuild feature comes in. Choose the Text edit tool from the toolbar.

FlexiPDF: Link text (before)

Draw a text box around the text blocks you want to merge. Next, choose Text > Text Box > Rebuild from the menu (shortcut key: Ctrl+Shift+B). After a moment, the separate text boxes are merged into a single, editable text box, usually without changing the page's layout. Isn't that nifty?

FlexiPDF: Link text (after)

Give it a whirl! If you haven't downloaded FreePDF yet, you can get it free of charge here.

If your needs advance, consider FlexiPDF, SoftMaker's full-featured PDF editor. Its trial version is free for the taking.

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