PDF has become the de facto standard for publishing electronic documents. Adobe created the file format and their Reader software enjoys a near-monopoly on reading PDF documents. But did you know that PDF is an open file format, allowing anyone to create applications that read and write PDF files?
Many consider Adobe Reader a pain to work with. It is slow to start, feels bloated and unresponsive, has little support for editing, clogging your system with background processes and constantly requires attention for updates that fix security issues. If you agree on this, then you definately should look for an alternative PDF viewer!
There are many PDF readers to choose from. In this post I’ll talk about two PDF readers I really like, and explain why I prefer them to other readers.
Sumatra PDF is without a doubt my favorite PDF reader, and it has changed the way I view and manage PDF’s. This open source application is super fast and very easy to use, with excellent hotkey support and nice usability features such as opening documents at the same position from where you previously left. In addition to PDF, Sumatra is able to read many other document formats: eBook (ePub, Mobi), XPS, DjVu, CHM, Comic Book (CBZ and CBR), which makes it the most versatile document viewer that I know of. Compatibility is excellent, although some advanced features such as filling out forms and annotations are missing. But for the 99% of the time you don’t need such features, SumatraPDF is a real gem! It is also actively developed adding new features all the time.
To make Sumatra PDF even better, here’s a tip: start the program once with the command line “Sumatra.exe -esc-to-exit“. This makes it work more along the lines of a typical image viewer, allowing you to close the program with the escape key. Together the with non-existing load times this makes handling PDF’s a joy! (You can even press Ctrl+Shift+Left/Right to open the next pdf in the folder to mimic the PgUp/PgDown in most image viewers!)
The other program I want to highlight is called PDF-XChange Viewer. It’s not as fast as SumatraPDF and I’m not sure I would recommend it as your main PDF viewer, but it does offers a number of features that you usually have to pay for in other programs. The main reason to use it is for the annotation features. You can highlight text, add new text, draw boxes and other figures and so on. You can also flip pages and edit the metadata. Another handy feature is the ability to search all PDFs in a folder. One nice feature is if you have a PDF consisting of scanned documents, you can use the built in OCR feature to add a text layer to the PDF that you can then copy, search or highlight.
Unlike other similar applications, the free version does not add a watermark when saving the document, currently making XChange the best choice for editing PDF’s that I have found yet. There is a paid version with even more functionality, but I find that the free version contains everything I needed so far. But beware! The installer installer includes ad-ware that you need to uncheck in the advanced settings to avoid.
Both SumatraPDF and PDF-XChange Viewer are available in portable versions as well. (If you don’t know what a portable application is, read this post for an explanation). I especially recommend getting the portable version of PDF-XChange Viewer (direct link), since it does not include the ad-ware included with the installer version.
Other PDF Utilties
There are some more applications that I want to talk about. These utilities complete my “PDF toolbox”, so I want to share them too. For more utilities you can visit Gizmo’s Freeware. If you are looking for a specific feature, chances are you can find it there! If you know of a must-have PDF software that I missed, please share in the comments!
If you need a way to create PDF documents yourself, most convenient is to install virtual printer. This allows you to “print” to PDF-files instead of a physical printer, and this works from any print-capable application! There are many to choose from. Having researched the market I chose doPDF. It works, although sometimes it acts strange and a bit annoying. But it does have one big advantage over most other pdf-printers, and that is it does not depend on GhostScript. You see, most other pdf-printers require that you install a quite large package called GhostScript, since the software itself simply acts as a frontend for GhostScript. So if you don’t want to pollute your system with unnecessary stuff, and you only have modest requirements when it comes to creating pdf documents, then give doPDF a try!
Another recommendation is the (rather macabre named) utility Briss. With this you can remove the margins of documents, which is useful to make the most out of your screen real estate.
Finally, if you come by a PDF containing images that you want to keep, you might want to take a look at PDF Image Extraction Wizard. This is a utility that I created myself because I was irritated by the fact that I could not get to the original images embedded in PDF’s and save them as separate image files without loosing any quality. It turned out I was not the only one wanting such a feature!
Before I found these tools, I thought working with PDF’s was a pain. The feeling of not being in control caused me to stay away from PDF documents in general and Adobe (Acrobat) Reader in particular. But now, with these in my toolbox, I feel can finally handle PDF’s in a convenient and enjoyable way!