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I typically have two needs:

Scenario A. Change a single PDF page.

In this case I have a PDF but not the original source file used to create the PDF. I don't want to try to recreate the document from scratch. I'd like to open the PDF and change a few things. A good example of this scenario: I was responsible for planning a big event at a campground site, I had a PDF of the site. I wanted to start with that document, highlight some parts, add some labels, remove some parts that weren't relevant.

or

Scenario B. Combine PDFs or extract page(s) from a PDF

This scenario usually arises because I want a single PDF deliverable that is made up of parts that are best created in different programs. In this case I have the source files for all the documents but they don't play well enough together to easily create a single PDF deliverable. For part of it, I may want to use Libre Office Writer. For another page I may want to use Gimp. Still another page I may use Libre Office Calc. I could use Writer as the master document and embed images or the Calc object into that, but for ultimate control, you can't beat separate PDF documents that are then combined.

What are the best tools / processes for editing PDFs in Ubuntu?

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Care to add your answer to here: askubuntu.com/questions/72920/… and flag this for closure as a dupe of the first? You can also edit the title and the question a tiny bit on the other side. That will make things more consistence and make sure that the information is located on one place. –  Bruno Pereira Jul 10 '12 at 15:57
    
I'm all for putting the best information together so people don't have to go to 10 places to get it... In this case, for me to change that question into my question would leave the other comments and solutions making little sense, no? –  snowguy Jul 10 '12 at 16:39
    
We can clean it up, or possibly merge the other post in to this one, if you want you can have a look and let me know what you think it would be a good solution, I'm all ears. –  Bruno Pereira Jul 10 '12 at 16:41
    
I don't have further time to work on this today but will tomorrow. I posted to help the community and definitely don't want to instead create more confusion with dupes. I do feel that the other question (redacting) is a very specific question and many of the answers address issues specific to redacting (vs modification in general). I'll give it some thought, but I am new here. I am happy to take your advice. So let me know how you think is best to solve. thanks. –  snowguy Jul 10 '12 at 16:51
    
I will clean it tonight, if you see your post closed for some reason please just move your question to the other one. Its nice information and very well formatted, its really appreciated. And don't forget, we can revert anything on the site (most of it) so if you don't agree we can always change a thing or 2. –  Bruno Pereira Jul 10 '12 at 16:53

9 Answers 9

up vote 29 down vote accepted

I feel like I have tried every possible free pdf solution on Ubuntu. Some seem to have great potential but at the end of the day are just too buggy or complex. These four solutions for me have passed the test of time:

PDF-shuffler I do a lot of combining of PDF documents (as in the Scenario B) and I find PDF-shuffler simple and convenient. I have also used it to extract pages out of a larger pdf document and it works well there too. The PDF-shuffler GUI is simple and it works consistently.

pdftk Despite my love for PDF-shuffler, I turn to the command line when Scenario B situations get at all complicated. You can't beat pdftk for its ability to handle the basic manipulation of pdf files. And, as you'd expect, it is much faster than any GUI which becomes more critical as the files become larger. Don't be intimidated by the command line. Many of the tools for editing PDF are more difficult to figure out how to use than opening up the terminal and then using one of the examples on the pdftk site as a template to do what you want.

gimp Sometimes for Scenario A you just want to convert the PDF into an image and then manipulate the image. If you don't know the difference between a vector graphic and an image, you probably want to convert to an image and GIMP does a good job of that. When you open a PDF with GIMP it will give you some choices about how you want to convert it. Pay attention to the resolution option. Choose a higher number for a larger file size and a more detailed image.

inkscape The truth is, there isn't a super easy way to edit PDF files following scenario A above. That is because PDF is a universal format and some of the structure of the document is lost when it is converted to PDF. A simple example: if you take a 3 page report and convert it to a PDF you have broken the links between the text on each page. If you edit the PDF version of it and delete a paragraph on the first page the text from pages 2 and 3 won't automatically flow onto the first page. It would be much easier to edit that document in the original program used to create it.

But for whatever reason, you don't have the original document so you are stuck working off of a PDF. So set your expectations appropriately when editing a PDF document following scenario A.

Once you set your expectations accordingly, you'll see that inkscape is the best tool for most jobs here. It will allow you to import a single page of the PDF document as an inkscape vector graphic. There will be a few things grouped together that don't really make sense, and you may have to change some fonts (assuming you don't have the original fonts installed), but really it is slick.

There is a learning curve to Inkscape but the truth is that you can't manipulate PDF without using some program with a learning curve. For my time, I'd prefer to invest that in learning Inkscape--a great application for creating vector graphics that can come in handy for lots of different scenarios--than I would in trying to figure out how to use a special tool just for editing PDFs.

Good luck

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I'm a little late in the game here, but recently stumbled across this question while googling it for myself. For what it's worth, I would like to recommend Xournal for the first scenario.

It should be in the software center, or you can simply run the following from a terminal:

sudo apt-get install xournal

Besides that, I'm going to second everyone else's recommendation for pdfshuffler and pdftk for the second scenario.

Hope this helps!

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excellent, free PDF annotation software and if you have a touch screen you can even sign off your docs just like on paper!!! –  champost yesterday

I was impressed with LibreOffice Draw:

sudo apt-get install libreoffice

Just open the pdf, edit, and export as pdf.

The editing tools appear in a toolbar at the bottom of the window (took me some time to find it...)

Relevant feature set I have found so far (Ubuntu 13.04, LibreOffice 4.0.2.2):

  • remove pages. Right click on the page on the left page list > Delete page

  • change page order. Drag drop pages on the page list

  • edit existing text fields (edit text, formatting and position). Just click twice with the select tool to enter edit mode.

  • add new text fields. Choose the text tool at the bottom (T), select the desired text area, and write.

  • edit non text fields objects like lines or bullets.

I could not find an extremely convenient highlight method, but you could get away with editing text attributes like setting the colour red and boldface. I could not change the background colour tough.

If I missed good features, please edit and add them!

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For "scenario A", LibreOffice pdf-importer (you might have to install it separately if have the Ubuntu pre-installed or the PPA), and for "scenario B" pdftk is the simplest (yet very powerful). Alternatively, for "scenario A" Inkscape in some cases. –  carnendil Apr 29 '13 at 17:44
    
if anyone knows, please add installation procedure, I installed long ago and I don't remember exactly how. I don't think I added the pdf importer explicitly tough, but I may be mistaken –  Ciro Santilli Apr 29 '13 at 19:47
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If you are not installing the Community-provided LibreOffice (i.e., from libreoffice.org), you must do sudo apt-get install libreoffice-pdfimport. –  carnendil Apr 29 '13 at 21:53
    
Resulting PDF lost some elements, but libreoffice worked in a pinch, thanks –  Ethereal Jan 13 at 18:27
    
Doesn't work for me; messes up the whole PDF, seemingly because it doesn't use the font info. –  Vincent Nov 24 at 12:20

You can use Master PDF Editor.
Lets you edit all elements on the page.

The latest version to the date 1.9.24 has a bug that wont open all images of a pdf file...
The version 1.9.00 works very fine tho, but the only way to get it is a direct link:
http://code-industry.net/public/MasterPDFEditor-1.9.00.x86_64.tar.gz
http://code-industry.net/public/MasterPDFEditor-1.9.00.i386.tar.gz

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thanks for sharing this. this is quite useful PDF editor. –  Neutralizer May 25 at 9:30
    
It used to be free but now you have to buy it :) Can't deny the greatness of this tool! –  Neutralizer Oct 4 at 9:29

PDF Buddy is an online PDF editor that's a great solution for quick and easy cross-platform PDF editing, whether you're on Ubuntu or anything else. (It would come in handy for what you describe in Scenario A)

(Disclosure: I'm a co-founder of PDF Buddy)

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i just tried BDF Buddy and it seems to be great for simple manipulation of PDF similar to scenario 1 or for signing PDF documents. Unlike inkscape you don't get any access to the PDF elements. But most of the time that's probably more trouble than it's worth. The "white out" feature pdf buddy has is usually sufficient for removing things. –  snowguy Nov 30 '13 at 1:24
    
The thing I didn't like was that you have to create an account (which I didn't do). I expected as much though from a freemium model which allows you to edit 3 documents for free a month. This is a great and easy solution for annotating an existing PDF or adding a signature. –  snowguy Nov 30 '13 at 1:27
    
Unfortunately you cannot use PDF Buddy to combine more than one PDF file. –  snowguy Nov 30 '13 at 1:27

There was magic thing called pdfedit in repository. Anyway, you can get it from here http://sourceforge.net/projects/pdfedit/. I've used it to make some text changes directly to file, omitting any conversions, so that file structure remains untouched. Just choose text selection mode at toolbox and click the text you want to edit. You are allowed to do it through the text-box that appeares at upper-left corner of window. Of course, there are a lot more features.

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Foxit PDF Editor (non-free) works well via WINE.

Newer versions of Foxit might work as well -- haven't tested 'em, though.

~.~.~

ps: This answer applies to your "Scenario A": you can basically edit everything in a pdf with Foxit: i.e., you can not only add things, but actually edit them as if it were, say, a Word file.

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In your opinion does it work better than inkscape which is free and doesn't require WINE? –  snowguy Mar 8 '13 at 16:44
    
Thanks for asking! The truth is, I've never worked with Inkscape yet (as I thought it's mainly a vector-graphics-thing for professional or ambitious hobby designers). I'll give it a go for editing PDF's and will report back soon on how it compares to Foxit. –  nutty about natty Mar 9 '13 at 7:50
    
had a quick test-ride in Inkscape; looks pretty solid, with the major (?) complaint/caveat/bug that multiple-page support seems only possible with an extension, which has a 90 % upvote on sourceforge.net, so I guess it's sturdy. Would need to check that, too, for a fair comparison. Will report back. –  nutty about natty Mar 9 '13 at 15:37
    
see also –  nutty about natty Mar 9 '13 at 15:45

I am surprised that PDF Studio is not mentioned here.

It's an all-in-one PDF solution that can annotate, markup text, form fill, edit content, sign, OCR and manipulate PDF documents.

http://www.qoppa.com/pdfstudio

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...which is not free software, but I'm sure works just fine. –  carnendil Mar 7 '13 at 16:54
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...of all the non-free pdf editors I've come across, Foxit is still the benchmark for me... though I guess Nitro also deserves a mention... –  nutty about natty Mar 7 '13 at 18:40

I think that PDF-Shuffler is small but quite good app.

Info: PDF-Shuffler is a small python-gtk application, which helps the user to merge or split pdf documents and rotate, crop and rearrange their pages using an interactive and intuitive graphical interface. It is a frontend for python-pyPdf.

PDF-Shuffler Web Site

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Agreed Vladimir. In fact I should probably revise my answer as well. I have actually started using PDF-Shuffler instead of pdftk for lots of simple stuff like merging two pdf files. –  snowguy Jan 11 '13 at 16:19
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I was glad to verify that pdfshuffler is available on Ubuntu 12.04 and helped me to rearrange the pages on a horrible PDF I got by email with some pages upside down. Excellent! –  Denis Fuenzalida Mar 19 '13 at 19:38

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