Linux PDF editor for manipulating PDF documents

Posted on in Categories Download of the day, FreeBSD, Howto, Linux, Linux desktop, OpenBSD, OS X, UNIX, Windows last updated December 19, 2007

Adobe Acrobat is a commercial tool for manipulating PDF files. Earlier I was using CUPs – printing system, to export PDF files. I’ve also tried out gv for the same purpose. However, I needed complete editing of pdf documents. My search ended with PDFedit software, which is free and open source editor for manipulating PDF documents. The software available in both GUI and CLI (commandline) interface.

This software also supports scripting and almost anything can be scripted. PDFedit is a low-level tool for users. You can use this software:
=> To write / create / edit PDF files.
=> Print PDF files.
=> Save PDF files.
=> Export PDF files to XML etc.

Install PDFEdit

If you are using Debian or Ubuntu Linux, enter:
$ sudo apt-get install pdfedit

Start Editing PDF Files with PDFEdit editor

To start PDFEdit, type:
$ pdfedit /path/to/pdf.file &
$ pdfedit &

PDFEdit Linux freeware pdf writer software
( Fig 01: PDFedit ~ Linux PDF maker in action [click to enlarge the image] )

Other Linux pdf maker / writer software

During my research I came across other apps to edit PDFs. I hope you will find following tools useful:

=> scribus – Open Source Desktop Page Layout / desktop publishing (DTP) application software. It works under Linux, Mac and Windows computer. This software is another good alternative to PDFEdit. Just open file using open option and you can edit PDF file. You can install scribus using apt-get command:
$ sudo apt-get install scribus

To use scribus to edit PDF files:
Start scribus > New File > Insert > Image > Double click > Select PDF file

=> flpsed – a WYSIWYG pseudo PostScript editor. This software is very fast and light weight. To install flpsed, enter:
$ sudo apt-get install flpsed
To edit file, enter:
$ flpsed /path/to/pdf-file.pdf &

=> Gimp – I’ve also used gimp for editing pdf files. However, you need basic knowledge of gimp itself for editing pdf files. GIMP is almost installed on all Linux distribution. Please note that GIMP is not elegant solution for editing pdf files.

Online PDF manipulation tool

Finally, you can always use the Internet to modify PDF files using a web browser. [pdfescape.com]

Conclusion

PDFEdit is the best free open source software for for Linux / Unix-like operating systems. However, it does not support editing protected or encrypted PDF files.

Further readings:

74 comment

  1. Apt-get cannot locate PDFedit. I was able to download to my desktop but apt-get refuses to install it when: apt-get /path/ install pdfedit

    Also tried the install from cache with the same result.

    I must be missing some vital step. Any insite?

  2. pdfedit compiled successfully (after >5 minutes…) on Fedora Core 6. Unfortunately, it is useless. Highlighting does not work in any sensible way. Worst of all, there is no obvious way for UNDOING anything! There is no simple documentation on this either. There is just no comparison with Acrobat Professional (unfortunately for Windows only and extremely expensive).

  3. @Ted Hope: you can install separate deb packages using (you should have the required packages installed already, of course)

    sudo dpkg -i /path/to/package.deb

    On many modern Linux desktops you can install debs by double-clicking/right-clicking on the package icon.

  4. I’m running a 1.2 GHz, 1GB ram mongrel of a machine, main OS is BLAG 70000 on Fedora 7 platform. All I had to do was open a terminal, ‘su -‘ to my root, run ‘yum install pdfedit’, and bingo, I’m running ‘pdfedit’ just like that. No problems, other than I need to learn how to run it. That little program (less than 3MB) saves hundred$ of $$. And since I mostly always use point and click GUI, this has a real nice interface. I look forward to using it. Things don’t always turn out so sweet, but when they do it’s nice as pie.
    I’m thrilled. Linux OS’s are soon going to really catch on at this rate of development.
    Huge kudo’s to the developers for all the excellent work.

  5. The newest version of Inkscape (0.46) can now import pdfs and has improved pdf export over the previous release. And it’s not out yet, but OpenOffice.org 3.0 will be fully supporting reading and writing of PDFs.

  6. Check out this other tool called

    PDF Studio

    It’s a very complete PDF editor for Linux much better than PDFEdit.

  7. I tried the lastest version 0.4.1 with cygwin on XP Pro. I found it unstable with several crashes during opening or editing. Maybe it is cygwin side effects. But the most notable cons is the poor support of fonts. According to the user guide “The creation of pdf files containing text is limited because we do not support our own fonts only standard ones” It is not only creation but also edition. Only 18 differents fonts are supported, most all non MS “standard”. Even a text using MS Courrier font cannot be edited, as well as MS Arial or MS New Times-Roman.
    Nice try, but still some work at the fonts level.

  8. Very impressive, thanks! Installation and start went perfectly (though the start line
    $ pdfedit &
    seems redundant (I’m running Ubuntu 6.04).

    By the way, the font I’m using is relatively obscure (URW Palladio KRN), I think, but works fine.

    However, when I try to select text to edit I can only select an entire word (rather than a single letter) and receive the message, “this operator does not have any directly editable parameters”.

    Any advice?

    Thanks again for the great work.

    mike

  9. This software is not really all that useful to the normal user. Simple tasks cannot be done easily, such as importing files (without changes to the page format), deleting files, adding text etc etc. PDFEdit needs a lot more work before it is even remotely close to Adobe Acrobat!

  10. Qoppa PDF Studio is not open-source, but its a mature, well-developed and easy to use tool that allows full editing of PDFs. I always use open-source where I can, but PDF Studio allows me to add notes to PDFs and to highlight text too. Sure it costs money, but some users will be very pleased to pay for its well-developed feature set.

  11. pdf edit is a great job, still at mills from acrobat, f.e. in a pdf with tables don’t work fine but way to go friends!

    pdf studio sucks, only works if you want to highlith text, you can’t modify text, above you have to pay for it, please remove this software of linux! in windows people will laugh of this software, so stop work.

    1. I am not sure what is so pathetic about our software that anyone would want to laugh at it JJ :-)

      Since version 8 (and we’re at version 11 already), PDF Studio can edit text content.

      PDF Studio 11 Pro does not “only highlight text”, it can add all types of PDF annotations, merge and split PDFs, OCR, create interactive PDF forms, scan-To-PDF, redact, convert from Word, convert to HTML5, convert to PDF/A, digitally sign PDFs, change security, work on batches of documents, etc.. etc….

      We work hard at developing this software and we are pretty sure that it is the best PDF editing software available on Linux at the moment.

  12. If you only want to highlight text and take note, you do not need pdf sutdio! xournal does it quite efficiently.

  13. pdfedit crashes my system, when i do get to save any work, it puts all pages over each other in one page -> garbage.

    scribus does not want to load my pdf -> not useful.

    flpsed looks like a program from the 90s that doesn’t do much more than display the pdf.

    the online “editor” only allows to add to the pdf, not select and edit anything that is present in the pdf -> garbage.

    makes me think that all the positive feedback here was written by the author of the web page (author of pdfedit?).

    as much as it pains me to say as an avid user of open source software – not useful for my purposes. try harder next time.

    1. makes me think that all the positive feedback here was written by the author of the web page (author of pdfedit?).

      I highly doubts that, as the editor of this blog I can see all email ID and IP address for each post. They are not coming from same IP / proxy or person as you claim. Tell us more about your Linux distro and version you’ve used.

  14. I don’t know if this posting thread is really old or not, but I am trying anyway. I can’t seem to open .pdf files in Scribus at all. I continually get a fatal error that claims it does not support that file format. How do you open .pdf files in Scribus?

  15. i’am on a BE projct to display a basic PDF file on linux terminal.
    guyz ne ideas or suggestion for me.
    plz help me wit some research…… any links wud be really helpful

    plzz guyz

  16. Thank you heaps for reference to flpsed which I had used previously but had quite forgotten, thanks to the vagaries of memory! I have just used it again to do what i precisely needed after the vexing distractions of trying all other,including some mentioned above.

    You cannot go past point,click and type and fortunately available under synaptic.

    Blessed be,
    rama

  17. nice tool… but it is not available anymore via. terminal or install packages. can someone please tell me the new place to get it? or did I do something wrong? I am a linux noob, so please help!!!

  18. I wanted to do something rather simple – translate a PDF written in English into Russian. But it seems there’s some kind of encoding problem (cannot can’t use Cyrillic in PDFedit). I tried different encodings (e.g. KOI8R should be Russian, KOI8U should be Ukrainian) but every time the characters do not display right, I get some symbol-gibberish instead. Anyone with a fix for this problem?

  19. Unfortunately none of the software above can handle localized characters, rendering themselves useless for my current need. :/

    1. @romunov

      PDF escape really does work! Thank you for finding this out!
      + Easy 2 use (after some 1-1.5 hours of trying)
      + Has the most essential tools
      – Cannot add pictures
      – Sometimes the result is not as you expect (e.g. some text that I added came out of the designated boxes… but that was relatively easy to fix)

  20. Errm Scribus can not open and edit PDF files, well it has the option but it hasn’t been fully implemented. Gimp opens them as images and for many that isn’t enough.

    So for me not the best article apart from pfdEdit which I will try.

  21. I came across this article just a bit ago and I tried out the pdf editing on linux, I have to say it was great and I now use it whenever I’m on linux, and I think I’m starting to prefer it over pc applications on windows.

  22. I find this tool almost useless. I opened a PDF document and could not manage to find a way to type text. Ctrl+V does not work either and most surprisingly, there is no undo function. Even pocket calculators have undo. Sorry…

    1. I concur. Pdfedit is next to useless – i really wonder why it is being overhyped everywhere you look. Easy annotation such as in windows pdf xchange viewer is not possible. Plus the program is slow and crashes every other minute under Ubuntu 10.10

  23. Please, people, what is “this tool?” There are a number of different tools discussed on this page. When you say things like “I find this tool almost useless” or “How to install this tool” or “nice tool,” you have to tell us WHICH tool you’re talking about!

  24. Several years ago, I found PDF Studio worked well for editing PDFs in Linux and allowed me to add highlighting and notes to PDF documents. I’ve used it in Linux for 3 years now, and although I’ve been hoping for an open source solution that supasses it, I’ve not been able to find anything yet. The latest verion has significant improvements and more features.

  25. Thanks Ajay! That works great!, I did the top portion and kept getting errors trying ot direct to the pdf files (i know next to nothing about Linux – brand new running Ubuntu 11.04) but when I ran your commands it all came together great and is a really good editor except for some encrypted pdf’s.

  26. I’ve just tried Inkscape and it seems to work well for editing pdf pages, albeit one at a time.

    I can ‘staple’ them back together using pdftk.

    pdftk document1.pdf document2.pdf cat output combined-document.pdf

    Great site BTW

  27. Would the poster of this blog please add Xournal it’s the best tool I’ve found on Linux for editing pdf’s and it’s open source!!

  28. For Debian based systems like Ubuntu:

    sudo apt-get install libreoffice-pdfimport

    – Open the PDF with Libreoffice Draw.
    – Export as PDF.

    Worked very well for me, whereas pdfedit was very cumbersome and didn’t do things quite the way I wanted.

  29. How to edit text characters using PDFedit on Linux?
    SOLUTION: press F5 (refresh)

    e.g. select text – Selection pane – selection – TJ – Parameter 0 Array – modify required characters – F5 – save

  30. pdfsam does a good job merging or splitting pdf’s if all you need to do is cmobine multiple pdf’s into one or extract a page from one.
    And thanks!!! as others have said, this is the best website I’ve found for pdf editing in Linux

  31. E: Package ‘pdfedit’ has no installation candidate
    Scribus ver <1.6 has no real support for *.pdf

    And the only thing flpsed is good for are watermarks, since you can't edit the files.

    What I *would* expect here for example would be LibreOffice Draw with libreoffice-pdfimport package . Although I currently have some issues with it under debian.

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