Acrobat Alternative: The Best Mac PDF Editor Replacement of 2020

Business • Updated on Jan. 22, 2020

PDF is a necessity in macOS. Without PDF, you can’t easily create & share portable documents. In fact, almost every native macOS application lets you export content into PDF.

Unfortunately, dealing with PDFs can be a pain at times, especially if you need to sign them, merge them or anything else.

That is why a fully-fledged PDF editor for Mac is a necessity indeed! Unlike the common thought, there is an impressive variety of PDF editing programs to choose from.

And, Adobe Acrobat Pro is most people’s go-to option.

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We know Adobe Acrobat Pro DC is great, but…

Adobe Acrobat Pro DC has been the standard for PDF editing for a long time, and it’s not a surprise, considering that Adobe built the format. Anyway, that’s not really the most practical reason to keep using Adobe Acrobat Pro DC as your default macOS PDF editor.

The Good: Arobat Pro DC is undoubtedly one of the most powerful PDF solutions out there. It also syncs you with the Adobe ecosystem as well. If you are someone who uses Adobe Reader for opening PDF formats, you can have the benefits of a uniform user interface as well.

The Bad: The UI of Acrobat Pro DC is not the most user friendly. Sure, it gets the job done, but that’s not enough. We would not recommend Acrobat Pro DC when you want to edit multiple documents and manage everything with ease. If you are new to editing PDFs, it might take some time for you to get used to the interface.

The Ugly: Acrobat Pro DC is damn expensive. It comes with a monthly subscription charge of $14.99. Adobe Pro 2017, an older, standalone version, is available for a hefty price-tag of $449. These rates are way beyond what a normal user can afford.

We believe these reasons are enough for you to look for an Adobe Acrobat alternative — one which is feature rich and easy on your pocket.

So, what’re the criteria for choosing alternatives to Adobe Acrobat?

There are quite a few alternatives to Adobe Acrobat, and all of them do the job quite well. However, before we start exploring them, it would help if we look at the criteria that helps decide the best alternatives to Adobe Acrobat on your Mac.

So here are some of the factors that we look at before including a PDF editor into our list:

  • The PDF Editor must have a simple User Interface. It should be non-distracting as well as focused. We always recommend a UI that works well with single-document and multi-document management.
  • Easy Editing: The PDF editing process should be as smooth as it gets. Automated selection recognition is one of the features we love. It’s not just about the text. The program should be powerful enough to edit other components like images, boxes, shapes and signatures.
  • Integration: the PDF editor must integrate well with your macOS system. Everything can be buttery-smooth that way. You may also consider using this PDF editor as the default PDF viewer.
  • An built-in PDF Viewer is one of the coolest features you have. This way, you don’t have to check out other software for reading PDF documents. It can save you a lot of money and resources too.
  • Markup and Annotation features are also required in the package. It must be easy to add comments and other elements to the PDF document using the tool, you know.
  • Feature-rich: Yes, the PDF editor must have enough features as well. This includes basic options for editing and advanced features like Optical Character Recognition. You may, however, prefer an editor with minimal features.
  • Cloud Storage: It’s great to have a cloud storage feature in the optimal PDF editor. This way, you can save your documents to services like iCloud and keep everything in sync.

The pick: PDF Expert (fastest & easiest to dive in)

As the developers put it, PDF Expert is a fast, robust and a beautiful PDF editor. We tested it on different PDF files and read feedback from other PDF users online, and we came to know how this app stands out from the many other PDF editors out there.

Without further ado, let’s share our experience with PDF Expert.

The user interface

As you can see, PDF Expert offers a clean and intuitive user interface. You can simply drag-and-drop a file to get started. Once added to the interface, you can decide what type of editing you want — Annotations or Editing. There, you also get the option to merge PDF files, sign them, and fill forms.

On the left, top side of the screen, you have viewing mode controls. For instance, you can enable the sidebar for accessing features like Bookmarks, Thumbnails, Annotations and Outline. This sidebar is a great feature when it comes to navigating within the PDF document.

Besides, PDF Expert offers different viewing modes as well:

1. You can display one or two pages in the same-screen. This is great when you want to compare pages and make the edits.
2. PDF Expert has a Split View option as well. In this view, you can view/edit two PDF documents at the same time. You can arrange the documents side by side either horizontally or vertically.

This is a helpful feature when it comes to document management.

PDF Expert has a dedicated option for changing the page order of the PDF document. We’ll discuss that later.

In short, we are really impressed by the intuitive UI of PDF Expert.

Reading experience

PDF Expert offers a blazing fast PDF reading experience. The app opened the document in 1.5 seconds. Meanwhile, it took almost 10 seconds to load it with Acrobat.

As you select between PDF pages, all the pages are well displayed with fast speed, even, there is no stop when I switch between different pages.

As PDF Expert also offers an iOS version, we uploaded a file through the iOS app and it synced well to provide a great reading experience on the iOS app.

Editing PDF files

Now to the main highlight of this app — editing PDF files.

There are actually four main options in the toolbar — Text, Image, Link and Redact.

One thing we love about PDF Expert is that it automatically detects the type of content you’ve selected. If you’ve selected an image, for instance, you will see options to rotate, replace, export and crop the photograph.

Similarly, you can add/manage links within the PDF document. You can set up links to the web and other pages in the document. If you ask us, PDF Expert has kept this section as minimal as possible. You won’t have trouble in making edits even with a complex PDF file.

The Redact feature is also quite helpful. In a single click, you can white out sensitive content in the PDF file. We found this feature really useful while sharing confidential data.

Annotating PDF files

Annotating PDFs is probably the second most popular thing you do with PDFs after viewing and reading. Whether you’re a student annotating a book or an architect, marking up a blueprint, you can highlight, underline, strikethrough, add shapes, lines or your own stamps, and export all your annotations with ease. Once again, you can count on the toolbar to access a top-class collection of tools.

It’s very easy to add signatures to PDF Expert. You can do it using text, trackpad or even upload an image of the actual signature. Either way, you get awesome results. Other annotation features also work great in this PDF editing suite.

Managing pages in PDF

As we mentioned earlier, PDF Expert has a dedicated viewing option for managing pages. This comes as a handy feature when you want to take care of large PDF documents.

This section offers a bunch of options such as Add Page, Append File, Copy, Paste, Rotate, Delete and Share. You can easily arrange multiple pages by dragging and dropping them. You can also extract individual pages from a complete PDF document.

Last but not least, PDF Expert offers an option to add page numbers on the header and footer areas as well.

Multi-platform support

PDF Expert is available for both macOS and iOS with content-sync between the devices.

If you want to access documents that you created using PDF Expert for macOS, you can easily do it from an iPhone or and iPad. The app can be downloaded from App Store and everything is kept in sync. It’s a great way to access cloud storage: everything is done via iCloud. It’s as seamless as it gets.

Additional features in PDF Expert

There are a few advanced features that we should talk about.

PDF Expert has an in-built method for password-protecting PDF files. This is a great way to secure your PDF file without any complications. You can access it from File> Set Password, and pick a password of your choice.

PDF Expert also has an option to reduce the file size of a PDF file. While doing so, you can adjust the image quality as well. In our test, PDF Expert was able to reduce the file size by 75%, which is great!

Last but not least, PDF Expert comes with Touchbar support as well. So, if you have a compatible MacBook, you’ll love it.

What could be better

There are a few things that we didn’t like in PDF Expert. We understand that PDF Expert is a minimalistic PDF editor but it has left out some basic features as well.

  • You cannot create PDF documents using PDF Expert. You can technically add a new page in the PDF file and add text, but that’s something inefficient. We’d have really loved to see some additional set of PDF creation features in the program.
  • PDF Expert could have included a basic version of Optical Character Recognition. It’s disappointing that the program does not even support plug-ins, which can bring in the feature. It lacks other types of plug-ins as well.
  • There are only four editing options in PDF Expert. At times, these may not be enough for most people. We’d have loved to see some extra toolbars in there.
  • It’d also be better if PDF Expert had better options for bulk actions. As of now, that’s NIL.

Also, PDF Expert lacks options for customization and control. Everything is basic – too basic, at times.

Availability & pricing

PDF Expert is available for macOS and iOS. You can download the Mac version from the official website and the iOS version from App Store.

PDF Expert for macOS is priced at $79.99 (and you can get 20% discount here) while the iOS version can be bought for $9.99. If you ask us, both apps have been priced quite reasonably. The PDF Expert license actually lets you run the app on 3 Macs.


PDF Expert, according to our repeated tests and collected feedbacks from other users, it is faster than Preview. It allows you to edit & manage PDF documents with ease, never compromising the performance as well. It’s true that it lacks advanced tech like OCR but that’s something you should be convinced about. Maybe you could use it along with an online OCR to fill the gap?

Overall, for the price you’re paying, PDF Expert is worth it.

Upgrade pick: PDFpenPro (most powerful)

There are times when you need more than a basic PDF editor. For that occasion, PDFpenPro happens to be the best choice.

It comes with a great set of features. If you can spend more for a comprehensive PDF suite, then you should consider PDFpenPro as a potential option.

Let’s have a look at what this PDF suite has to offer.

The interface

PDFpenPro has been designed to create PDF files with precision. The UI has been optimized for professionals. When you open the program, you can see the blank screen where you can insert content like text, images, shapes and others. Like we saw in PDF Expert, PDFpenPro too offers different viewing options. It has a multi-tabbed UI for managing multiple files as well.

The latest version 11 offers the possibility to simultaneously see different parts of a document with split view. Similar to Microsoft Word, you can have two views on the same document. You get this second window pane on the document either alongside or below your main view.

We should admit that’s useful because it means you can be making some fine edits to page 9 of a PDF while referring to page 99 at the same time.

Editing & annotation

PDFpenPro checks all the boxes when it comes to editing PDF files. You can take care of a wide variety of content like text, images and others. All the editing options are included in the same toolbar. It’s also easy to navigate between multiple pages of the document.

The new Font Bar extends PDFpen’s Editing Bar downward, which provides the same kind of text formatting you’d get in a word processor. Select text and then you can change the font, size, justification and so on.

We also loved the Precision Edit tool in PDFpen, which recognizes the parts of the page and removes them intelligently.

There are also a few features that you can’t find in the standard version. For instance, you can use PDFpenPro to turn websites into PDF in a single click. Thanks to the wider compatibility, it lets you export PDF files to Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint formats as well.

Scanning & OCR

Optical Character Recognition is perhaps the best feature inside PDFpen. It has been designed to extract an impressive variety of data from sources like a scanned image. To use this feature, you can open the image in the software and click an Perform OCR button and you’re off the races.

Within a short span of time, PDFpenPro will help you convert the content into editable text. You can go about your business — editing other PDF files, or create interactive forms that you can send to recipients — and PDFPenPro will continue to perform OCR on your files in the background.

It’s quite a time-saver and PDFpenPro happens to have great speed too. It offers much control over the batch OCR process. The app was able to recognize text in hundreds of pages of documents in a short. It made the results searchable and editable. Besides, it also lets you
decide on the quality and resolution without any hassle.

Furthermore, the developer Smile has added both medical and legal terms to the English OCR dictionary in the latest PDFpen 11, making the apps even more attractive to professionals in those fields.

Some other features

Some of the features of PDFPenPro have been around for a while and are worth the mention. For instance, you can use it to sign digital documents. As we saw in the case of PDF Expert, you can easily add and manage different signs and images.

A Form field recognition tool scans your PDFs to see if there are any spaces on a page that are meant for users to add information to. When found, PDFPenPro adds a form field to that location where a user can click and enter text.

It also has support for audio annotations and redaction of PDF document. While the former allows you to include comments, the latter protects your sensitive data from exposure.

Last but not least, PDFpenPro offers multi-device syncing. Because both macOS and iOS versions are available, you can easily manage documents across platforms. All these features work hand in hand to make PDFpenPro one of the most professional-friendly PDF editing suites out there.

What could be better?

The only thing we think of is this: the UI.

It’s a powerful software, we do understand. It’s made for professionals, we understand that too. However, a slight change in the UI can make it all the more intuitive. This would make it easier for people to not just understand the software but also make awesome PDF documents in no time. We think that’s something to be done soon.

Availability & pricing

PDFpenPro is available for both macOS and iOS.

PDFpenPro costs $124.95 for a single license that can power only one Mac. You can also find its standard version, PDFpen, on Setapp.


PDFpenPro is made for professionals, and there’s a steep learning curve. Even then, PDFpenPro offers solid OCR, a powerful new Precision Edit tool, and many features that give you better control everything in a PDF file. It is just that you should be ready to pay something extra.

Other Mac PDF editor apps worth mentioning

Here are some of the top apps we considered as the best Mac PDF editor. They did not, however, make it to the top list.

Quicklook or Preview

MacOS comes with built-in features to let you fill and sign a PDF. Depending on your macOS version, this PDF editing tool is integrated to the built-in Quick Look (showing you the preview of a PDF when you hit the spacebar). Or, you can open the PDF file through the Preview app and use it to access features such as highlight, underline, strikethrough, page rotation, among others.

You can also add text and shapes to the document. Once done, Preview can neatly export the files to PDF as well. Considering that you are not paying anything to get this program, we’d love to keep it aside. So, if you just want to bring some annotations and text boxes to a PDF document without affecting the existing text, Preview should work just fine.

Wondershare PDFelement Pro for Mac

Wondershare PDFelement Pro for Mac is one of the most well-priced PDF editing suites out there. It makes some compromises in performance and features, though. However, the best part of the app comes with full support for OCR and PDF conversion. These two features are great when you consider the overall price tag of the app.

If you ask us what matters the most here, it’s Batch Processing. Wondershare PDFelement Pro for Mac is one of the very few editors that allow complete support for batch processing. You can convert and deal with a lot of PDF files at once. The UI is also quite similar to that of PDF Expert, but we wish it had an enhanced level of performance.

Priced at $99, Wondershare PDFelement Pro is available for macOS and Windows.

ABBYY FineReader Pro for Mac

Are you looking for a fully-fledged suite for OCR? If your answer is yes, then ABBYY FineReader Pro for Mac is a great choice. The problem is that you cannot expect standard features here. The whole program has been made for OCR needs, an area in which you can expect the best results. The program would convert a scanned image to editable text in just a few seconds.

As far as the OCR technology is concerned, ABBYY FineReader Pro for Mac works just great. To test its capabilities, we also tried some low-quality images and it was able to perform OCR on some of them. However, the results are always better if you have a better-quality image. We would not recommend the program for standard editing needs, though. The price tag is
relatively higher too.

ABBYY FineReader Pro for Mac is available for $119.00.

Foxit PhantomPDF

Foxit PhantomPDF is one of the smoothest PDF editors we’ve seen so far. It packs so many features into a smaller-looking tool. Nevertheless, compared to other PDF editors we’ve covered, Foxit PhantomPDF comes with a larger footprint. Multitasking is not easy when you have Foxit PhantomPDF running in background. It also checks the boxes of OCR and automated recognition.

It’s comparatively easier to do PDF editing in Foxit PhantomPDF. We think, however, that the AI could be an impressive one. As of now, the User Interface looks so rudimentary and you will need some time to get used to the deal. Keep that aside, Foxit PhantomPDF is a great PDF editor for teams as well. It has options for real-time collaboration features.

Foxit PhantomPDF is available for Windows and macOS. It has a hefty price tag of $99.95 for Mac.

Kdan PDF Reader Pro

Kdan PDF Reader is another app which makes it to our list of PDF editors for Mac. It is quite popular with over 44,000 App Store ratings. It provides a wide range of document functions for business and daily life.

It has both desktop and mobile apps, so you can work anytime, anywhere. It provides you with the feature to create and edit PDFs with features such as handwritten comments, highlighting, striking through, underlining texts, and more.

The highlight of this app is the Robust Reading Engine which provides you with a comfortable reading experience with features such as smooth page scrolling and the option to change the theme and page background so that your eyes don’t strain up.

Kdan PDF Reader’s individual plan can be purchased at $59.99 for a year.

What about web-based online PDF editor?

Online PDF editors are the next best choice that people make when they can’t afford Acrobat Pro DC. It’s an awesome option too — until you lose the internet connection. The problem with online editors is that you’d need a constant Internet connection.

There are also some security concerns. You basically have to upload the PDF document to a third-party server for editing it. It’s not the ideal option when you are dealing with confidential files either. Also, not all online PDF editors are offering satisfactory features.

Personally speaking, I think online PDF editors are just good for page management of PDF documents. If you need deeper editing or bulk editing, you can’t count on them. More importantly, most people like to edit their files in a native environment.

So, it makes sense to check out some of the actual native macOS PDF editors out there. If you’re a Windows user, check the best PDF editor for Windows 10 review here.

Wrap up

So, these were the best Mac PDF editors you can use in 2020. We have tried to suggest PDF editors that work well for particular needs. We hope it helps you choose the right one.

If you are still confused and want a PDF editor for Mac that’s easy and effective, you can go with our pick, PDF Expert.

If you are looking for a powerful solution that provides similar capabilities as Adobe Acrobat, then it is the time to evaluate the upgrade pick – PDFpenPro – as your Adobe Acrobat alternative.

By | 2020-02-13T00:15:00+00:00 January 22nd, 2020|Elevate Work, Featured|