PDFelement makes it easy to create, edit, markup and convert PDF files. The ability to create complex PDF forms from paper forms or other documents is a huge plus. So is the ability to edit entire blocks of text, rather than just line by line, and convert a PDF to Word or Excel format. The app feels capable, stable and surprisingly easy to use.
The software is available for a number of platforms: macOS, Windows and iOS. So you’re able to use the same PDF tool on whichever computer or device you’re using, though you’ll need to purchase a new license for each platform you intend to use it on.
For Mac users, you already have a basic PDF editor — Apple’s Preview app does basic PDF markup. If that’s all you need, you won’t need to purchase additional software. But if your editing needs are more advanced, PDFelement offers excellent value for money. I recommend it.
- Editing and marking up PDFs is simple.
- Create forms from paper or other documents.
- Convert PDF to other formats, including Word.
- Very easy to use.
- The OCR function is only available after you purchase PDFelement Pro.
Note: This PDFelement review has been revamped for freshness and accuracy. Also, we just published the best PDF editor roundup and PDFelement is one of the winners.
Why Should You Trust Me?
My name is Adrian Try. I’ve been using computers since 1988, and Macs full time since 2009. I use PDF files extensively for ebooks, user manuals and reference. Also, in my quest to go paperless, I have also created thousands of PDFs from the stacks of paperwork that used to fill my office.
All of that was done using a variety of apps and scanners. However, I hadn’t used PDFelement until doing this review. So I downloaded the demonstration version and tested it thoroughly. I also studied other user’s experiences in reviews from trustworthy blogs and websites, and quote some of their experiences and conclusions later in this review.
What did I discover? The content in the summary box above will give you a good idea of my findings and conclusions. Read on for the details about everything I liked and disliked about PDFelement.
What is PDFelement?
PDF documents are normally considered read-only. PDFelement empowers you to edit the text of a PDF, mark up the document by highlighting, drawing and writing pop-up notes, create PDF forms, and even reorder pages. With the help of a scanner it will also help you create PDFs from paper documents.
Here are the main benefits of the app:
- Edit and correct the text inside PDF documents.
- Highlight text, circle words, and add other simple drawings to PDFs.
- Create searchable PDFs from paper documents.
- Create PDF forms.
- Convert PDFs to other document types, including Word, Excel and Pages.
Is PDFelement Safe?
Yes, it is safe to use. I ran and installed the app on my macOS Sierra based iMac. A scan found no viruses or malicious code.
There is no risk of data loss when using the app. If you modify a PDF, it is renamed when saved, and does not overwrite the original document. For example, if you redact some information in a PDF called Demonstration.pdf, the altered document will be saved as Demonstration_Redacted.pdf.
Is PDFelement Free?
No, though a free trial version is available. It’s quite full-featured, and has only three limitations:
- A watermark is added when you edit and save a PDF file.
- When converting to another format, the trial version will only convert the first two pages.
- OCR is not included, but is available as a paid add-on.
There are two versions of the app available for purchase: Standard (from $59.95) and Professional (from $99.95).
Compared to the Standard edition, the Pro version includes several additional features, including OCR technology, the ability of batch processing watermarks, a PDF optimizer, redaction, advanced form creation and filler abilities.
PDFelement: What’s in it For You?
Since PDFelement is all about making changes to PDF documents, I’m going to list all its features by putting them into the following six sections. In each subsection, I’ll first explore what the app offers and then share my personal take.
Note that I’ve only used the Mac version of the app, so my opinions and screenshots are taken from there. However, one of the other reviewers I reference, Jack Busch, gives his opinion on the Windows version.
1. Edit and Markup Your PDF Documents
Editing PDFs is difficult, and many of us don’t have the tools to do so. Even with a PDF editor, making changes is normally has a different level of difficulty to, say, editing a Word document. Macworld spell this out clearly:
“If you’ve ever had to work with PDFs, you’ll know that making anything more than the most minor edit is a pain. Unless you’re happy to edit line-by-line, the text not reflowing automatically to reflect your changes, you’ll have to go back to the authoring package to make even simple amendments. You might even have to send your edits back to a designer.”
PDFelement aims to change this. Do they succeed? I think they do.
For a start, rather than having to edit line-by-line as you do with some other PDF editors, text is organized into boxes. “Text on the page is separated intelligently into discreet text boxes, where you can add, delete or edit text in much the same way as you would in Microsoft Word.” (Macworld UK)
Note that when I add text to the heading in this document, the correct font is automatically selected.
Besides changing text, you can add and resize images and add headers and footers. The interface is very similar to Microsoft Word, so you’re likely to find it familiar.
Marking up a PDF, say for marking corrections or when studying, is also easy. Just click on the Comment icon, and a collection of intuitive tools appear.
My personal take: PDF documents become more useful when you can do more than just read them. PDFelement makes editing a PDF simpler and more intuitive than other apps in its class. And its excellent markup tools make collaboration easy.
2. Scan and OCR Your Paper Documents
Scanning a paper app onto your Mac is handy. Applying optical character recognition (OCR) so that you can search for and copy text within the document is even better. The standard version of the app does not do OCR. For this, you’ll definitely need the Professional version.
Jack Busch from Groovypost reports that PDFelement’s OCR is very accurate overall. “PDFelement managed to recognize every bit of text on the PDF, even the fancy font the restaurant used for its name. It approximated the font in the OCR version, and some of the text objects were laid out slightly different from the original scan, but overall, it was very, very accurate.”
My personal take: When paired with a scanner, PDFelement is able to create PDF files from your paper documents. With the Professional version’s OCR feature, the app is able to turn the image of your document into real text that can be searched on and copied. The app is also able to convert other document types into PDFs.
3. Redact Personal Information
Do you ever need to share documents with personal information that you don’t want the other party to see? Then you need redaction. This is a common requirement in the legal industry, and is included in the Professional version of this app.
To apply redaction in PDFelement, first click on the Protect icon, then Redact. Simply select the text or images you want to hide, then click Apply Redaction.
Jack Busch also particularly liked the ability to search for text to redact. “Here’s another neat feature: Search and Redact. You can search on a term and redact each instance. This is handy if you want to blank out sensitive information or confidential data, like social security numbers, contact information, or names.”
My personal take: Redaction is important for keeping private or sensitive information safe. PDFelement accomplishes the job quickly, simply and securely. The ability to search for text to redact is very convenient.
4. Create PDF Forms
PDF forms are a common way of conducting business. PDFelement Professional makes them easy to create.
You don’t have to create your forms within PDFelement — you can create them in any other office app, and Automatic Form Recognition technology takes over. That’s very handy.
Note how all of the fields in this non-fillable form have been recognized. That happened automatically and instantly, and now I can customize the options, appearance and format of each one.
The app can even convert your paper forms into PDF forms quickly and easily. “That’s impressive enough, but then we come to PDFelement’s handling of forms. Scan one of your existing paper forms as a PDF then open it in PDFelement. Now click the Form Field Recognition button and the software goes to work, automatically recognising the fields you would normally fill in by hand and turning them into editable text fields to be filled in as part of a digital form.” (Macworld UK)
My personal take: Creating PDF forms can be technical, challenging, and time consuming. PDFelement removes the pain by converting paper forms and other computer files for you.
5. Reorder and Delete Pages
PDFelement makes it easy to re-organize your document by reordering and deleting pages. Simply click the Page icon, and the rest is a simple drag and drop affair.
Jack Busch uses this feature a lot. “Moving, deleting, or rotating pages in a PDF or combining PDFs are the tasks I most often do on a day-to-day basis. You can do this with free software, but it’s a pain, especially when all you want to do is splice two scanned pages together and fire it off in an email before you run out the door. PDFelement lets you manipulate pages in PDFs from the menu bar or the thumbnail tab. Both of these are reminiscent of Bluebeam Revu and Adobe Acrobat, and it works well.”
My personal take: PDFelement’s Page view makes it simple to rearrange and delete pages in your PDF file. The interface is intuitive and elegant.
6. Convert PDFs to Editable Document Types
Editing PDFs is one thing. PDFelement’s conversion feature is something else. It’s able to convert a PDF file into a fully editable document in common Microsoft and Apple formats, as well as a bunch of other less-used formats.
MacWorld UK explains: “Yet there’s more to PDFelement 6 than just viewing and editing PDFs; it also has a range of tools that transform how you can use PDF within your workflows. Take the conversion features, for example. PDFelement 6 can not only convert images, HTML and text files into PDFs, but also convert PDFs into fully-editable Pages, Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, not to mention HTML, RTF or ePub files.”
My personal take: There are a lot of ways to convert a Word document or Excel file into a PDF. Reversing the process isn’t so easy. PDFelement’s ability to convert PDFs is one of its handiest features.
Reasons Behind My Reviews and Ratings
PDFelement has a comprehensive set of features, and implements them in a way that saves time. Putting text in boxes while editing, automatic field recognition when creating forms, and the ability to export to popular file formats like Word are some highlights.
The PDF editor is significantly cheaper than its competitors, while offering a similar feature set, and is arguably easier to use. That’s great value. However, if you don’t have a regular need to edit PDF files, you can get the basic functionality for free.
Ease of Use: 5/5
It can take years to learn all of the features of Adobe Acrobat Pro. PDFelement gives you most of the features, and operates in an intuitive way. During my review I was able to use the app without referring to a manual.
A quick side note: JP has tested both PDFelement 5 and 6 on his MacBook Pro, and was impressed by the massive improvements Wondershare made for this upgrade. For example, version 6’s UI and icon look far more professional. And version 6 has fixed many bugs. With version 5 JP received an “Internal Error” warning when loading an 81-page PDF file. In version 6 the error has been resolved.
While I didn’t have the need to contact support, Wondershare treats it as a priority. Their website includes a comprehensive online help system including a guide, FAQ and troubleshooting section. If all else fails, you can submit a ticket, but it doesn’t appear that phone or chat support is available. Wondershare’s user forum does a lot to make up for this, and is moderated by employees.
Alternatives to PDFelement
Adobe Acrobat Pro DC: Acrobat Pro was the first app for reading and editing PDF documents, and is still one of the best options. However, it is quite expensive. An annual subscription costs $179.88. Read our detailed Acrobat Pro review.
ABBYY FineReader: FineReader is a well-respected app that shares many features with PDFpen. But it, too, comes with a higher price tag. The Standard version costs $296 AUD. You can read the full FineReader review here.
Apple Preview (macOS): The Mac’s Preview app allows you to not only view PDF documents, but mark them up as well. The Markup toolbar includes icons for sketching, drawing, adding shapes, typing text, adding signatures, and adding pop-up notes. This functionality will be expanded in High Sierra.
A PDF is the closest thing to paper that you’ll find on your computer. It’s convenient for academic papers, official forms and training manuals. But PDFelement allows you to do more than just read PDF documents.
If you need to edit a PDF, this app will allow you to do so easily, or convert it to a Word or Excel document where you can edit it using apps you are more familiar with. It enables you to create new PDFs from any paper or computer document. You can even create a form for your clients to fill in by scanning a paper form or converting a document from Microsoft Office.
Teachers and editors can mark up a PDFs. Students can make notes, highlight and draw diagrams. Consumers can fill in PDF forms. And all of this with an intuitive interface.
Are PDF files a major part of your life? Then PDFelement is for you. It’s easy to use, fully featured, and very affordable. I recommend it.