4 Alternatives to Adobe Acrobat

Whether or not you are paperless in your office, you are probably dealing with PDFs. If you are dealing with a lot of them, you need PDF-editing software.

Adobe Acrobat is the definitive PDF-editing software, by the company that created the PDF format. Among the many features are a few that stand out. Bates stamping, for example. Even if you do everything else on paper, Bates stamping PDFs instead of reams of paper can save a ton of time and paper. The Pro version also has permanent redaction tools. You can even automatically redact things like social-security numbers automatically from every page of a huge document.

Unfortunately, Acrobat Professional — the version you want for legal work — starts at $449 (or $240/year). But there are alternatives that don’t cost an ongoing arm and a leg.

Here are a few to consider.

PDFPen Pro (Mac)

PDFPen Pro is made by the same company that makes TextExpander, the indispensable tool for OS X and iOS. And while its $99.99 price tag is not exactly cheap, it is substantially cheaper than Acrobat Pro, with a similar feature set.

Its low rating in the Mac App Store seems undeserved. MILO list members consistently give it high marks. But if you aren’t sure, you can download a free trial direct from Smile Software’s website and see for yourself.

PDF Studio Pro (Win, Mac, Linux)


For a true cross-platform option, try PDF Studio Pro. At $129, it is not cheap, either, but it has a feature set to rival Acrobat Pro for a fraction of the price. Plus, you can use it on two computers, regardless of operating system.

Like the other options, you can try it for free.

CutePDF Professional (Windows)

CutePDF is a profoundly unprofessional-sounding name, but its software is solid. CutePDF Pro is just $49.95, and it does nearly everything Acrobat Pro does, including Bates numbering.

And you can try it for free.

Nuance Power PDF Advanced


Ernie Svenson recently reviewed Nuance Power PDF Advanced on Lawyerist, calling it “much more useful” than Acrobat Standard, and at half the cost. He did not think it measured up to Acrobat Pro, however.

Adobe Acrobat Professional


In the end, though, if you want the best PDF software, get Adobe Acrobat Professional. PDF is Adobe’s format, and for better or worse, Acrobat is the best software for editing PDF files. Also, it supports the PDF/A format, which the federal courts are planning to adopt. Most of the cheaper alternatives do not.

Besides, if managing PDF files is essential to your practice, $240/year should not be a make-or-break expense. Just get Acrobat and be done with it.


  1. Avatar PB Coleman says:

    Some firms have the other PDF options as part of general desktop apps, but provide Acrobat for a selected group of lawyers, document specialists and paralegals with more robust workflow. Adobe also offers monthly subscription options on Adobe.com.

  2. Avatar JRW says:

    Yes. I tried to get cute (pun intended) and purchased at least two of these alternatives before realizing I should have just purchased Acrobat Pro from the jump. In other words, I paid a $200 premium to figure out that I needed Acrobat Pro. If you run a litigation shop, do yourself, your subordinates, and your clients a favor and get everyone in the firm a license for Acrobat Pro. And you can save some cash if you get an older version; I use Pro 9, which came out a few years back, and I don’t think the newer version adds any new features that would enhance what I do. Although the latest version’s UI appears to be a bit more intuitive than 9.

    • Avatar PB Coleman says:

      What’s your workflow? Working with that version may present print driver issues and viewing documents from newer versions.

      • Avatar JRW says:

        The size of my current client folder is 10 GB. My closed files folder is 37 GB. I have been using Pro 9 since 2010 and I have never had issues with print drivers or viewing documents. Evidently Adobe doesn’t have a planned obsolescence policy when it comes to Acrobat.

        • Avatar Sam Glover says:

          The PDF format is controlled by Adobe, but it is an open format (ISO 32000-1:2008). That means the format is relatively stable, so Adobe cannot keep introducing new features (like Microsoft does with Word) to make new PDFs unreadable.

          PDF is far from perfect, but there is a reason it has become the standard format for documents. That’s why your old version of Acrobat isn’t having trouble reading new files.

        • Avatar PB Coleman says:

          JRW, that is good to hear. I have seen it in workgroups when documents are shared between different versions and systems.

  3. Avatar magnum says:

    anyone ever try Nitro?

    • Avatar JRW says:

      Yes. It’s awful. Buy Acrobat Pro.

    • Avatar asdf says:

      I am a very satisfied owner and user of Nitro PDF Pro verions 7 -> 8 -> 9.
      I’ve started to install it on Legal Assistant workstations as we move fully into Windows 7 throughout the office. The learning curve has been essentially painless — need to point them to new menu spots relating to bates stamping, watermarking, red-lining, etc. I ran into a very odd printing error problem with Acrobat Reader and Acrobat Pro 9 on an attorney workstation; so, I installed Nitro PDF Pro 9 and no more print problems + no problems with busy litigator’s transition to it. In my experience it’s a gem.

  4. Avatar jonnyk says:

    Annual cost of Adobe is worth it IMHO. Free updates.

  5. Avatar Laurel Englehardt says:

    Take a look at Nuance. It has the feature set comparable to Acrobat Pro at a fraction of the cost. Full retail is somewhere around $130.

  6. Avatar Craig Atkinson says:

    I use Adobe Acrobat Professional when I have very specific things I want done to a PDF. But Adobe Acrobat Professional bogs my computer down, and it takes forever to skim through a PDF while I’m using it. I use Preview on my Mac when I am just wanting to read a PDF, or even mark it up with notes. Preview works soooo much better.

  7. Sam Glover, I just went solo and needed Acrobat Standard or Pro to survive, but I wanted to check out the cheaper alternatives. I tried Nitro Pro, but hated that all pdfs open in tabs in the same window. It was a deal-breaker.

    After that, I tried (and purchased) Foxit PhantomPDF Business 7 ($130). I’m thrilled. It is much better than the Adobe Pro 9 I used at my last job. Only complaint so far is that OCR seems to take longer. Not sure why.

    I hope you add it to your and Ernie’s review list next time you update this article. Thanks.

  8. Avatar Henry Peter says:

    Hey Sam, nice write up. I agree that Adobe is the most robust software out there. Have you thought about online PDF editors? Most of the softwares you described require a download and are expensive. They have a lot of features and are useful for large businesses, but the average person doesn’t need that many features.

    PDF editors like PDF Pro (https://www.pdfpro.co) and PDF Buddy (https://www.pdfbuddy.com/), can be used in the cloud. I know that PDF Pro also allows you to customize your payment plan (annual/monthly subscription or pay-as-you-go), which is probably more useful for individuals and lawyers in smaller offices who don’t need all the features of Adobe.

  9. Avatar Sierra Swearingen says:

    PDF Binder Pro for Windows is $12.99 on the Windows Store. It is not a web app, but it merged my files fast and the resulting file size was small. Hooray! It can also add Bates numbers on a one-off basis using its annotation tool. (No OCR.)

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