How to edit PDFs on a desktop, mobile, or tablet

Modern editing tools are bringing new functionality to PDF files. Discover how you can edit and improve your PDFs in this complete guide.

A person sat in the back of a taxi editing a PDF on their tablet.

PDF is one of the most popular and widely-used file formats available today. Compared to alternative formats, PDF documents are easier to share, more reliable, and compatible with most modern internet browsers. They work with pretty much any operating system too.

PDFs avoid some of the portability issues you get with other file types. Many of us will be familiar with the frustration of trying to open a document on a device that doesn’t recognize some of its fonts. A PDF can be opened on a Windows PC, Mac, mobile, and tablet and it will look exactly the same on all of the devices.

A person lounging on a sofa viewing a PDF on their laptop and mobile device.

Because of the versatility of the format, PDF is often used for interactive forms such as contracts and job applications. It‘s also the only file format that allows for eSignatures—ensuring a much quicker turnaround for projects that would previously have been slowed down by a reliance on paper.

So how can you enable these features in your PDF files? We’re going to guide you through the PDF editing process to help you produce more creative and effective PDFs.

How to edit PDFs on desktop

In the past, editing PDFs was a difficult and tiresome task. Early versions of PDF weren’t accessible and usable to everyone, and the devices of the day struggled to handle the size of the files. They took a long time to download and render, and didn’t support external hyperlinks.

Thankfully, PDFs are now widely used and the format continues to evolve and improve. At the same time, there are an increasing number of great tools and platforms available to help you edit your PDF files quickly and effectively.

An illustration of an individual editing a PDF on their desktop. A green checkmark is displayed on the screen.

Dropbox is one of these platforms that has been working at ways to make editing PDFs as easy as possible for users. Let’s look at how simple it is to edit PDFs on a Mac or Windows PC with Dropbox and our Adobe Acrobat integration.

Edit PDF files on Mac or Windows PC with Adobe Acrobat

With the Dropbox and Adobe integration, you can streamline the process of editing PDFs in one application then manually updating your files in your backup or cloud storage service.

Create, convert, edit, protect, and sign PDFs in Acrobat Pro DC, or highlight and annotate text in the free Acrobat Reader. All changes will be saved automatically to your Dropbox account. 

Download and install the Acrobat or Acrobat Reader desktop app, then add your Dropbox account. In Acrobat or Acrobat Reader, go to Home > Add Account then click the Add button beneath the Dropbox logo.

A sign in window will open in your default browser. Once you sign in to your Dropbox account, click Allow when Acrobat requests your permission to access your Dropbox files. Return to Acrobat or Acrobat Reader and the PDF files in your Dropbox account will be ready to edit.

  1. In the Acrobat or Acrobat Reader desktop app, open the Dropbox folder under Files in the left pane
  2. Choose which PDF you want to edit then select Edit PDF in the Tools pane on the right side of your screen
    • To add or edit text, go to Edit PDF then Edit (an icon of a pen and piece of paper). In this tool, you can:
      • Change, replace, delete, and format the existing text in the PDF
      • Add text and numbered or bulleted lists
      • Move, rotate, and resize textboxes
      • Add annotations and drawing markups to add comments
    • To add or edit images in your PDF, go to Edit PDF then Edit 
      • Select Add Image to insert an image, locate the file you want to place then click Open. Click the location where you want the image to be placed, or click-drag to size the image as you place it on the page
      • Drag a handle at a side of the image to resize it, or hold the Shift key on your keyboard while you drag the handle to keep the original aspect ratio
      • Go to Objects in the panel on the right side of your screen to flip, rotate, or crop it
      • Use Arrange under Objects to move the image in front of or behind other elements on a page
      • Go to Align Objects in the right-hand panel to align your image to the left, vertical center, right, top, horizontal center or bottom of the page
    • Use the other tools in the Edit PDF toolset to add, replace or edit a watermark, headers and footers, page backgrounds
    • Go to Fill & Sign in the right-hand pane or Sign in the toolbar (an icon of a pen) to add, edit, and move text in a form
  3. Name your file then press the Save button
  4. All changes to your PDF will be automatically saved to your Dropbox account

Edit PDF files on Mac or Windows with Dropbox

If you’re working on a Mac or Windows PC and only need to make a few edits to a PDF before sending it to a client or colleague, you can do this when previewing a file on dropbox.com. 

To edit a PDF in Dropbox, make sure your file is smaller than 111 MB and not password protected. Here’s how you can edit a PDF file directly in your Dropbox account:

  1. Sign in to dropbox.com
  2. Choose the PDF file you want to edit
  3. With the PDF open, go to Edit above the file preview
  4. Experiment with the tools to start editing your PDF
    • If you need to add more pages to your file, click Insert page and follow the prompts to insert a PDF from your Dropbox account. All of your pages will appear in a list as thumbnails in the left sidebar of your window
    • To change the order of your PDF pages, select a page you’d like to move in the left sidebar and drag it to a new position
    • To delete a page, click the thumbnail of the page you’d like to delete in the left sidebar then select Delete page
    • To rotate a page, click the thumbnail of the page you’d want to rotate in the left sidebar and choose Rotate right or Rotate left
    • If your PDF is an interactive form, click a fillable field and type in the text box that appears to fill in the form
      • Note: Only interactive PDF forms with fillable fields can be filled out in Dropbox.
  5. When you’re happy with your edits, click Done
  6. Don’t forget to save your changes
    • Select Save a copy to save your PDF as a new file in your Dropbox account. If other users have access to the original PDF, they won’t see the changes
    • Select Replace original if you want to completely replace the original PDF in your Dropbox account with the edited version. Every user who had access to the original version will see the changes
      • Note: You can select this option if you are the file owner or have been given edit access by the file owner.

How to edit PDFs on mobile or tablet

Sometimes you have to work on the go, without access to the computer or laptop you spend most of your time on. Luckily, the Adobe Acrobat integration with Dropbox means you can still open and edit PDFs on Android or iOS and iPadOS devices.

An illustration of a person using a smartphone

Edit PDF files on Android, iPhones, and iPads with Adobe Acrobat

  1. Download and install the latest versions of the Dropbox and Acrobat Reader apps from your device’s app store
  2. Sign in to your Dropbox account in the app, then open the PDF file you want to edit
  3. Click the Edit icon (a pen and a sheet of paper)
  4. This will take you to the Adobe Acrobat app, and you’ll be prompted to authorize that Adobe Acrobat can access your Dropbox account
  5. Your PDF file will then open in the Adobe Acrobat app, where you can start editing
    • To reorganize the order of the pages in your PDF file, tap the blue Page icon in the upper left corner of your screen to open the Tools pane. Select Organize Pages, then tap, hold, and drag a page thumbnail to move it to a new position.
    • You can also rotate or delete selected pages in the Organize Pages feature.
    • To edit the text in your PDF, tap Edit PDF in the Tools pane. This will highlight all editable text in your file. Tap and hold the textbox you want to edit and choose Edit from the pop-up menu that appears. As you type in new text, the existing text will reflow in response. To change the size of the textbox, tap the box and drag the sides.
      • To move a textbox, choose Move from the pop-up menu and drag the box to the desired position on the page.
    • You can also change the text font, size, style, and color in Edit PDF. Tap and hold the textbox you want to edit and choose Select or Select All from the pop-up menu that appears. A selection strip will appear above the keyboard.
  6. Once you have finished editing your PDF, tap the back arrow to save the file. This will take you back to your Dropbox account, where you’ll find the updated file.

Tips for editing PDFs

If you edit PDF documents regularly—perhaps contracts that need to be signed or reports that require feedback—then you’ll know that the process involves much more than simply inputting and formatting text and images.

As more features are built in to PDFs and the format continues to improve, your editing workflow is likely to evolve. Editing PDFs shouldn’t be complicated—so here are some extra tips to boost your skillset.

Why can’t I edit my PDF?

There are a number of things that might stop you from editing a PDF file. If you’re not the owner of the file, the creator may have turned the editing capability off. In this case, you can use a PDF reader to work around this.

Alternatively, the PDF file you want to edit may be protected or restricted. If you created the PDF and no longer need the protection, you can use the Unlock tool in Adobe Acrobat to remove the password security. Go to Tools > Protect > Encrypt > Remove Security.

Another reason you may be unable to edit your PDF is if you are using the wrong kind of software. For example, you might have opened a PDF in Adobe Reader DC instead of Adobe Acrobat DC.

How do I fill in and sign PDF forms?

Currently, only interactive PDF forms with fillable fields can be filled out on dropbox.com. 

There are a host of Dropbox app integrations available to allow for e-signatures in PDF files. These include HelloSign, a Dropbox company, DocuSign and Adobe Sign. Whether you’re working from a PC or mobile, you can sign a PDF as long as your device supports any of these tools.

Illustration of someone signing a PDF with an e-signature.

How do I reduce the size of a PDF?

You can compress a PDF to reduce its file size in the Adobe Acrobat desktop app on Windows or Mac. 

In Acrobat go to Tools > Optimize PDF then Open in the drop-down menu. Select your file then click Open. Click Reduce File Size in the top menu, then choose your preferred file version compatibility from the drop-down list of options. Click OK, then save your new compressed file.

Make quick, lightweight edits to your PDF files with Dropbox

Dropbox is a space for all your content—from contracts that need signing, to that self-published eBook you’ve been writing and reformatting. Again, and again.

Storing your files and folders in your Dropbox account not only keeps them safe and secure. It also means you’re giving yourself a dedicated space to organize, edit, share and collaborate anytime you want.

Discover a space for all your thoughts, files and ideas.

Get started with Dropbox today