PDF Editors For Linux

This post is brought to you by the new Blogger interface Google has forced on everyone! Which is dreadful! The only way I keep my sanity editing posts on Blogger is to create the post in a separate editor (LibreOffice Writer in this case) and then paste the completed article into Blogger. There is much angst in the Blogger users’ community over the broken functionality in the new interface and the fact it has been forced into use with what they believe to be insufficient testing. My experiences with it exemplify those experiences, but this is the only one of my regular blogs that is still hosted on Blogger, and the workarounds for me are sufficient until such time as they fix all the bugs.

Today’s post is about editing a PDF using free/open source software. The PDF format as we are generally aware has historically been an Adobe thing, and so has the main editor software package. Everyone knows and uses Adobe Reader on various platforms, but relatively few people use Acrobat, the expensive commercial package that can edit PDF documents. Hence, a few alternative solutions have been developed, and the abilities of these are improving all the time. Here are my takes on a few of them.

My particular requirement here is filling out a PDF form and inserting my signature. It’s fine to be able to fill out the form in Okular (KDE’s in house PDF viewer) but inserting a graphic is impossible. So I looked at some of these alternatives:

LibreOffice Draw is part of the LibreOffice suite and can read and edit PDFs as files made up of individual elements. In my brief examination of Draw, the main concern I had was that it would be able to output the document looking like the original after editing; it seemed to have difficulty converting all of the text to typefaces that would fit cleanly into the original format. Because of this, I have not explored Draw further for my particular requirement at this stage.

Inkscape is a well known graphics editor that has a lot of features and is one of a few favourite graphical editors I have installed on my computer. I haven’t looked very deeply into its capabilities because the major limitation I have observed so far is that it can only handle a single page PDF; there is no obvious way of working with multi page documents.

Most of the full editors that are available are paid only. PDFSam and MS Word 2019 are examples that are Windows only. I have no desire at all to spend money on any type of Windows computer, or even a virtual machine, just to run these solutions. PDFstudio is an alternative that is available on Linux. The Pro edition that is capable of PDF editing costs $129 to buy and is licensed for 2 computers. It would be interesting to evaluiate this product at some stage to see if it is worth purchasing in future. Master PDF Editor is another product I might evaluate, it just puts a watermark on each page but it might be possible to remove that with one of the free editors.

Scribus is a FOSS desktop publishing package that also can open PDF files. Version 1.5 which is currently a development edition and only supported on most distros as an AppImage. I found however it has the same issue as some other packages of being unable to render fonts in the previously filled out PDF form.

Ultimately for this particular situation, needing a quick and easy solution to create my PDF and get it useful for my requirement, I have used Gimp which will import each page as either a layer or a separate image according to a selection choice when opening the document. It imports the pages as graphics, but you can fill in a form in something like Okular, save it to a new document, and then inserting a signature as a graphic can be done in Gimp, then export each image to a new file and paste them into a new document and export it back to PDF. A complex process for just one form but it lets me send my document completely filled out complete with signature because Okular cannot do the insertion of a graphic into the appropriate place on a PDF. I think this Gimp solution will be the best short term but I will still be interested in evaluating other possibilities in future.