Five Free Tools for Viewing and Creating PDFs

Fed up with how slow Adobe Reader is? Appalled at how expensive Adobe Acrobat is? Then try one of those free tools for creating and viewing PDFs.

adobe pdf logoSay “PDF” and the first brand name that comes to mind is always Adobe. The very same Adobe that got called out in droves when we asked groovyReaders what’s the worst software in the world? Although Adobe invented the Portable Document Format, its products are far from being the cheapest and most intuitive for everyday document creating and viewing. There are dozens of better free alternatives to Adobe Acrobat and Adobe Reader. Here are five of my favorites.

1. CutePDF

CutePDF is hands down the most popular free document creator, and for good reason. To use it, all you have to do is print a document to the CutePDF Writer, just like you would to an actual printer. What you get is a clean, simple document. No bloatware, no registration, no nag screens. I like it.

Austin does, too. He wrote up a nice tutorial on how to Convert Any Document, Image, Or Website into a PDF, which shows step by steps for installing and using using it.

CutePDF is a creator only—it does not have include a viewer.

2. Nitro Reader

Nitro Reader is a free reader and creator, but unlike the others on this list, it’s packed with additional features. As Austin points out in his Nitro PDF reader review, Nitro is particularly handy for working with Microsoft Office 2010 documents.

3. PDF995

PDF995 is lightweight, fast and free. There’s an advertisement that you have to look at whenever you create one, but it’s tolerable. What I like about it is the speed and reliability. On my work computer, I have three different PDF creator programs. I almost always use PDF995, because it’s far less likely to go fritzy on me even compared to its commercial counterparts. It also works great with Windows XP.

PDF995 is creator only—it does not include a viewer.

4. Foxit Reader

Foxit offers Foxit Reader, which is often touted as faster than both Adobe and Google Chrome’s built-in PDF viewer. But it also lets you create them, either via the virtual printer or directly from Word.

Back in April, Hammad did a writeup on Foxit Reader which highlighted it as fast, lightweight alternative to Adobe Reader.

5. SlimPDF

Small footprint is the name of the game for SlimPDF, and against most contenders, it wins. If system resources are tight, SlimPDF may help you view PDFs without bogging things down. SlimPDF is incredibly minimalistic—all it does is let you view and print PDFs and zoom in/zoom out on them. But if that’s all you need, then it’s yet another better alternative to Adobe.

Read our previous SlimPDF review.


Almost everyone uses Adobe Reader (there’s a reason why the Adobe Reader page is one of the top Google search results for “click here”). In many ways, Adobe has become the default application for reading and viewing PDFs. But if you don’t have the patience for Adobe Reader or the money for Adobe Acrobat, there are plenty of quality free alternatives. And because Adobe granted royalty-free licenses for the patents required to make PDFs back in 2008, most of the free alternatives will be every bit as effective and reliable.

Also, remember you can edit PDFs in Word 2013 too!

Do you have a favorite Adobe alternative? Share it in the comments.



  1. Mokshedul Hamid

    May 26, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Thanks for these five tools for reading and creating PDF files. Among those five I tried Foxit Reader. There I can even review on the page with comments, as I remember. But to create any pdf file I prefer to take help of “Dopdf” tool. It’s very handy. M Hamid

    • Gavin Hoole

      June 3, 2014 at 4:37 am

      Foxit is my default PDF viewer and it works fine for my needs. I usually create PDFs from MS Word, mostly out of habit.

  2. Victor

    February 6, 2015 at 4:39 pm

    Don’t forget that libre office is free and also reads and converts to PDF. It’s the perfect alternative for ms office and adobe reader.

  3. Jeroen

    October 30, 2015 at 11:41 am

    Nitro is very nice, but also, not in this list: pdfforge!

  4. Jeff

    December 19, 2015 at 5:47 am

    Thanks, one question, is there a free one for just combining pdf’s?

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