Portable Document Format (PDF) files are the common language of the computing world, whether you’re on an Android device, a Mac OS X system, or even a Windows PC. The PDF format is usually constrained to read-only but there are plenty of times you want to edit, mark up, secure or even convert a PDF document into another, more useful format.
That’s the job of ABBYY’s terrific Windows app PDF Transformer+. The first time you delete the Word source and realize you just have the PDF output you’ll realize why a tool like this is so darn useful…
A funny thing happened on the way to this review, actually. My daughter was sitting next to me, working on her biology homework, and suddenly gasped. “What?” I asked. “I need to make some changes to this written assignment, but I didn’t save the Word file, I only have the PDF!”
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect scenario. She emailed me the PDF document, I opened it in PDF Transformer+, exported it as a Microsoft Word document, emailed it back, and 90 seconds later she was happily making the necessary revisions to her assignment.
Another problem solved by Super Dad!
Well, with a little help from ABBYY and its remarkable PDF Transformer+ program. Kinda like my sidekick.
To get a full measure of the program, I put it through a variety of tests and experiments, but let’s start with the launch screen because that’ll give you an idea of its interface and capabilities:
On the left side are the test PDF documents I’ve been working with, but as you can see, it’s possible to create a new PDF, merge multiple PDF files into one (“Create from multiple files”) and even convert a scan into a usable document format, including being able to specify whether it’s searchable or not. Darn handy.
Along the bottom you can see some of the many formats that the program can use to export the PDF data if you’re seeking a conversion. We’ll get back to that in a minute, though.
Open up a document and it’s a pretty typical editor window a la MS Windows:
In this case, it’s definitely not a complicated layout — I mean, it is high school biology, after all — but that’s okay. The design is quite functional and easy to understand for anyone who’s used just about any Windows document editor.
As a first test, I’ll simply save this PDF file as a Microsoft Word document. I could use the “Convert To” button along the top ribbon, but I’m an old school Windows users so I’ll use File -> Export:
Here you can see a list of available output formats, ranging from converting it into an image-only or searchable PDF to converting it to MS Word, Open Office, MS Excel, PowerPOint, HTML, EPUB (we’ll get back to that in a sec), and many more. Of note: TXT lets you save just the textual part and RTF gives you rudimentary formatting that’s suitable for copying and pasting into email editors.
I’ll choose “Microsoft Word Document”…
It all works pretty darn fast: The three page PDF file converted into a Word file in just a few seconds.
One of the other great capabilities of PDF Transformer+ is the ability to add markup to an existing PDF. Here’s an example: I clicked and dragged to select all the text in the first question (in the PDF, remember), then choose “Comment” from the top and typed in a comment:
Now if I save the PDF and open it on my Mac system in Adobe Reader, for example, the comment’s still there:
That works! Now how about that whole transformation of the PDF into a Word document?
Actually, one more thing first… let’s add a security password to the PDF — always a smart thing to do before you email a PDF document to someone else. Just in case. To do that, look for this on the File menu in PDF Transformer+:
Choose that and you’ll find there are a number of levels of security you can set on a PDF document:
In this case, I’m going to set the document password as “BIO” and the print password as “NOPRINTME”. If someone has that password, however, they can edit and print the PDF. Otherwise, it’ll be on-screen read-only.
The program saves the new PDF, and you do want to give it a new name rather than overwrite the original, just to be safe.
On the Mac, secure PDFs have different icons:
Double click and it doesn’t give you a preview, it prompts for a password:
In this case, as you know, the password is “BIO”. Works!
Now let’s back up a tiny bit. Remember I converted that PDF file to a Microsoft Word file? Here’s what it looks like in WordPad:
and on the Mac side, in the Apple Pages program:
Perfect. Again, not a complicated design, but in my experience, it’s the content that’s most important in converting a PDF into an editable format like Microsoft Word, and to have it work properly across platforms, whether you’re working with an annotated or secure PDF or a converted format? Super helpful!
When I received ABBYY’s PDF Transformer+ to review, I thought it would be a useful tool but not necessarily one I’d use that often. And yet, as fate would have it, I found a use for it within the first few days, thanks to my daughter. As with many utilities, it’s sometimes hard to anticipate when it’ll be useful, but when it’s 11pm and your presentation — revised! — is due first thing the next morning, for you just to realize that it’ll take twice that long just to type in the 50 pages that are in that read-only PDF. Life saver, yup.
ABBYY’s PDF Transformer+ is for the Windows platform and retails at $79.99. You can download a demo copy to give it a whirl too: Download ABBYY PDF Transformer+
Disclaimer: I was compensated for reviewing PDF Transformer+ and I’m also using affiliate links in this article to link to their site. Affiliate links offer a win:win where you pay exactly the same price for the software, but a small commission comes to us so that we can keep this Web site up and running. Thanks!