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How to sign a PDF for free, and 4 other tricks that don’t require Adobe Acrobat

Fill out forms, sign on the dotted line, mark up documents for feedback, and much more, all within your browser.

How to sign a PDF for free, and 4 other tricks that don’t require Adobe Acrobat
[Photo: tookapic /Pixabay]

Whether you’re using Adobe’s free Acrobat Reader or fully functional Acrobat, most of us can agree that while reading PDFs using these tools isn’t so bad, once you start trying to actually work with PDFs, things can get clunky quickly. It doesn’t help that the programs launch slower than a frozen Buick in a Minnesota winter.

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And while some of what you’ll read below can be replicated inside the official Adobe apps, oftentimes it’s quicker and more convenient to just stay inside your browser and fire up the right tool for the job.

In that spirit, here are some cool things you can do with your PDFs without using any special software.

Fill out and sign form-filled PDFs

You know when you get asked to fill out a PDF and email it back to someone? Instead of printing it out, writing out all your responses by hand, somehow reconverting it into a digital format, and then emailing it back, try using Adobe’s own free, handy online tool.

Upload the PDF you need to fill out, sign into the service, and you’ll find your document opened up and Adobe’s Fill & Sign feature highlighted—no need to download Acrobat Reader first.

You’ve got access to text, various check marks, and a method by which to include your signature. Once you’re ready to send it back, you can create a read-only link to copy and paste into an email message. Alternatively, you can also email it directly to someone right from the online tool.

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Quickly merge multiple PDF files into one

Should you find yourself needing to combine a collection of individual PDFs into one big master PDF, there are a handful of ways to do it, but Smallpdf’s free online PDF merger tool is about as easy as it gets.

You can drag and drop the individual PDFs right into the site or grab them from Google Drive or Dropbox instead. Once you’ve got everything loaded up, you can rearrange the documents however you like or add others you might have forgotten.

When you’re happy with how things look, hit the big “Merge PDF” button and you’ll be able to download the master PDF, email it, copy a link to it, or send it over to Google Drive or Dropbox.

Save email messages directly to Google Drive as PDFs

Receipt? Important document? You can copy such email messages directly to your Google Drive account for safekeeping in a few clicks.

You’ll need to be using Google’s Chrome web browser for this to work. Open up the Gmail message like you normally would, and then go through the steps as though you’re going to print it out.

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Once you’ve got the printing dialog open, instead of choosing an available printer, pull down the Destination menu and you should also h

ave a “Save to Google Drive” option. Use that and the email message you’ve chosen will be saved to your Google Drive account as a PDF file.

The big downside with this trick is that you can’t save these PDFs to a specific Google Drive folder. They’re unceremoniously plopped right into the top-level Drive account, at which point you’ll need to go in and move them to a more appropriate folder. Or don’t! I’m not here to say that your Google Drive needs to be totally organized. Mine’s a mess, too.

While you’re at it, save just about anything as a PDF

Generally, if you’re able to print it, you’ll likely find the option to save something as a PDF in the print menu when you go to print something.

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The functionality is built right into most modern operating systems and web browsers, so check if you have a “Print to PDF” or “Save to PDF” item wherever you find your printers list if you’re using Windows or a Chromebook. On Mac, look for the PDF menu in the lower-left corner of the printer dialog box.

Give someone else feedback on a PDF

There are some tools built into the free version of Acrobat Reader that let you mark up a document for someone seeking feedback. For instance, the Sticky Notes feature is especially helpful. But Xodo’s online PDF editor, which is free for personal use, offers additional fun markup elements.

You simply upload the PDF you want to mark up and launch into a web interface that’s clean and easy to understand. Markup tools can be found along the top right of the window, while just about everything else is on the left. Once you’re done with your document, clicking the Save button downloads it directly to your desktop. You can also save it to Xodo’s servers or send it to Google Drive or Dropbox.

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