A look at some tools for working with PDF files

Like them or hate them (and there are people in both camps), Portable Document Format (PDF) files are here and they don’t look like they’re going to go away anytime soon.

Working with PDF files can be a bit of a chore, though. You need the right tools with which to do whatever task you need to do. Luckily, there are a number of useful Linux tools for doing just that.

Here’s a look at a few of those tools.


As its name implies, PDF-Shuffler helps you manipulate PDF files. It’s a graphical tool that lets you rotate, crop, move, and delete pages in a PDF file. PDF-Shuffler is literally point and click; very easy to use.

First, import a PDF into the application by clicking the Import pdf button. Then, click a page and do one of the following:

  • Drag the page anywhere in the document with your mouse
  • Click the Delete Page(s) button
  • Right click and choose one of the rotate options or Crop Page(s)

If you click Crop Pages then you’ll be asked what percentage of the width of the page you want to crop the four margins.

When you’re done, click the Export PDF button to save your work. It’s quick and it’s simple.


It’s hard to deny that Adobe Acrobat is a very powerful and very useful tool. It’s also very large and kind of expensive. On top of that, there isn’t a native version for Linux. But PDFEdit gives you many of Acrobat’s most useful and most-used functions.

Like what? How about:

  • Adding and editing the text in a PDF
  • Inserting and deleting pages
  • Mark up the file
  • Flatten the PDF

And more. To be honest, I’ve only explored a few of PDFEdit’s functions. Sometimes, it can be hard to figure out how to do something with the application. That said, if you need to edit a PDF in any way (for example, adding text to a PDF form that isn’t fillable) PDFEdit is a good choice.


Have a Postscript file that you want to convert to PDF? Instead of using ps2pdf at the command line, give Moonshiner a try. It’s a graphical front-end to ps2pdf which gives you point-and-click access to most of ps2pdf’s options.

You can read more about Moonshiner here.

A few command line tools

There’s a rich selection of tools on the command line for working with PDF files. Probably more than I realize. While they can be difficult to use, they definitely come in handy.

First up, ps2pdf. Yes, even though I’m a fan of Moonshiner, I still like and use ps2pdf – for both practical and sentimental reasons. You can read an article I wrote about it for details.

While PDF-Shuffler and PDFEdit are powerful tools, pdftk (the PDF Toolkit) is a lot more powerful. When all other utilities and tools for working with PDFs fail me, I turn to pdftk. You can learn more about it in this article.

Whenever people ask me about an alternative to PDF, I point them to the DjVu format. It offers great compression and loads quickly in a viewer. Designed for archving scanned images, DjVu creates files that are smaller than a comparable PDF. There are a number of tools for creating and viewing DjVu files. But you can also convert PDFs to DjVu using pdf2djvu. It doesn’t do too bad a job, and is worth using if you want to dump your PDFs in favour of a more open format.

What are your favourite tools for working with PDF files? Share your picks by leaving a comment.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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