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Why converting PDFs online shouldn't be so hard


Josie Adams


Apr 9, 2024



read time

4 mins

a woman uses a PDF file as a magic carpet to fly through the clouds

PDFs were meant to make life easier. So why are PDF editing tools still so hard to use?

You can also read this article in Français, Português, Tiếng Việt and Español.

Table of Contents

  • 1. Why are PDFs so hard to edit?

  • 2. How do online PDF editors work?

  • 3. A new era of PDF editing

  • 4. Will PDFs ever be easy to edit?

  • 1. Why are PDFs so hard to edit?
  • 2. How do online PDF editors work?
  • 3. A new era of PDF editing
  • 4. Will PDFs ever be easy to edit?

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We all dream of a world without paper – or, at least, paperwork. PDFs were meant to be our pathway to that world.

PDFs (portable document formats) are widespread. They're free to create, easy to send and, often, free to edit. They work on every operating system. They're the most dominant document format for official communications: press releases, invoices, budgets, reports, etc.

This dominance is further solidified by robust software packages and APIs. For instance, our Lumin Sign API integrates PDF signing with a signature requests workflow; all made to work within your company's own platform.

So why are they still such a nightmare to edit? The tools might be free (or cost a little, if you're looking for the premium stuff).

Why are PDFs so hard to edit?

In short: they weren't made for it. PDFs were designed to be tamper-proof. Over time, as they became the document franca, editing tools became necessary; but they were starting from a tough spot.

Even with Lumin, editing PDFs isn't as smooth as editing a Google Doc. Have you ever tweaked a PDF and noticed all the formatting go haywire? It's tough stuff.

Often what's happening is the original creator of the PDF creator didn't want changes made, so they "flattened" the PDF. This means each layer is flattened into the next, making it hard to edit specific parts without affecting the whole document. Most software struggles with this.

How do online PDF editors work?

Online PDF editors work by virtually printing objects on top of an existing PDF. This means you can use them to fill out and sign forms online, edit PDF text, add notes or highlight sections of a PDF. You can even add images.

Online editors can also help with tasks like merging, rotating, or deleting pages from a PDF. The drawback to using an online editor is obvious. By only allowing a user to edit a file by making changes on top of a PDF, the solution doesn't make sense for making extensive edits. This statement is especially true for users who need to make a lot of text edits. 

A new era of PDF editing

Web-based PDF tools like Lumin have transformed PDF editing. In the past, people used desktop software like Adobe Acrobat - many of you probably still do. But these old desktop editors fell short in securing documents, enabling remote work and enhancing collaboration.

Modern PDF security

One trait of PDFs has everlasting appeal: security. The original PDF was difficult to modify, making them a tamper-proof way of disseminating information. Modern PDF editors need to provide the same reassurance. To keep security top of game and back of mind, PDF editing software can provide:

  • role-based access control
  • encryption - Lumin does this with a 128-bit key, using the RC-4 method
  • password protection
  • specific limitations on actions, such as viewing, editing, and printing

Modern PDF collaboration

The PDF format is all about being compact. Initially this meant they were perfect for efficient file exchange via email. They remain easy to send - but the messaging platform is (hopefully) different: Microsoft Teams and Slack are the modern comms tools of choice. And with the right integrations, you can edit PDFs in the same space you send and receive them.

For example, you can integrate Lumin with Google Workspace to enable PDF editing straight from Drive, Classroom or Gmail.

Remote work with PDFs

Although PDFs were originally designed for sending files across cyberspace, the first tools weren't meant to make that remote collaboration happen in real time.

Modern PDF editing tools can be used in your browser or from your mobile phone or tablet, making it easy to give feedback or tweak documents while on-the-go. They also enable more than one person to view or edit a document at once, making collaboration a live experience instead of a tiresome back-and-forth.

Will PDFs ever be easy to edit?

There is no one-size-fits-all solution that adequately addresses all the PDF editing problems.

But Lumin is trying to make a difference. Our core principle is accessibility, and we do this by offering a PDF editor that comes in every way you'd need: there's a web browser app, a desktop app and a mobile app.

We also have a free template library so you never have to start from scratch, and a digital signature workflow tool purpose-built for getting deals done.

The PDF is your oyster.

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