Edit Your PDFs in the Cloud With PDFZen

How often have you come across this scenario: You’re working in the office when someone sends you a PDF file that needs to be edited, either with your signature or anything else. But hey, there’s no PDF editor on your work machine, and your company has strict admin policies.

A web app is the best way to go around this and PDF Zen could be just what the doctor ordered. It’s got a lovely, Metro-inspired design, is extremely easy to use and features enough options for you basic PDF, DOC, DOCX, XLS, XLSX, ODF and RTF editing needs.

Let’s Dive In

You can open any of the above file formats from your local hard drive, or hook up PDFZen to your Google Drive (no DropBox support yet; bummer!) for files stored on it. We didn’t see any file size limit as such, as the app happily accepted PDFs of over 50MB in size. It also supports multi-page PDFs, so that’s a major boon.

On the main page, there is no prompt to register for the service, but once you do open your first document, you’ll see the options in the top-right corner. The only real benefits to signing up are being able to see all the documents you have worked on in the past and to be able to send virtual faxes to others. Still, PDFZen works perfectly fine if you are using it anonymously.

I quite liked how PDFZen lets you fit the document to screen by width or height – it’s a small but user-friendly feature.

The Editing Tools

For our review, we used a PDF from The Guardian shared on Scribd, giving a primer to the US Presidential Election.

You can write text anywhere with by creating a simple text box with the Type Tool. And you can even increase or decrease the size of the font. However, there is no mechanism to change the font itself, its colour or its formatting (bold, italics, etc.), which makes it somewhat limited when you want to annotate your PDF.

I really like the Highlight tool, or rather how it’s implemented. A lot of times, you’ll have a PDF file where the text can’t be selected, so highlighting it doesn’t become possible. At PDFZen, that’s moot. Once you click Highlight, all you have to do is click anywhere on the PDF to create a Highlight Box. Move and drag it to whichever area you want to finish highlighting. Simple!

Be careful about one thing though. When you are done, don’t click on another part of the PDF; hit the ‘Go Back’ button or you’ll end up creating another Highlight Box, which you will have to select and delete. A bit of an unintuitive pain, that.

The Comment feature is a boon for anyone and everyone. Whether you are an editor going through a manuscript, a professional looking at a presentation or a designer looking at a creative, it always helps to just be able to put little sticky notes to comment on what you think needs to change. And all you have to do with PDFZen is hit Comment and then click the point where you want to comment on.

The comment itself shows up outside the PDF’s border, pointing to your spot with a dotted line. Type as much or as little as you want, there’s no word limit here as far as we can make out.

And yes, of course, you can move the Comment Box if you need to.

There is one big problem here though. The Comments that you make on this PDF are readable only when opened through PDFZen. If you download the file and open it through FoxIt, Adobe or any other PDF reader, the Comment Box doesn’t show up at all. This is a huge issue since it severely limits the use of annotation to only to the web app.

The Draw Tool, much like the Type Tool, is limited to one colour – black. It gives you a basic paintbrush to draw on your PDF as you please, which also means it’s great to sign any PDF documents in a jiffy. But yes, the downside is that if you are using a document with a black background and white text, this tool is utterly useless.

Not that I know much about coding, but I don’t think it should take a huge effort for the makers of PDFZen to include the ability to choose colours for the Type Tool and the Draw Tool. It would make the whole app a lot more functional and get rid of this serious flaw right now.

All Done?

Once you are finished with your editing, hit the Actions button and you will be given several different options for your file.

Along with giving you the link and a way to embed the PDF, you can share it via social networks and email.

Other options include opening a new PDF in PDFZen, faxing your document (needs registration), downloading it to your hard drive, or downloading the original without all your changes (yup, that’s still saved).

Final Thoughts

There’s very little not to like about this basic PDF editing app. The design and ease-of-use it offers is unparalleled in the web-based PDF apps I have tried before – and believe me, I’ve tried a lot of them!

But its features are still limited to basic editing. Once the developers add some changes, like better formatting options for the edit tools, it’ll become almost infallible. However, the fact that the Comment Boxes can’t be seen on other PDF readers is a big let-down.

Still, for a free web app, PDFZen gets the job done and does look good doing it.


PDFZen is an easy-to-use web app with a Metro-inspired design to edit your PDF files by putting in text boxes, highlighting areas, leaving comments, drawing, and signing a document.