How to Edit PDF in Google Docs with the Best Editing Results Possible

Rosa Reyes
time February 20, 2019 Preview 2.4K
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Provided by Google within its Google Drive service, Google Docs is a great word processor, allowing online creation and editing of files and real-time collaboration of multiple users. Can I edit PDF in Google Docs? Is it possible to edit a scanned PDF in it? How do I use Google Docs to edit PDF? What are some tips for it? Find out here.

Can you edit a PDF document in Google Docs?


Google Docs supports a number of file types and formats, but PDF is not one of them. The good news is you can still edit PDF in Google Docs. Thanks to its OCR function, you can also edit a scanned document in this web app. To get started, upload a PDF to Google Drive and then open it with Google Docs, which will automatically convert PDF to Word. Now you are able to edit the content and then download it as PDF or other formats you may need. You can’t edit PDF directly in Google Docs. So, the more accurate answer to this question is yes and no.

Google Docs is not designed for PDF editing after all, so you may be wondering if it’s a decent PDF editor. Just read on, please.

How good is Google Docs for PDF editing?


  1. Free and easy to use
  2. Cross-platform, available as web-based app and mobile app
  3. Convert PDF to Word for you to edit
  4. Provide a bunch of editing features
  5. Allow you to download the edited content as PDF
  6. Can also deal with scanned or image-based PDFs


  1. Can’t open password-protected PDF files even if you know the password
  2. Can’t perform editing on the original PDF
  3. The original formatting and images won’t be retained.
  4. May fail when handling large-sized scanned PDFs

When you edit PDF in Google Docs, you can expect different performance and result with different types of PDF files. It performs best with PDFs, including the scanned or image-based ones, that only contain text content. The simpler the PDF, the less trouble Google Docs will have converting it properly. This online word processor doesn’t have problem keeping font colors and styles such as bold, but it does a terrible job of retaining images, tables, lists, etc.

Below is an example. The source PDF is image-based and contains only text. Google Docs successfully recognizes the text and converts it with high accuracy.

sample scanned PDF

Fig.1 – the source PDF

after conversion to Word

Fig.2 – converted and ready to be edited in Google Docs

A guide (posted in 2017) to Google Docs points out that the maximum size for PDF is 2 MB. Well, this is not true anymore in 2019. In our test, Google Docs had no problem dealing with a 20 MB native PDF and a 5.8 MB scanned PDF, but it failed with a larger scanned document which was 15.9 MB in size.

Google Docs’ performance varies when it edits PDF documents, which has something to do with the source documents. Here are a few things you can follow to get the best editing results.

  • The font size in your PDF should be at least in 7.5pt to get high accuracy.
  • The orientation of the characters in the document also matters. Make sure the pages are right side up.
  • If the PDF pages look dark or blurry, the result won’t be so good. You can try to improve by increasing contrast or reducing pixel noise.
  • Turn to professional software for help if the PDF has complicated formatting, scanned and big in size, or you are after high quality editing, among other situations.

Instructions: How to edit PDF in Google Docs

Step 1. How do I import a PDF to Google Docs? It’s simple. Go to Sign in using your Google account.

Step 2. Click the folder icon. Select Upload and select a PDF from your computer. You can also import file by dragging and dropping.

import PDF to Google Docs for editing

Step 3. The file will be uploaded to Google Drive. Click Open with and select Google Docs.

open PDF with Google Docs

Step 4. Google Docs will convert PDF to Word and open the file. You can edit the content as you like. For example, add or delete text, insert image or table, change font, adjust layout, etc.

Step 5. When the editing is done, click File > Download as > PDF Document (.pdf).

download edited PDF from Google Docs

On Android devices, iPhone and iPad

You can follow the steps above if you want to edit PDF in Google Docs on your PC or Mac. As for mobile devices such as iPhone, there are mobile apps. Although you are able to import and view PDF on on your phone by changing mobile browser to desktop mode, you are not allowed to edit the file this way. Google will ask you to download the mobile app. This is the only way to edit PDF in Google Docs/Drive on Android and iOS devices.

Alternative (and better) ways to edit any PDF file

  Adobe Acrobat Cisdem PDF Converter OCR PDFfiller
Price $155+ annually $59.99 lifetime $72+ annually

#1 Adobe Acrobat

Developed by Adobe, Acrobat comes in two editions: Standard (Windows only) and Pro (Windows & Mac). Both editions offer PDF editing features, with the latter being more powerful and expensive.

Unlike Google Docs, Acrobat is a paid app and is costly. But it is far more powerful when it comes to PDF editing and other PDF related tasks. You can’t edit PDF in Google Docs offline, but this solution can work perfectly without Internet connection.

edit PDF


  1. Allow you to edit text and images in PDF
  2. Transform PDF to editable Word, Excel, etc.
  3. Also transform PDF to image
  4. Offer other features such as PDF creating, merging, splitting, signing, etc.


  1. Expensive

#2 Cisdem PDF Converter OCR

If you have tried to edit PDF in Google Docs online but are not satisfied with the result, Cisdem PDF Converter OCR for Mac can be a better choice. It is able to make any PDF editable, native or scanned, searchable or non-searchable.

To get started, download and install this Google Docs alternative on your computer. Drag a PDF into this app. Choose DOCX as the output format. Click the conversion button. The layout, formatting, images, tables, table of contents and hyperlinks, among other things of the original PDF file, will be retained.

Now you are able to perform editing in Microsoft Word as you wish. After you finish editing, you can use this very same alternative of Google Docs to turn the edited content into PDF. When you edit PDF in Google Docs, you can’t do it in bulk. But with this app, batch conversion is available. You can make multiple PDF files editable at the same time.

make PDF editable


  1. Make any PDF into instantly editable Word, Excel, PowerPoint, text, etc.
  2. Cheap and easy to use
  3. Powerful with OCR function and various supported formats
  4. Keep the original formatting, layout, font, hyperlinks, etc.
  5. Create PDF from World, PowerPoint, images, etc.
  6. Also provide features like image OCR, PDF combining & splitting, encrypting & decrypting, etc.


  1. Mac only (free trial available)

Free Download

Note that this app is only available for Mac. For Windows users, Readiris can be a good choice.


Just like Google Docs, it is also available as a web-based app. The service is not free, and you need to become a subscribed user. A free trial is provided, but you need to provide credit card information.

Go to Click the Browse for a Document on Your Computer button to import a PDF document. Once uploaded, the file will be opened and ready to be edited. On the top of the window, you can find a number of tools such as Text, Image and Text Box. Now you can edit text content, insert images, highlight text and do other editing and annotating. You can save the edited document as PDF or Word or get it printed or sent via email, among other options. This PDF editor can’t work without Internet, which is the same with Google Docs.

online PDF editor


  1. Allow users to edit text and insert images in PDF
  2. Can work as a PDF annotator
  3. Also support PowerPoint, Word and text
  4. No need to download and install anything


  1. Can’t edit image-based non-searchable PDFs
  2. A bit expensive


If you want to edit PDF for free, Google Docs can be one of the best choices as it’s easy and reliable to use. But when you edit PDF in Google Docs, you can only get decent results with certain types of PDFs such as PDFs that only contain text or the ones with very simple formatting. If your work involves PDF editing and manipulation, you can consider professional paid software such as Acrobat or Cisdem PDF Converter OCR. Most PDF editing software tools come with versatile features and can also help with other PDF tasks.

Rosa Reyes
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Rosa has worked in Mac software industry for more than eight years. She believes that the purpose of software is to make life better and work more productively. In addition to writing, Rosa is also an avid runner.

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