7 Recommended Free PDF Readers for Windows

Free Pdf Readers Windows Featured

PDF files are now so standard that there are plenty of apps that allow you to view them. While the go-to free PDF reader for Windows is Adobe Acrobat, it has become bloated and difficult to use. If you want a more streamlined program to read PDFs, we recommend these Windows PDF readers that were tested by the Make Tech Easier team.

Good to know: learn how to turn a picture into a PDF by using your iPhone.

1. Sumatra PDF

Price: Free

Sumatra PDF is a lightweight and open-source software, designed for viewing PDF documents. While it lacks advanced editing features and converting capabilities, its lightweight and user-friendly interface makes it a popular choice for many users seeking a free PDF reader for Windows.

PDF view in Sumatra PDF utility.

The software may not be suitable for users who need to work with complex PDF files or require advanced features. If that describes you, then you may want to check out some of the other options on our list.

Sumatra PDF is known for its small size and quick loading times, making it a great choice for users who want a simple, fast, free PDF reader for Windows. It also offers a portable version that can be run from a USB drive, which is convenient for users who need to access PDF files on multiple devices. If you don’t mind its outdated interface, Sumatra PDF is a great choice for when you just want to quickly view a PDF.

Tip: learn how to search a PDF.

2. PDFgear

Price: Free

If your needs are more complex, you may want to give PDFgear a try. It bundles more than your standard PDF viewer, and it’s free. It lets you add annotations to your PDF: from highlighting or underlining text to adding notes and stamps, this program has you covered.

Editing PDF in PDFgear app in Windows.

In addition, this Windows PDF reader enables you to edit the text in a PDF so that you can add or remove text. However, you’ll need to be wary that doing so may affect a PDF’s overall formatting. You can also add images and a signature or take advantage of OCR support.

PDFgear gives you the option to easily delete or add pages to your PDF. You can even create forms, split or merge a PDF, or add a password for protection. If that’s not enough for you, PDFgear also includes a few additional tools, such as PDF converting options, compress features, and a fill-in form.

3. PDF-XChange Viewer

Price: Free with premium options

PDF-XChange Viewer is another free PDF reader for Windows you should consider, although it offers a pretty old-fashioned interface. Even so, this free PDF reader for Windows bundles a wide range of features, including annotation tools, text manipulation, OCR support, and adding digital signatures. While some features require a paid upgrade, such as adding video to your PDF or file conversion, the free version still offers a lot of value.

Editing PDF in PDF-XChange Viewer app for Windows.

The software allows users to customize the interface, add plugins, and modify the settings according to their needs. PDF-XChange Viewer has a portable version that can be run from a USB drive, allowing users to access PDF files on multiple devices.

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to PDF-XChange Viewer, so first-time users may find the program a bit overwhelming. However, you’ll find a comprehensive feature list on the official website to help you decide if it’s for you.

Tip: did you know that you can add a table of contents in Google Docs? Learn how to append one and update it if needed.

4. Google Docs

Price: Free

Google Docs is not primarily designed as a Windows PDF reader, but it is capable of opening and displaying PDF files. Although Docs lacks features found in most PDF readers, being available in the cloud makes it incredibly useful when you are on your computer without a PDF viewer. You’ll need to upload the PDF via Google Drive, then opt to view it using Google Docs.

PDF opened with Google Docs.

Google Docs allows multiple users to collaborate on the same document simultaneously, making it a great tool for group projects or teamwork. You can also edit text, insert images, text, or tables, and add comments. When you’re done, Google lets you download the document as a PDF.

PDF files often contain complex formatting. While Google Docs is capable of displaying these files, some formatting is more often than not lost or altered in the process. Unless you’re willing to do some editing, this option may not be the right one for you.

5. Most Browsers

Price: Free

Most Windows browsers double as Windows PDF readers so that you can open PDF files without the need to download additional software or plugins. If you’re like me, you have multiple browsers installed on your desktop, but any of them can be used to view PDFs.

Viewing PDF file in Microsoft Edge browser for Windows.

To open a PDF with your browser, right-click a PDF file, and select Open with, then opt for your browser of choice.

Chrome’s built-in PDF reader, for instance, is barebones and lacks the more advanced features that a dedicated PDF editor offers. Like other web browsers, its PDF reader may not display complex formatting in PDF files accurately, but it can be better than Google Docs. Microsoft Edge’s PDF reader has a few more features, as it lets you draw on the PDF and highlight text. There are also options to read the text aloud and translate the text.

FYI: is Microsoft Edge not responding? Learn what to do.

6. Slim PDF

Price: Free with premium options

Slim PDF Reader & Viewer is a free, lightweight PDF reader for Windows, at only 15MB. It offers access to a series of editing tools and can load your PDFs super-fast. It features a clean, more modern-looking interface and is a breeze to use.

Viewing PDF file in Slim PDF browser on Windows.

With this Windows PDF reader, you can do things like add sticky notes with your choice of color and icons. It also allows you to insert links or stamps to your PDF document, highlight text, strike out text, or add an attachment.

For more PDF editor-specific features, such as drawing or importing PDF signatures, converting PDFs to Excel files (and other file formats), or submitting PDF forms, the developer also offers Able2Extract Professional, with a free seven-day trial. But if you only need to view and annotate your PDF files, the Slim PDF is one of the best free PDF readers for Windows.

7. DocFly

Price: Free

If you’d rather not have to install an additional program, use an online tool. With DocFly, for instance, you get access to a pretty impressive spectrum of features, including the ability to add images to your PDF or sign a document.

PDF opened online using DocFly.

This free PDF reader for Windows does not require you to sign up with an account. I was able to upload a 380-page PDF within seconds. DocFly specifies that you can only edit up to three documents per month for free, but you can circumvent this restriction by using a VPN. You can add text and links and even create forms. There are also features that allow you to white/black out parts of your document and add blank PDF documents or delete pages.

DocFly also allows you to add emojis – a unique feature I haven’t seen anywhere else – and add signatures. This PDF tool is a great alternative if you’re looking to quickly view and edit a PDF.

Tip: check out these Scribd alternatives to host your PDF files.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why would you need an Adobe Reader alternative?

While Adobe Reader is a great tool for viewing and printing PDF files, some users may prefer alternative PDF readers for a variety of reasons, such as cost, features, or compatibility issues.

Does Windows 10 include a PDF reader?

Yes, Windows 10 and Windows 11 both include Microsoft Edge, which can be used as a PDF reader.

Can you open a PDF in Windows without Adobe?

Yes. You either need a browser or a program like the ones mentioned above. Some tools can be accessed online for additional convenience.

Is there a free version of Adobe Acrobat?

While the Adobe Acrobat app for Windows is free to install, many features are locked behind a paywall. However, Adobe offers a variety of free web tools that allow you to delete pages or split a PDF. You’ll need an account to access these options and can only use a web editing tool once.

Do I need a PDF editor or a PDF reader?

It depends on your specific needs. If the only thing you need is to view a PDF, then you should get a PDF reader. But if you wish to modify your PDF, such as annotating or editing the text, you’ll need a PDF editor for the job.

Image credit: Freepik & Unsplash & Flaticon. All screenshots by Alexandra Arci.

Subscribe to our newsletter!

Our latest tutorials delivered straight to your inbox

Alexandra Arici

Alexandra is passionate about mobile tech and can be often found fiddling with a smartphone from some obscure company. She kick-started her career in tech journalism in 2013, after working a few years as a middle-school teacher. Constantly driven by curiosity, Alexandra likes to know how things work and to share that knowledge with everyone.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *