Editing PDF documents with Master PDF Editor 4


© Lead Image © Ivan Mikhaylov, 123RF.com

© Lead Image © Ivan Mikhaylov, 123RF.com

Article from Issue 201/2017

The commercial software tool Master PDF Editor 4 lets you edit the most important portable document format of our times.

PDF was originally designed as a print format for forwarding and exchanging documents without allowing changes. It is based on the PostScript programming language, a PDF being a compiled – and thus no longer editable – version of the PostScript code. Editing PDF files therefore contradicts the stated aim of the file format: unchanged forwarding.

In practice, you often have good reasons for editing "finished" print files – whether to add minor corrections, replace individual characters, remove short sections of text, or add annotations. Thus, the desire for editors that are able to load, modify, and again save the immutable PDF documents arose at an early stage.

For a time, Ghostscript was the tool of choice: You converted the PDF to PostScript, then edited the source code in a text editor, and finally converted the document back to PDF. Today, hardly anyone uses that method: The documents are too complex, the PostScript code is anything but intuitive, and the pitfalls are too numerous to avoid during conversion.

Master PDF Editor

Master PDF Editor [1] is a commercial software tool available for Linux, Mac OS, and Windows. On Linux, most of the functions can be tested and used without purchasing a license (see the "License" box). The software tries to accommodate the process of editing PDF documents in an intuitive way in a graphical interface. The results were already quite impressive in version 3 of the application [2], but Master PDF Editor 4, published shortly before the end of 2016, now offers new features. For example, you can scan documents directly from within the application and convert the text via OCR.


Master PDF Editor can be downloaded for free from the developer's home page [3]. DEB and RPM packages for 32- and 64-bit systems are available. Alternatively, a tar.gz archive with statically compiled binaries can be used independent of your distribution. The license for the free version of the editor allows home use, but does not provide all the available functions. For example, documents cannot be "optimized" (to save space) before exporting. The full version costs $49.95.

The editor interface has not changed significantly since the last version (Figure 1). In addition to the usual menus, context menus, and toolbars, the margins play an important role. On the left are search functions, page previews, attachments, and a compressed index of the active document. The right margin has the most important universal tool of the program: the Object Inspector (Figure 2).

Figure 1: Neat and uncluttered: the Master PDF Editor graphical interface.
Figure 2: Thanks to the Object Inspector, even PDF non-experts can review and, if necessary, repair complex features in documents.

To use the Object Inspector, you first need to select an object (i.e., text, graphic, or link). The contents of the window displayed in the Object Inspector then change so that you can check and also change all the relevant features. Because of the underlying PDF format's object and box models, all objects include various metadata in addition to the content, such as the location of the object, its attributes, and references to other objects.

Manipulating Objects

The Object Inspector displays the relevant metadata, which can be edited in the object window for the currently selected box; however, you change the content of the box directly in the main window. Although many boxes (such as text boxes) can be moved in the main window with the mouse, in practice, you should use the corresponding field in the Object Inspector. In this way, you can make sure the box is placed exactly at the desired position. Moreover, the fields in the Matrix area offer good options for visually manipulating the way objects display (Figure 3).

Figure 3: The Matrix lets you manipulate images and text (e.g., rotate, scale, flip, skew).

Master PDF Editor represents the inner structure of a PDF document with boxes that contain the various objects that form the basis of the document and displays them in the editor accordingly. In practice, this means that although you can correct the text, the program does not let you change the attributes (bold, italic, font) of individual characters.

A font change is displayed in a new box in the document. If the character set changes in a line, it is reflected as a box before the font change, a box with the text in the new font, and a box after the font change (Figure 4).

Figure 4: When multiple fonts are used in a PDF document, they are placed in separate boxes.

Special Functions

In addition to the pure editing functions, Master PDF Editor supports many features of modern PDFs – the "Features" box summarizes the main options. If necessary, you can add new objects to an existing PDF.


Modern PDF documents include more than just the data needed for printing, which makes it difficult to present PDF in an editable form and explains why hardly any free tools support the editing of PDF documents reliably and in detail.

Master PDF Editor supports simple actions like filling out PDF forms and deleting or inserting individual pages. Additionally, it can edit text in the document, replace images, modify and customize text attributes (i.e., formatting), encrypt and decrypt documents, and adapt digital signatures. Finally, you can add, edit, and remove bookmarks and other active content.

The less commonly used functions include JavaScript support, the ability to convert PDF to bitmap formats, and dynamic XFA forms. Optimized saving is one of the few features that is only available in the commercial version. The program scales bitmap graphics to a previously defined resolution and removes unwanted objects from the document. A document that previously weighed in at 120MB thus often shrinks to 20 or 30MB without compromising the quality.

For example, you can create simple vector graphics and incorporate them into the document, create new bookmarks, add notes, and even attach external files. In principle, any files – including executable programs – can be attached to a PDF and extracted again by standard PDF viewers on the local system. Fortunately, attaching documents is rarely done nowadays, because it exposes the recipient to significant security risks.

Master PDF Editor offers five editing modes that access different "levels" of enabling or selecting objects within PDF documents. You'll find all these tools at the left end of the second toolbar:

  • The arrowhead-shaped Edit Document tool selects any object, such as the bounding line and word boxes for text.
  • The Edit Text Object tool is specifically designed for editing text; it displays a T-bar cursor.
  • The Edit Form tool works much like the text tool, but it is specifically designed for forms.
  • The Hand Tool is the universal tool for manipulating content. In text, it selects the text, not the bounding boxes.
  • The Select Text tool, symbolized by a rasterized square with a T in one corner, is for larger text areas (e.g., to copy and paste).

Selected objects are located in a stack of objects. The position in this stack determines which object covers which other objects and thus controls visibility. In the center of the top toolbar you can find functions that let you modify the object stack.

In the PDF document, the Clipping Path in the right margin frames the visible objects. It cannot currently be edited; Master PDF Editor only supports deletion of the frame. An option for changing the path is already on the developer's roadmap. The Undo/Redo functions let you remove and restore individual actions.

The program also supports active content. Its approach is similar to that of web pages, in that it allows actions to be executed when a reader clicks on a predefined area. This can be achieved, for example, using bookmarks. To create an active area, first select it with the Hand Tool, right-click and choose Add Bookmark, and edit the area (Figure 5). Under Actions, adjust what action triggers what behavior.

Figure 5: Actions can be defined with the use of bookmarks.

Actions implemented in JavaScript are also available for the entire document; you define these under Document | Document Actions. Master PDF Editor thus offers an effective and, above all, fast approach to accessing the active content of interactive PDFs and defusing it, if needed.

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