Resources » Other Topics (Non-PDF) » Working With PDFs and Google Drive

How to Edit a PDF on Google Drive

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Google Drive is one of the most-used cloud-based storage solutions. It is a repository that saves many types of files, from large video files to single-page documents and spreadsheets. Google Drive also works seamlessly with Google’s apps: Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides, to name a few. Here’s how you can use Google Drive to work with PDFs, as well as pros and cons of using PDFs with Google Drive.  

Google Drive stands as one of the best ways to create and share documents across the web. It is a cloud-sharing platform that allows you to create and upload documents to share with others. Google Drive allows you and other users to view and collaborate on documents with ease. And, as it just so happens, the PDF is one of the best document formats available for sharing and conveying information. So, does Google Drive work with PDFs?

Yes! In fact, Google Drive is a great place to upload, save and host a PDF. We’ll be going through the strengths and weaknesses of using Google Drive as a platform as well as how PDFs work with Drive. 

First, you’ll need to set up a Google account, if you don’t have one. This tutorial on Google’s site explains how to set up a Google Drive account.

Converting PDFs to Google Docs

Google Drive allows you to create and host documents in a number of formats. Some formats you may be familiar with, like .doc, .docx, .xslx, and, of course, .pdf, work on Google Drive. If you already have an existing PDF document, dragging and dropping the file into Google Drive will upload it to the cloud. This means that you can now access it from any computer logged into your Google Drive account. 

Once the PDF is uploaded to Google Drive, you have a few options. 

google drive screen shot showing options for handling files, including preview, open with, share, etc.

You can share it with other Google Drive users (this will require them to setup a Google account), get a direct link so that anyone with the link can view the PDF, as well as rename and manage the PDF’s properties. 

But what if you want to convert an existing PDF to an editable document in Google Docs?

While this is technically possible, it will likely alter or even damage the formatting settings that were originally placed in the document. 

To convert a PDF document to an editable Google Doc: 

  1. Upload the PDF on Google Docs.
  2. Right-click the PDF in Google Docs.
  3. Select Open with and then Google Docs. 

You can also double-click the PDF to view it and then select Open with Google Docs at the top. Note that the formatting will be heavily altered during the conversion, though. Here is an example from a Harvard Business Review ebook we uploaded to Drive and used Google Docs to convert. One the left is the cover of the HBR article “as is,” and on the right is the cover as Google converted it. You can see that it strips away formatting.

2 screenshots. The left shows screenshot of hbr pdf's cover, right shows what the cover looks like when it's been converted in Google Drive to a Google Doc.

While Google has some kinks to perfect with its PDF to Google Doc converter, you can use PDF.Live’s PDF to DOC converter, which retains as much of the original formatting of the PDF document as possible. In the next screenshot, you’ll see that when we converted the HBR article, “The New Sales Imperative” using PDF.Live, the formatting of the cover was retained. When we open it in Windows, this is what we see:

screenshot showing pdf of hbr live cover converted to Word using PDF Live

Converting Google Docs to PDFs

If you’ve built a document in Google Docs, which is Google Drive’s document editor, that you’d like to share with someone else across the web, you can do that using the Share button in the upper right.

screenshot showing what you can do with google docs. Comment, share, and more.

If you’d prefer to convert it to a PDF format before sharing, it’s easy to convert a Google Doc to a PDF. Here is how:

  1. Open the document you want to convert in Google Docs.
  2. Select File in the top left corner
  3. Select Download and then PDF

You can then re-upload this PDF to Google Docs if you’d like to host the PDF on Google Docs to share with others. 

Converting Google Sheets to PDFs

Google Sheets is Google Drive’s equivalent to Microsoft Excel. Sheets allows you to create spreadsheets, make databases, and host numerical information to make complex calculations easy. Again, to share, you click the Share button in the upper right, enter the recipient’s email address, and select whether you want to give them Viewer (view only), Commenter (view and comment), or Editor (view, comment and make changes) permissions. You can also add an expiration date for sharing the file. 

screenshot showing how you can share a pdf on google drive with someone else and make them an editor, commenter or viewer

If you’d prefer to download your work in a PDF, perhaps to protect the formulas or to share only a portion of a sheet, the PDF is a perfect file format for this. 

To convert a Google Sheets to a PDF:

  1. Open the document you want to convert in Google Docs.
  2. Select File in the top left corner
  3. Select Download and then PDF
  4. You will receive a preview of the exported PDF. In the options tab, you can adjust the paper size, the scale of the text, as well as the margins. 
screenshot showing how you can export a spreadsheet to a PDF

Going the other way around (converting a PDF to a Sheets or Excel document) isn’t quite possible in Google Drive. For this, you’ll need a dedicated PDF converter tool, such as PDF.Live’s converter tool, which allows you to convert various types of files to and from PDFs.

Converting PDF to Google Slides

Google Slides acts as Google Drive’s Microsoft PowerPoint equivalent. Google Slides is great for when you need to present information in an official capacity online. Having a Slides document allows you to present the information in full-screen mode and move through the slides as you present. 

Unfortunately, you cannot convert an existing PDF document to a Google Slides file. You will need a converter tool to perform this action. PDF.Live allows you to convert a PDF to a PowerPoint, or .PPT, format that will work with Slides. 

Converting Google Slides to PDF

A Google Slides presentation can be easily converted to a PDF within Google Drive. To do this, follow these steps: 

  1. Open the document you want to convert in Google Slides.
  2. Select File in the top left corner
  3. Select Download and then PDF

You will then receive a document that has separate pages corresponding to the different slides of your presentation. For more tutorials on working with PDF files, visit PDF.Live’s Resource Center.

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