The Portable Document Format is a great invention that just can’t get enough praise for how much it has simplified modern society. From protecting your documents to ensuring they appear the same way on any device or operating system, this file format can seemingly do it all.

However, there are times when you need to convert PDFs into different formats or vice versa, and that's where online PDF conversion services come into play. So, join us as we delve into this deep rabbit hole and explore all the PDF converter pros and cons you can think of to help you make an informed decision (spoiler alert: online tools might not be what you’re looking for!).

Advantages of using online conversion services

pros of online conversion services

The versatility and convenience of a web-based PDF format converter certainly cannot be disputed. According to Research and Markets, the projected valuation of the worldwide PDF editor market stands at $2.44 billion in 2023, with growth anticipated to reach $3.6 billion by 2028.

An online PDF converter offers many advantages, simplifying the process of transforming PDF documents into various formats, especially if they’re offered as a single comprehensive suite, like PDF Extra. With PDF Extra, you can edit, convert, organize, protect, and fill out PDF documents all in one place with great speed and efficiency thanks to the streamlined and Office-like user interface.

Okay, so what is the good and ugly side of using a free PDF converter online? Let’s investigate!

1. Accessibility and convenience

Based on the CommonCrawl database, the MIME type detection reveals that PDF is the second most prevalent file format on the web, surpassing the popularity of JPEG, PNG, or GIF files and trailing only behind HTML and XHTML.

This is great news for every online PDF converter which is hard to beat when it comes to availability. Accessible at all hours, these digital tools allow you to transform to PDF any file at any time and place and generally feature simplified controls. This round-the-clock availability is especially beneficial for people working across different time zones or facing tight deadlines (we’ve all filled those shoes before, haven’t we?).

Another clear benefit of online PDF converters is that they eliminate the hassle of software installations and purchases. Today, anyone with a working internet connection, regardless of their technical proficiency or financial means, can harness the power of online conversion, allowing you, me, and the neighbors upstairs to efficiently manage and organize PDFs.

2. Wide file format support

With an online converter, you can seamlessly transform PDFs into diverse file types, including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, and image files such as JPEG or PNG. You can also go the other way around, for instance convert image file to PDF. This will help you avoid any annoying compatibility roadblocks that could otherwise crop up during a cross-platform collaboration – for example when you want to share your work with a friend or colleague, but they don’t have that particular software installed or you want to use Excel formulas but can’t because your data is encoded in a PDF file format.

3. Cost-effective solutions

Most online PDF conversion services are free to use while offering all the fundamental features that you can expect. This cost-effectiveness is especially welcome for all the frugal students out there embarking on human services degrees, small enterprises with budget constraints, or individuals carefully managing their finances. Even premium PDF format converter alternatives offering more advanced functionalities tend to be pretty easygoing on the wallet. This way, you could tailor your conversion experience to your specific requirements and budget constraints, which is always a plus on our list.

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4. Speed and efficiency

Whether you are converting PDF to image or to Excel, such tools allow you to transform individual files at neck-breaking speeds or even capitalize on the power of batch processing, or in other words – to convert multiple documents simultaneously – therefore saving you precious time and boosting your efficiency to sky-high levels.

Most image to PDF converter tools and other similar options also incorporate valuable cloud-based storage solutions into their offerings (like PDF Extra does with its proprietary MobiDrive). This innovation allows you to securely preserve your converted files in the digital cloud, therefore saving precious storage space on your machine.

Beyond the mere storage benefits, this approach guarantees ubiquitous access to your documents, irrespective of your physical location or device, and also provides better data security and disaster recovery capabilities. For instance, you could safeguard your files against local hardware failures, since everything will be backed into the cloud, allowing you to make an epic comeback even in the worst-case scenario.

Drawbacks of online PDF conversion services

cons of online conversion services

While online PDF conversion services offer remarkable convenience and flexibility, their downsides, ranging from potential privacy concerns to formatting issues, should definitely not be ignored. Here’s the full list of things to keep in mind as you browse the web for PDF tools.

1. Privacy and security concerns

Privacy and security are primary concerns when using online PDF conversion services. According to IT Governance research, there were 73 publicly disclosed security incidents, resulting in the compromise of a total of 79,729,271 records.

So, is it safe to convert PDF files online? It really comes down to avoiding providers who are known for not prioritizing user protection, opting to sell your data instead. Therefore, reviewing the service's privacy policy and data usage should be your jerk-knee reaction. Some platforms may collect user data for advertising or other purposes, so be aware of how your information is handled and do your research thoroughly. Ideally, you should land on a trustworthy service that can also password-protect a PDF file.

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2. Limited functionality

While online converters are convenient, they may lack advanced features that are often included in dedicated on-premise software, such as an unlimited number of conversions or OCR support. You might also experience formatting issues or limitations in editing capabilities for complex documents. Taking this into account, it’s always a good idea to check your documents for any traces of complex formatting before using a web-based PDF to Word converter or a similar service.

3. Internet dependency

With online converters, everything works great until it doesn’t. If you're in an area with poor connectivity or facing server downtime on the service provider's end, it could disrupt your workflow. Most dedicated PDF tools, PDF Extra included, offer you an offline mode, taking your internet provider out of the equation and ensuring an uninterrupted workflow.

4. File size and quality

Sometimes, online converters could stop working before they’ve even started due to built-in restrictions. So, why does PDF conversion fail when we need it most? Well, online converters often come with limitations on file size (typically 10MB), especially for free users. They also typically won’t be able to handle HTML or image files which often feature quite a few graphical elements and fonts.

Additionally, the conversion process can sometimes lead to quality loss or compression of images and graphics since it’s either been intentionally downgraded to make you pay for better options or is simply badly coded to begin with.

Use cases and considerations

When choosing online PDF conversion services, it's important to think carefully about what you really need. While these tools make it infinitely easier to do things like turn a simple PDF into Word documents, you should be careful with files featuring complex formatting or sensitive information. In those cases, it's better to use dedicated software like PDF Extra which has strong security features and also doesn’t degrade the formatting or quality of the output file.

Another good rule of thumb is to choose tool makers who have a good history of keeping users’ information private and secure. Look at what other people have said about them, and check their policies to be sure they will protect your private information while performing the service.

Final thoughts

Online PDF conversion services offer a range of benefits, including convenience, format compatibility, and cost-effectiveness. However, it's crucial to be aware of their limitations, such as potential privacy and security risks, limited functionality, and heavy reliance on web connectivity.

Ultimately, choosing an appropriate free online PDF converter should first and foremost align with your needs and concerns. By weighing the pros and cons we’ve just mentioned above, you can hopefully make an informed choice to enhance your workflow while safeguarding your data.

And if you don’t have the time or patience to search for a solution, test drive PDF Extra with a 14-day trial – we’re confident you won’t regret it!