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How to password protect a PDF

These days, PDF documents are everywhere. The renowned file format is perfect for financial documents and carpool schedules, allowing you to capture the entirety of fix-layout documents — fonts, graphics, page order, etc. — within an electronic container you can then easily share on the Web and across mobile platforms. However, considering how widely-adopted Adobe’s format has now become and the type of content it typically houses, it’s not surprising that you may want to add a little protection to your precious files. Fortunately, password protecting your PDF document is easier than ever before when using Adobe Acrobat and Apple’s Preview, each of which allows you to quickly restrict access to only those with the proper password. We don’t recommend password protecting everything — after all, encryption software isn’t the easiest to crack — but there are times when a little protection can go a long way. Blame it on prying eyes.

Related: Our guide to password protecting a folder and editing a PDF document

Choose your method:

How to password protect a PDF (PC)

Password Protecting a PDF on a Windows machine isn’t as easy as you might expect. Although premium programs such as Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat can handle the task with ease, Windows doesn’t offer a freemium tool for doing so in the way Mac OS X does. Fortunately, you can always opt for the 30-day trial of Adobe Acrobat or utilize a third-party application such as PDFMate PDF Merger. The latter may not look pretty, but it still manages to provide a simple means for password protecting a PDF without having to spend an upwards of $15 a month for more robust utilities.

Step 1: Navigate to the main Adobe website and click the yellow Free 30-day trial button in the upper-left corner. Then, select a save location for the resulting file and follow the on-screen installation wizard to install the program as you would any other piece of software.

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Step 2: Launch Adobe Acrobat, click the File menu in the upper-left corner, and select Open. Afterward, choose the PDF file you want to password protect from its respective save location and click the Open button.

Step 3: Click the File menu again when viewing the open document, followed by Properties and Security.

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Step 4: Click the drop-down menu to the right of Security Method, then select Password Security from the resulting list of options.

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Step 5: A window should appear prompting you for a password. Check the box beside Require a password to open the document and enter your desired password into the corresponding text field. Considering you’re sending this password out to others, it’s probably best to choose one that you don’t use for other services. Recent versions of Adobe will even rate how difficult your password will be to guess, so try to pick a password that gets a strong rating, one that includes a combination of lower-case letters, capitalization, and numbers.

password prompt

Related: Want to print a .PDF file in Windows? Here’s how!

How to restrict editing and printing on Adobe Acrobat (PC)

Password protecting a PDF document isn’t necessarily a catch-all. The Document Security menu of Adobe Acrobat, for instance, will additionally allow you to password protect certain tasks such as editing and printing. Below is a brief rundown on how you can enable such features in Adobe Acrobat.

Step 1: Open the PDF document as you would normally and access the Security panel as previously outlined.

Step 2: Select Change Settings to access the Password Security menu. From there, check the box beside Restrict editing and printing… and enter a password in the box to the right of Change Permissions Password.

permission editing and printing

Here’s an overview of the available editing limitations.

  • Inserting, deleting, and rotating pages: This allows the person with access to the document to get rid of parts of the document, add pages, and flip the pages around.
  • Commenting, filling in form fields, and signing existing signature fields: This allows the person to leave comments on the document, fill in sections that have boxes to add text, and electronically sign the document.
  • Any edits except extracting pages: this allows others to make any necessary changes to the document except for cutting it down.

That’s it! Now your PDF is password protected. When opened, this password prompt will appear.

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Next Page: How to password protect a PDF with PDFMate.

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