How to make a PDF read only permanently

How to save, create or make a PDF read only.

Why creating read only PDF files using PDF password protection is pointless. How to make a PDF read only permanently and save fillable PDFs  as read-only to prevent editing, copying & printing.

Once you have finished creating a PDF document, it’s often important to protect it from any unauthorized changes.  For businesses, this may also include the options to prevent copying and pasting of content, and disable printing. Particularly crucial for users however is when they have filled in a form PDF and wish to send it back without any modifications along the way.  To achieve this, you need to know how to save a PDF as read only.

As we’ll soon explain, though, not all methods to save PDFs in a read-only format are equal since some are easily bypassed enabling users to easy edit a read only PDF.

  Why making a PDF read only using Adobe is pointless

You can make a PDF read only using Acrobat or any other PDF password protection system but it completely useless – it provides NO protection.  Why?  Users can easily edit a read only PDF by removing the restrictions.

Typically, saving a PDF as read only or creating read only PDF files, involves encrypting the document and entering two passwords:

  1. The document open password – this is used to protect the document from being viewed by unauthorized users.  You have to give this password to those users that you want to share the PDF with.
  2. The permissions password – this is used to protect the permissions or restrictions you have added to the PDF such as stopping editing and printing (i.e. making it read only).

  Removing PDF restrictions – How to change a PDF from read only

Adobe Acrobat is the most popular software that uses this security method, but all PDF password protection products use the same system. The problem?  Due to flaws in the Adobe Standard Security handler, it’s trivial to remove the permissions password and therefore any restrictions you have applied to the PDF – users can therefore easily edit your read only PDF files.

Just Google ‘PDF password remover’ to see the numerous free online tools available that can instantly remove PDF restrictions.  A couple of examples from the hundreds available are:

How to make a PDF not read only using PDF Convert Online

Some systems don’t even obey these restrictions to begin with, which is why users can edit a read only PDF without having to enter a password using various PDF editors.

Setting an open password helps with this, as anybody looking to modify the document will first need the password to view the document.  However, as you need to provide the password to the recipient for them to read the document, you must have absolute trust that they won’t try to remove the read only permissions that you have applied to your PDF.  You also need to find a secure way of giving recipient’s the password to open the document, such as sending it using a secure email system that encrypts message content.

Essentially then, you’re only protected from malicious parties that may intercept the document at some point during its use.  But if they can’t open the PDF then they can’t edit it either.

As a result, we do not recommend using Adobe PDF security to save any sensitive or business documents as read-only.  You should only do so if you have a high degree of trust in the recipient and their security practices, and acknowledge that read-only restrictions can be easily removed.

  How to make a PDF read only with Adobe Acrobat Pro

If you’re aware of the risks of Adobe PDF (i.e. it is completely useless for restricting use of PDF files) but still want to know how to save a PDF as read-only with Adobe, read on:

  1. Launch Adobe Acrobat DC Pro and press File > Open. Browse to your PDF document and double-click it to open it in Acrobat.
  2. Select “Protect” in the right sidebar
  3. Click “Protect Using Password” in the top bar
  4. Select the “Editing” option, enter a secure password, and press “Apply”
  5. Select “File > Save As…” and save your PDF

    Be aware that your changes won’t apply until you save the document.  For additional protection, you may also want to enable the document open password in the “Advanced Options > Security Properties” menu.

    You should also be aware that recipients will still be able to fill form fields using this method.  We’ll show you how to address that below.

  How to save a fillable PDF as read-only with Adobe Acrobat Pro

As mentioned, a form-fillable PDF needs some additional modification to its permissions to be made read-only.  Don’t let that fool you, however.  These permissions can still be easily bypassed by password cracking tools, PDF readers that don’t respect Adobe’s security, or using OCR with a PDF editor to make them editable again.

If you’re willing to accept those limitations, here’s how you can use Adobe Acrobat to apply the permissions:

  1. Launch Adobe Acrobat DC Pro and press File > Open.  Browse to your PDF document and double-click it to open it in Acrobat.
  2. Select “Protect” in the right sidebar
  3. Select “Advanced Options > Security Properties”
  4. Click “Change Settings…”
  5. Tick “Restrict editing and printing of the document” and set “Changes Allowed” to “None”
  6. Type your permissions password and (optionally) open password

    Remember that the open password will provide you with a bit more protection against anyone who may intercept your document.

    Press “OK”, re-enter the passwords, and press “OK” again to save the changes.

  7. Save the read only PDF with File > Save As
  8. Open and test the read-only form

  How to make a PDF read-only online with Sejda

If you don’t have an Adobe Acrobat license and can’t justify the cost, online tool Sejda will produce a similar result.  With it, you can “flatten” your PDF so that it’s an image, rather than text.  Theoretically, this will make it so nobody can edit your document.  In practice, however, any competent PDF editing tool such as Adobe or Foxit can convert the image back to text using OCR character recognition.  Adobe will even deliver an automatic OCR prompt when a PDF with an image is opened.

Still, if you don’t have much of a budget, this is your only option.  So, here’s how you do it:

  1. Go to the Sejda website and press “Upload PDF files”
  2. Select your PDF file in the browse window and press “Open”
  3. Choose “Flatten everything” or “Flatten only form fields” and press “Flatten PDF”

    The “Flatten everything” option will turn everything in the document into an image, while “Flatten only form fields” will make it so only the fields can no longer be edited.

  4. Press the “Download” button to retrieve your read-only PDF

    After opening the PDF, you’ll notice that you can no longer change it with your PDF editing software.  However, after using an OCR tool it will be immediately and seamlessly editable again.

  How to make a PDF read only permanently with Locklizard

For comprehensive, secure document protection that prevents PDF files from being edited, copied and printed, you’ll need a PDF DRM solution like Locklizard.

Locklizard does not use outdated password security or complex certificates, but instead uses a license-based system with secure and transparent key management – there are no passwords or certificates to create, distribute, manage or remove.

Locklizard converts PDF files to read only and enables you to easily add extra DRM controls to prevent sharing. Document permissions are part of the protected PDF file, and protected PDFs can only be viewed using Locklizard’s secure PDF viewer.  This makes it very difficult to bypass and is also resilient against OCR recognition.

  Creating read only PDF files in Safeguard PDF Security

Documents protected by Safeguard Secure PDF Writer are read-only by default.  This means they cannot be:

  • edited
  • printed
  • screen grabbed using screen grabbing utilities
  • copied and pasted
  • saved to unprotected files
  • opened in a PDF editor to remove watermarks
  • shared – PDF files are locked to authorized users’ devices and won’t open if copied to a different device

  How to save a PDF as read only

The process to create a read only PDF is very simple and the same for both PDF forms (or fillable PDFs) and regular PDF files.  Here’s how to convert a PDF to read-only with Locklizard:

  1. With Safeguard Writer installed, right-click on your PDF and select “Make secure PDF”
  2. Choose the DRM controls you want to enforce

    Switch between the tabs at the top of Safeguard Writer and select the DRM controls you’d like to apply to the document.  Pay particular attention to the anti-screenshotting and printing controls (these are enabled by default), as these provide another layer of protection to stop users from making copies.

  3. Press the “Publish” button at the bottom of the dialog to protect the PDF file.
  4. Open your Safeguard administration system and log in.
  5. Open the “Customers” tab and press “Add” in the sidebar
  6. Enter the user information and click on the “Set Document Access” link in the “Manage Access” section
  7. Select your document and press “OK”
  8. Press the “Add” button on the customer account.

    Keep the “Email license” checkbox checked to have the license file emailed to the user’s email address that you have entered.  The user will be sent an email with their license key and instructions on how to download the secure PDF viewer software.

    Once the user activates the license in the secure PDF viewer application, they’ll be able to read, but not edit or copy your PDF.

  What’s the best way to make a PDF read only?

There are a few different methods to save or make a PDF read only, but not all of them are equal.

  1. The majority of protection that is applied when creating read only PDF files can be easily bypassed by freely available third-party software or by using the OCR character recognition built into most PDF readers.  Most misunderstood are the protections (PDF permissions to prevent editing or printing) built into Adobe Acrobat, which have long been bypassable via a wide variety of methods.
  2. For read only PDF protection that is not easily bypassed, you should instead look to PDF DRM solutions like Locklizard.  With a wide range of document security controls and the ability to integrate with existing workflows via APIs, Locklizard ensures that documents permissions or restrictions cannot be removed, and documents can only be opened by those with express permission.
Locklizard enables you to make PDF files read only and control how they can be used:

If you want to make a PDF read only permanently and ensure that your PDF documents cannot be shared, copied, printed or edited then take a free 15 day trial of our PDF DRM software.