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How to Make Forms in Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat

Acrobat is packed with a lot of useful features for electronic use. Little functions that many of us take for granted – bookmarks, for instance, that jump us right to a page in the document we’re reading without having to scroll for years – have really made the PDF format so popular.

One of the greatest and least understood functions we can add to our PDF documents are forms. With an interactive form, the PDF user can fill out a survey, questionnaire, registration, or forms like the ones the IRS allows tax payers to download and use. Once filled out, very nice and neat (no handwriting to decipher), the user can print it out or submit it online if you give them that option.

Adding an interactive form to your PDF document is extremely easy once you learn the process, and adds a whole new dimension of user friendliness to your files. The number of uses are endless, and having this skill in your arsenal can be invaluable.

Preparing a PDF for Forms

When you’re creating a document that will end up as a form in PDF format, you need to follow two important guidelines to make your life (and the user’s) easier.

1. Leave Plenty of Space: Areas of the document where you’ll add a form field (a text box, a radio or check button, etc.) should have more space between it and the next line of text than usual. In general, adding an extra hard return (hit your Enter key twice) is enough.

2. Use Clean Text: Remember that a PDF is delivered electronically, and that everyone’s monitor will display just a little bit differently based on how they’ve configured (or not) their settings. Add to that the fact that some of your users might not see very well, and you’ll understand the need to compensate. Use a very clean font – a sans serif font like Verdana or Arial is usually best – so that the largest audience will be able to read and use your form.

Keeping both of these guidelines in mind, type your document up in a word processor. Other than form fields, the document should look as close to the end product as possible. Any text that you want included needs to be there and ready to go. Once finished, print or convert your document to .pdf format.

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For the purposes of this guide and learning how to add forms, please feel free to download the Example PDF here and use it to get started.

Using the Adobe Designer Assistant

With your PDF ready to add forms to, open it up in Adobe Acrobat. Click “Advanced” in the toolbar, hover over “Forms”, and select “Create new form” from the pop-out list. A warning will appear saying “The new form will be created in Adobe Designer, and you will leave Adobe Acrobat. Adobe Acrobat will remain open.” Click “OK” and give your computer a minute to work as it opens the document in Designer.

Once Adobe Designer opens, it will give you an assistant (or wizard) by default. Follow the steps below to prepare your document in Designer. Remember that reading thebox by the “i” icon on any page of the wizard will give you additional information about your selections.

1. Select Document: First, select what kind of document you want to use to make your form. Until you get very used to Adobe Designer, it’s best to create a .pdf document to use. We’ll click “Import a PDF Document” and then hit the “Next” button.

2. Locate Document: In the next screen of the assistant, you’ll be asked to specify which PDF document you want to import. Hit the “Browse” button, select your PDF file, and click “Open. Then, hit the “Next” button to continue.

3. Import Options: As you learn more about Adobe Designer, you may want to play around with the import options … but I don’t really recommend it. For now, leave the settings at their default and hit the “Next” button.

4. Return Method: Not all forms are created equally … or for the same purpose. The return method you choose will depend on how you want the form returned to you – if you want it returned at all. Fill then Submit allows the user to fill in the form and submit it to an email address you specify. Fill then Submit/Print does the same thing, but gives the user the option to print the form as well. Fill then Print lets the user fill in the form electronically, but they’ll have to print it and mail it to you (if you want it returned). Finally, there’s the Print option. This is next to useless, as it doesn’t allow the user to fill in the forms electronically… resulting in something they can only print and fill in by hand – which is something you can create in any full featured word processor. Select and option and click “Next”.

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5. Email Address: If you’ve selected either of the return methods that allow a user to submit the form electronically, you’ll be asked to provide an email address in this step. The actual address won’t show up for the user, it simply gets worked into coding for a button that the user will press. If you didn’t use an electronic submission option, this last step will just summarize your progress in the assistant.

When you’re done, click the “Finish” button. If you receive any errors (usually about text formatting), go ahead and ignore them for now and click “Continue”.

Drawing Interactive Forms in Adobe Designer

Once your document has been imported in Designer, your work is simply a matter of drawing form elements – literally. Before we get going, you may want to reference Illustration 02. Each of the key tools we’ll be using can be found in the diagram.

As you go along, don’t miss the “How to” palette. It gives directions to common tasks and questions.

1. Locate the Library: In the library palette are three tabs – Standard, Barcodes, and Custom. For the most part, you’ll only be concerned with the Standard tab. If you scroll through the options here, you’ll find things like text fields, check boxes, drop down lists, and signature fields. Basically, everything you could possibly need for your interactive form is included here.

For practice, select the Text Field option first.

2. Locate the Options Palette: The moment you selected Text Field, Designer configured your palettes and toolbars to reflect the option you chose. You have new options if you change the type of form field you want to make (numberic field, for example). You won’t usually have to worry about the options, but when the time comes that you do … you’ll know where to find them. Exception to the rule? Lists. To add options to a list, you’ll need to locate this palette, hit the + button, and name your options.

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3. Draw the Fields: When you move your cursor out over the work area, you’ll see it change into a cross hair. This indicates where your field will start if you click and hold your left mouse button and drag a box out. The further you drag, the larger your box will be. You can use the yellow handles on the inner box to change the size of the box that appears in the PDF document. To preview your work, click the PDF Preview tab.

Going through your document or the Example PDF Form document, add the form fields you need.

4. Preview: After you’ve drawn the fields you need, click the “PDF Preview” tab to see how it will look once saved. Make any changes necessary.

5. Save: To save your form, click “To save your form, click “File”, choose “Save As”, and type a name for your document. Leave the ticked boxes alone – they’re set at default values for maximum usability.

With your form saved, open it in Adobe Acrobat to test and you’re done! Be creative with your forms – they can be used for unimaginable things.