PDF Forms

On Thursday, February 16, ITEC presented a workshop on creating PDF forms as an addition to this semester's series of workshops. As a companion to this guide, you may wish to check out our summary of the session on making PDF documents accessible. What follows is a summary of the information shared about creating PDF forms.

Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat Pro

The easiest, most straight forward way to create a PDF form is accomplished through the use of Microsoft Word (Word) and Adobe Acrobat Pro (Acrobat).
Logo image for Microsoft Word1Logo image for Adobe Acrobat Pro X.2
The recommended workflow is to create the form initially in Word. It is much easier to format text, tables, and other elements from within Word than it is in Acrobat. This speeds up the creation process and ensures that the resulting form looks the way it needs to. This also makes it easier to go back and edit the form later if changes are needed. The one downside to this workflow is that it will require a re-do of the steps below in Acrobat.

Microsoft Word

This post will not cover creating and formatting a document in Word as most should be familiar with this part of the process. Once the document is created you should save the document as a PDF. This can be done directly from within Word. To do so:
  1. Select File > Save As...
  2. Select PDF from the Save as Type drop-down menu (below).
  3. Click Save.

Image showing selection of PDF file type from Microsoft Word "Save As" menu,.

Adobe Acrobat Pro

Now that we have a PDF document we can use Acrobat to make it into a fill-able PDF form. 

Creating a Form

To begin, click File > Create > Create Form... . A screen will appear asking you to either import a file or scan a document.
Image of Adobe Acrobat DC "Select a file" screen.
Once you select a file and click the Start button Acrobat will scan the file identifying and naming form fields. Depending on the length of the form and the number of fields this may take some time. 

When the document opens you will see that Acrobat has identified the form fields. It is recommended that you check these for accuracy and to make sure that they have been named in a way that makes sense to you.

The image on the left below shows the form fields as identified by Acrobat. The image on the right shows a snippet of the list of each of the identified fields. This list appears on the right-hand side of the window. 
Image of Adobe Acrobat form field identification.Image of the form fields list in Acrobat.

Editing Form Fields

At this point you can edit the form fields and/or add your own. To edit a particular field you may double-click in the field. This should open the field properties which you can see below. If you create your own fields please note that each form field must have a unique name.
Image of Adobe Acrobat DC form field properties window.
If you are adding your own fields you will want to open the field properties to make sure the field will behave as you desire. This is also the place you will mark a field as required or add choices for a drop-down field. You have the following choices for fields you may add to your form. These buttons appear along the top center of your form within the window.
Image of buttons to add various fields in an Acrobat form.
The buttons listen in order from left to right are:
  1. Selection tool - use this to select a field or object within a PDF form or document.
  2. Add a Text Field - use this to add a block of text to a PDF form or document.
  3. Checkbox - use this to insert a checkbox.
  4. Radio Button - use this to insert a radio button.
  5. Scrolling choice list - use this to create a field with a list of items from which the user must choose.
  6. Drop-down choice list - Similar to above except it creates a drop-down list.
  7. "Add a button" button -  this allows you to insert a "print," "clear," or other type button.
  8. Add an image - use this to insert an image into your form or PDF document.
  9. Add a date field - use this to insert a date field in which a user can click a date from a drop-down calendar. Other options may be selected from the field properties window.
  10. Add a digital signature - this creates a field in which users may sign a PDF document with credentials they have saved in adobe Acrobat or Reader.
  11. Add a Barcode - this field encodes the data collected from the other form fields into a scan-able barcode. This functionality requires the use of  Adobe's Barcoded Paper Forms Solution (separate license required).
  12. Push-pin button - this button will keep the next selected tool active until the push-pin button is deselected. It allows the user to create more than one of the same field types without having to select that field type each time.
  13. Help - this button opens Adobe's help documentation for form fields.

Saving your Form

Once you have made all the edits you need and are happy with the form, you can prepare the form for others to use. It is possible for users with the free Adobe Reader (download here) to be able to complete a form that has been created in Acrobat. This must be enabled, however. In order to make this possible you will need to save the form as a "Reader Extended PDF." To do so:
  1. Click File > Save As Other > Reader Extended PDF > Enable More Tools (includes form fill-in & save)... .
  2. Click Save Now.
Image showing menu to save as Reader Extended PDF in Acrobat.


Once you have completed these steps your PDF form may be filled out and saved in the free Reader program. I will mention here that there may be issues with forms and the Mac OS program Preview. This is a known issue. Preview is the default PDF viewer in Mac OS. Preview is able to open a fillable forms created in Acrobat.  The issue that occurs is that once the form has been saved and sent back to the originator, the fields appear blank unless they are clicked. This has to do with the way that Preview handles the layers created by Acrobat. It is recommended to use Adobe Reader to fill PDF forms.

For further questions about working with Adobe Acrobat please feel free to check out Adobe's support pages.

1. Microsoft Word logo by Microsoft (Aus der Exe extrahiert) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
2. Adobe Acrobat X logo by Adobe Systems [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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