How To Make Interactive PDF Forms in Adobe Acrobat
A Portable Document File (PDF) is a type of file that is successful with cross platform accessibility issues. It is a file that most users can open and view (given the author did not put security settings on the PDF) with PDF readers available for free download. I began researching interactive PDF form, (PDFs that you can fill in fields and send as a completed form) when I realized how much time was being wasted with the old system we were using. I was receiving forms that were printed, photocopied, hand written, and always missing information, whether they missed the field, or they didn’t know the answer and sent it along anyway. We did not have the set up at the time to utilize script and coded forms, so I decided to create a form that was easy to access, quick to fill out, and efficient to send.
The first component that you will need is a PDF file of the form, whether you create it in design software, or even just Microsoft Word, a PDF from any software should work.
I have created a test form for reference, and will be using Adobe Acrobat 7.0 to create the form. You will notice on this form that there is a button for “reset”, text fields for the user to fill in, a question that requires only one answer, a question that allows multiple answers, a space for comments and an “email” button.
Although my example has the buttons and check boxes already laid into the PDF, if you cannot do that in the software that you are using, don’t worry, you can add these graphics within Adobe Acrobat.
Open Adobe Acrobat; make sure that you are not opening Adobe Reader, this will not allow you to create a form, nor will it allow you to fill in any fields on a form. Adobe Reader is just for viewing PDFs. I am currently working in Adobe Acrobat 7.0, but these steps will also work with the Adobe Acrobat 9.0 download.
When you launch Adobe Acrobat, go to “tools” -> “advanced editing” -> “show forms tool bar”.
You will see a toolbox appear that will look similar to this:
There are a few things that we need for this test form to do for us: allow us to type information into text fields, type numbers into fields requiring numbers, choose if the customer is current or not, check off the advertising options that the customer chose, write text into a comment box and email the form to the required recipient. We also need our form to reset all info to start over the process.
We will start with the text fields on the top of the form:
Choose the text field tool in your form toolbox and draw a box in the space where you want the user to enter information. You will see that it will be labeled “text box #”; double click this text box that you just built and a “text field properties” pop up will appear. “Name” is the name of your text box, which in this case is “account name”. You want to make sure that all of your text boxes have different names. If they have the same name, the text boxes will be linked together, and the information that is typed into one box, will also appear in the other. You can also make specific text fields “required” by choosing the “required” option in this screen. The form will not be able to be submitted until the field is completed.
The tool tip is a very important tool to use when you are focusing on usability. It gives you the opportunity to further explain the action that you want the user to perform. A tool tip is the pop up that appears when the user hovers over the field. You can achieve this by entering the test you want seen in the “Tooltip” field in the “Text Field Properties” options.
The next step is to add the radio buttons and make them active. A radio button means that only one choice will be accepted; you cannot have multiple choices selected with this button.
Select the radio button option in your toolbox, and draw a button over the space you have allotted in your PDF document. Now, if you don’t have this space drawn out, you can create the image of the button in Adobe Acrobat as well. Double click the first “yes” button that you created. You should see a screen similar to this:
If you already have your buttons in your document, you can choose the border and fill to be “none”. If you do not have them drawn in, you can use these options to build the look of your radio button.
In the “option” tab, you can choose the button style, which means that you can choose the shape and fill type; and you can also choose the “export value”. This is used when you want to extract the data and put it in a database sorted by who answered “no” this is a new customer” and who answered “yes” this is a current customer. If you find that you want a selection to be already marked by default, with the option to change it, you can choose “Button is checked by default”. “Buttons with the same name and value are selected in unison” meaning that you can create a form that will select other options when one is selected. Each button has the ability to have its own tool tip, so I recommend using these for everything on the form for better usability functions.
In the “actions tab” the “select trigger” should be set to mouse up; this means that the button will be marked when it has been “pushed” on the PDF form. The “select action” should be “execute a menu item” because your menu item is to mark that the button has been pushed.
Check boxes are buttons that you can have multiple options that have been selected. Choose your “check box” tool in the forms toolbox and draw boxes over all of your check boxes that in your document. Again, if you do not have them drawn in to your PDF already, you can do so with Adobe Acrobat tools.
The “comment” box is very similar to your earlier text boxes, except this box you want to give the option to users to be able to enter more text than just a line. To do this, create a text box over your comment box, and double click the text box.
This time, choose “multi-line” for the text instead of the “scroll long text” like earlier. The “multi-line” will allow users to continue typing, and it will automatically go to the next line and will fit to the allotted size. The “scroll long text” would only give you one line of text that would end up being very long.
A “reset” button is not necessarily needed on most forms, especially if the form is only used once, but I have run into several situations where the “reset” button comes in handy because the users send it multiple times with different information, such as an ad reservation form. This is the same as the radio buttons and the check boxes; the button can contain a tool tip and be created within the Adobe Acrobat software. Create your button by using the plain “button” tool from the toolbox. Double click the button that you just created and you will see a screen like this:
The only change to this button compared to the previous buttons, is that for the “select action” you will now choose “reset a form”. You then need to click “add” and a screen with all of your fields will be prompted. Choose what fields you want to reset with the button. All of the fields are selected by default for you, so if you want everything to reset, just choose “OK”. I tend to always put in some sort of beware message as the tool tip for reset buttons because once the reset button is pushed, all data is lost and cannot be retrieved.
Last but by far not least, the submit button, or the “email button”. Although the user can save the form, create an email, and then attach the PDF to the email, we can make it a little easier for the users. By doing this we are ensuring that the forms are being sent to the correct person. To do this, create a button just as you would the “submit” button.
Now double click the button and go to the “actions” tab in your button properties. Your “select trigger” should be “mouse up” and the “select action” should be at “submit a form. When you choose this from the dropdown, you will then need to hit “add” which is within the “add an action” portion of the properties. When you hit “add” you will be prompted with a “submit form selections” pop up. This is where you can choose what data you want to be included in the email. In the “enter a URL for this link” you need to enter the email address as mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org. The mailto: gives the command to launch an email client, and attach the PDF form. If you need multiple emails to be included in the email, you can simply add a semi-colon in-between each email address.
This is a very basic form created in Adobe Acrobat 7.0 that can be created for a variety of needs. These forms can assist your user while the fill out the form, as well as be more efficient in the work place. Although this form was created in Adobe Acrobat 7.0, it can be easily created in newer versions of the software as well. This form is easy to access, quick to fill out, and efficient to send.
Want to make the form 'read-only' before it is submitted to the recipient? Check out this quick and easy way to make the fields no longer editable when the form is submitted so that there is less room for error.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2011 dappledesigns