Interactive forms can be especially helpful for the user when entering and checking data. We show you how to use Adobe and various online tools to create a PDF form and adapt it to your needs.
Interactive PDF documents such as a form are extremely convenient for users because they can make submitting data much easier. To fill out a membership application, expense report or order form online, PDF forms with digitally fillable form fields are required. Such a PDF form can be printed or sent by the user with a mouse click. Automatic reading of the form data is also possible. In order to take advantage of interactive forms, we will show you the easiest way to create a PDF form.
Table of contents
Create PDF form with word processors
Prepare layout with Microsoft Word
If you want to create an interactive PDF form, there are several ways to do it. Let’s start with the all-rounder Microsoft Word. The program has form functions and allows you to build interactive forms with the developer tools. However, you are quickly disillusioned after the export: the interactivity is lost again when exporting to PDF format. So Word can only be used to prepare the layout. But the form fields have to be added again in Acrobat or in an alternative software, which usually has to be paid for.
Export from OpenOffice and LibreOffice
The free word processing programs OpenOffice and LibreOffice also allow the assignment of form fields. Unlike Word, these programs manage to preserve interactivity when exporting to PDF format. So once you’ve used them to create a nice PDF form, there’s nothing to stop you from using it interactively.
Create PDF form with Adobe InDesign
More helpful is Adobe InDesign: here you can not only prepare the layout and appearance for the form. The program also allows you to add interactive form fields, which are preserved when the document is converted to PDF format. By adding and editing form fields, you can create a PDF form that matches your needs. Use the palette Buttons and Forms , which you can find in the menu under Windows under Interactive.
Once you are satisfied with your result, export the document. But watch out not the usual way via file Adobe PDF defaults . You can save the interactive document using the Export command. Simply select the Adobe PDF (interactive) as format. If you now open the PDF in Acrobat or the Reader, the functionality of the format fields is retained.
Create PDF form: prepare interactive functions in Adobe InDesign
Adobe Acrobat: How to turn a PDF into an interactive PDF form
Of course, you can also create an interactive PDF form from an existing PDF. If you have your desired layout in PDF format, but interactivity is still missing or you want to add or edit more form fields in PDF, you need software that allows form field editing in PDF. Here, the full version of Adobe Acrobat is definitely a good choice – in terms of interactivity, you can really let off steam.
Acrobat allows the insertion of all imaginable form field types: from normal text fields to buttons, date fields, digital signatures and barcode fields. The fields can be generated in such a way that the user’s input is validated in several ways. This allows to restrict the input to the type of numbers or digits as well as the quantity. Entered values can be offset against each other and fields can be defined as required.
Tip: Since Acrobat offers all possibilities for form fields, you can theoretically also create and edit a new, empty PDF file directly in the program. However, for the sake of layout and design, you are well advised to prepare the data in a suitable program such as InDesign, Word or Illustrator. This has another advantage: If you create the future form fields in a way that is easily recognizable and place the associated descriptions close enough to the fields, Acrobat can do a lot of the work for you, depending on the form content.
Automatically detect form fields
Acrobat has an automatic form field recognition. To do this, export the document from the respective creation program into the PDF format. Now open Acrobat in the full version and click on the Tools tab . In the category Form and Signatures you can find the tool Prepare Form . To speed up the work, you can choose Add Shortcut from the drop-down menu under Open. When you now return to your open PDF, the form tool automatically appears in the right column. If you click on it, a dialog will open in which your already opened PDF will be displayed and automatically active. To automatically add interactive form fields now, click on the Start command .
Auto-detection works only if this feature is enabled
This is what a PDF looks like after automatic recognition of form fields: The field names are generated from the text that is spatially close to them
Hint: Auto-detection only works if it is enabled in Acrobat’s preferences. You can see if the function is active by a hint under the Start command . If you see the information that the automatic detection is deactivated, you can activate it in the preferences of Acrobat in the category Forms.
Acrobat now searches for form fields it can recognize and adds interactive fields to the PDF accordingly. Each form field in Acrobat must have a name. With automatic recognition, Acrobat assigns the form fields the name that is spatially close to the fields. The results of the automatic recognition are acceptable and make work easier, especially with extensive, tabular forms with countless form fields. However, the main work relief is that you don’t have to pull up and place numerous form text fields. You have to do special requests like buttons, calculating values or validating data by hand.
The contents of form fields in the final print PDF, such as name, address, or phone number, are converted to regular page contents and printed along with them. Comments contained in the document are not Printed along.
Create and insert new form fields
In the PDF header – with the Prepare Form tool active – you will find the various form field tools with which you can create your individual PDF form.
- Text fields are used to enter information, checkboxes offer multiple selection.
- Radio buttons used when only one response is required.
- With a Selection list an element can be selected.
- A Dropdown list is a combination of a text field and a drop-down list.
- With Buttons you can, for example, send or print the PDF documents.
Use the appropriate tools if you want to pull up more form fields. To edit existing fields, double-click on the respective field and the field properties with different tabs open up. Fields can also be renamed in the right sidebar and edited, duplicated, or deleted thanks to the context-sensitive menu.
edit field functions
If you want to define the options for the form fields, work your way from tab to tab. Depending on the type of form field, the contents change; not all tabs and functions are available for all field types. Besides the name and appearance, it is possible to control the position and size of the field.
Read-only fields cannot be changed by the user
In the Actions tab you can define the trigger and the action itself
Create PDF form and validate the input
You have the option for certain fields to limit the user’s input to numbers or a specific number. From a form text field, open the Properties dialog by double-clicking on it and click on the Format tab . For the format category, select numbers, percent, time or date accordingly. If you choose numbers, you will always get a separator, the type of which can be selected below it. If you only need numbers without separators, for example when entering a membership number or the IBAN, select Special in the Format field and in the following list the entry Arbitrary Mask . Then enter a 9 in the empty line below as a placeholder for a number from 0 to 9. The placeholder A can be replaced by the letters A or. a to Z respectively. z replace. The placeholder O accepts alphanumeric input. By the number and order of the placeholders you tell the form user which data to enter.
The placeholder 9 stands for a number; the number of numbers to be entered is determined here by the number of 9s
Did you already know? The dialog box, which offers various tabs and all imaginable setting options, can, contrary to expectation, simply be left open when you activate another form field.
Change order and other functions
Convenient and, above all, a prerequisite for an accessible PDF is to use the Tab key jump from input field to input field. The order in which a user jumps through the fields is determined by you as the form creator by the order in which the fields are displayed in the right sidebar. You can change the order by moving the fields up or down within this bar. By the way, it is also possible to display the order in the fields. To do this, select the Show Tab Numbers command from the context-sensitive menu .
You can change the order of tab jumps if you move the individual elements in the sidebar
In the context sensitive menu you can find further useful commands to edit form fields. You can adjust the width and height of the fields, align them with each other, create copies and show the grid to which the fields can be aligned. If several fields are activated, e.g. to align them, the so-called anchor field can be recognized by the blue border. If you now use the context-sensitive menu or the alignment icons in the right sidebar to align the fields or change their widths or widths in the right sidebar, the fields will be aligned. Match lengths, the anchor field specifies position and size.
Good to know! If you activate the fields one by one with the shift key, the last clicked field is the anchor field. If, on the other hand, you activate the fields with the selection frame, the field that was created first is automatically the anchor field. To change the anchor field, simply click on the desired form field while holding down the shift key.
The anchor field can always be recognized by the dark blue border
Various alternatives to Acrobat
Acrobat is not the only software that can be used to create a PDF form. Thus, there are some alternatives, but they are usually also subject to costs. These include:
from wondershare from powersoft from iSkysoft
Besides the paid programs, there are also some free online alternatives, PDF escpae and JotForm, which can help to create simple PDF forms.
PDF escape: for simple PDF forms
PDF escape as an online service allows the free creation of PDF forms
With the service PDF escape you can create a PDF form completely free of charge – provided that you use the online service. However, the limited user-friendliness and the lack of clarity quickly turn out to be a problem: At the latest after you have uploaded your pre-layouted PDF, you quickly lose motivation because of this.
Our conclusion: For a few fields the online offer is okay. But if you want to create an extensive PDF form with many fields and different types, you will quickly reach the limits of PDF escape here.
JotForm: many templates, many functions
JotForm offers a comfortable form service. After the creation the PDF form can be saved and sent
A nice thing is the offer from JotForm. Here you can generate online up to four forms per month free of charge; from the fifth document on costs are incurred. Simply log on to the vendor’s website and select Create Form . Now you get templates to choose from, which can be edited afterwards quite comfortably and self-explanatory according to your wishes. After processing, the PDF form can be downloaded and used.
Our conclusion: This is a good and above all free alternative to Adobe and Co. – Up to four PDF forms per month can be created free of charge using templates.
Discover also the other parts of our PDF series:
Image sources: Screenshots of editing in Adobe Acrobat, PDF Escape, Jotform; lead: VectorKnight via Shutterstock