On our journey through the – at times – challenging waters of creating fillable PDFs, we came across numerous shipwrecks along the way, making the journey more difficult than anticipated due to a lack of transparency and easily accessible information. Despite Adobe Acrobat’s “greatness” there is a lot of room for improvement, and we hope that by providing some of the insights we have collected along the way, we help making somebody else’s journey a little less choppy.
We spent many hours pulling out our robot antennas, trying to add certain functions/fields to our forms, just to realise upon extensive research in forums and other related articles that our best intentions were leading us nowhere.
Copy and Paste Across Documents.
You can copy and paste larger groups of form fields to another document. I generally copy the tab order in the right panel/task pane as it keeps the exact order and paste it into the new target document, which saves me having to re-create all form fields. Somehow copying the form fields from the source PDF form itself never worked smoothly for us, so we became ninja pros in the latter.
Being able to copy and paste larger groups of form fields is extremely helpful and saves immense time should you have to re-create the same form due to minor structural/content changes in the original layout/source document. When copying larger groups of form fields to the new document, keep the whole block of form fields/entire form field structure activated as you can align it as a block, simply requiring you to amend the area that has been changed in the layout.
Bulk Formatting Several Fields at Once.
You can format multiple form fields by selecting the form fields of choice either with your mouse (draw a box around them) or by selecting them via Shift + Command + Click. This is useful if you’d like to use uniform font, font size, border colours, etc.. Changes will apply to all selected form fields.
Creating Smooth Workflow.
Depending on your computer capacity, speed and memory and whatever else, programs like Acrobat can become a little challenging to work with, especially when you’re working on larger forms spreading over several pages. If you’d like to avoid a very slow computer whilst working in Acrobat, you can work on smaller sections and later merge them to a larger PDF (individual pages to multiple page PDF).
Use Simplified Field Notation for simple custom calculations rather than Value is the ___ of the following field. It is significantly easier to use and also faster, i.e. if you’d like Acrobat to add up working hours over 5 days of the week, enter each day/field name/number to the Simplified Field Notation box, place a plus sign between each entry, and let Acrobat do the rest!
Customise Your Tab Order.
Use custom tab order to make it easier for users to tab through the document. In Form Editing Mode, you can see the tab order in a list to the right hand side. Use your mouse to drag the order up or down.
Save a Master Copy.
Save a master document just in case the PDF Reader extended version gets corrupted or doesn’t work. So you can always work from your master copy again. Having a master copy also makes later edits easier. If you save the PDF as fillable with extended rights, you cannot edit in that same document, but will have to save a “normal” copy to work with. Keeping a master just saves you this step.
Dropdown vs. List.
Remember, if you’d like to offer users the option to select several items from a menu, you need to use a list box for this as a dropdown box will allow one choice only.
The Power of Form Fields.
Be organised by using consistent field names, especially when using calculations and other functions. This will also help you with amendments in your tab order and/or when having to copy a field history/form fields to a second document.
Also important in this context: when copying form fields (to make things easier), remember to edit field names as it will otherwise conflict with data to be entered in the individual field.
Don’t use symbols in form fields as this act will greatly confuse poor ol’ Adobe and cause problems in the functionality, especially when using calculations in that form field.
To help users allocating the right data into form fields, add a default value under Options in Text Field Properties, i.e. “Enter text here”. When tabbing into the form field, default gets highlighted and users can easily overwrite it. If they click into the form field with the cursor/mouse, they’ll have to select/delete the text to remove the default value.
Adobe does not meet regular text/form alignment as per other programs like, i.e. Word, so keep this in mind when planning or creating your form.
Avoid using scrollbars for form fields containing text as it has happened more than once that users only slightly escaped a minor heart failure by trying to fix this “issue” of “disappearing” text.
If you’d like your PDF to be non-editable, so users cannot overwrite/save it with any data, make sure to simply Save As. If you’d like to create a fillable PDF for users to edit and save changes, add extended rights as per our former blog post.
Got more questions? Send us a beep! and we’re happy to help, if we can!