PDF In-Depth

Add fill-in fields to static PDF forms

September 27, 2000

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I'm seeing more PDF-based forms on the Web, but many of them have to be printed out and then filled in by hand. Can I change these to forms that I can fill in electronically before printing?

First - how can you tell if a PDF form can be filled in electronically? In Acrobat, select the Hand tool and place it over the text-entry field. If the cursor changes to a text I-beam, then you can fill in the form on-screen.

u.s. tax form in pdf

You can easily add live text-entry fields to a static form using Acrobat's Form tool. The IRS has already done it for you in its current income-tax forms.

As to your question, it's definitely possible to turn static PDF forms into live, interactive documents that you can fill in online. But there are some caveats:

  • If the form's creator used the built-in security features of Adobe Acrobat to disallow making changes to the document, you won't be able to modify it.
  • Creating fill-in form fields requires the full Acrobat product.
  • If you're using the free Adobe Acrobat Reader(TM), you won't be able to save changes of any kind to a PDF, including a PDF form. You can electronically fill in PDF forms with Reader and submit the form data from within a Web browser. But you can't save the completed PDF form with the entered data; you must print it to retain a copy of the data.
  • Acrobat Business Tools provides greater forms capabilities than Reader - including the ability to save existing PDF files, including forms with entered data, on your local drive - at a lower cost than Acrobat.

If you have Acrobat and a modifiable form, converting a static form into one with live fields is dead easy. Start by selecting Acrobat's Form tool. Click, hold, and drag across the area you want to turn into an active text-entry field. The Field Properties dialog box appears, allowing you to give the field a unique name and adjust various attributes. When you close the window (with the Form tool still selected), you should see the added form field on-screen.

acrobat form tool window

When you create a form field, you give it a name and set its attributes using the Field Properties dialog box. Now select Acrobat's Hand tool and place it over the new text-entry field. It should change to a text I-beam; click in the text field and type in your data. No more writing cramps! You can continue this field-creation process throughout the form. When you're finished, you'll have an interactive form, one that can be filled in on the computer before printing.

I want to specify my preferred fonts in the form fields, but I can't find such an option. Is there a way to change the fonts?

Alas, no. At this time, only Acrobat's Base 14 fonts can be used in PDF forms fields.

A longer version of this article first appeared on Adobe.com. Reprinted with permission

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