This tutorial shows you how to work with the PDF Forms features in Acrobat X. See what the all-new Acrobat DC can do for you.
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You’ve tested out the automatic PDF form creation tool in Acrobat X. In a blink of an eye, you’ve got the basics for a great form. Then what? Before you e-mail that form, or plan a distribution, there are some features you need to check out.
It’s surprising how well Acrobat X analyzes a document and pulls out form fields. Of course, there are bound to be some issues. Whether it’s form fields that aren’t properly named, an incorrect type of field, or a disjointed tabbing order, you need to take some time to polish the form.
By the way—the example forms I’ve used in this article have undergone rigorous development to make them as unusable as possible. Using a standard form appearance on a fairly simple page layout and background produces far more accurate results.
The accuracy of your initial form layout depends on the quality of the source file. I don’t mean quality in terms of its content or value, but quality in terms of making the content easily understood by the Acrobat X field-recognition process. Here are two versions of a form created in InDesign. Neither of them captures fields flawlessly in Acrobat X (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Acrobat X captures some form fields.
To orient you to the examples, Figure 1 shows callouts corresponding to the following descriptions:
I’ll go through the first form example, and point out some ways to make corrections as I run through my regular workflow.
Acrobat X does a good job of naming a field, particularly text fields. It’s important to plan ahead, however, as you may or may not want to use the default field names to store the information.
To take care of naming issues, be sure to include these steps:
If you’re simply working with the fields’ names, use the Fields panel to save time and mouse clicks (Figure 2). Click the field’s name in the list to activate the text and change it. If you select the field on the Document window, you’ll open the Text Field Properties dialog box.
Figure 2: Rename fields in the Fields panel.
Time for the first preview: Once the fields are named and added, a preview shows you if you’ve missed any fields, whether the field sizes are appropriate and correctly placed, and so on.
Click Preview on the toolbar to switch the view. As you see in Figure 3, the text fields are correctly positioned, but oversized, and the text entry doesn’t line up with the fields’ names.
Figure 3: Previewing shows text field issues.
Click Edit on the toolbar to return to the editing mode. Here are a few tips to take care of editing the fields:
Figure 4: Resize the set of fields.
Tip: Be sure to right-click over the modified field. Acrobat X uses that field as the example for the new dimensions.
Adjust the positions of the fields as necessary. Take advantage of the tools you find on the shortcut menu. For example, click Show Grids to display a grid overlay, handy for moving fields into position. Also, use the Align and Distribute options to space fields on the page.
You don’t have to configure fields individually as there are many appearance and visibility features that can be batched. Follow these steps to get the entire set of fields coordinated:
Figure 5: Choose common settings for a number of fields.
Although you may think radio buttons and check boxes are the same, and can be configured to look the same, they are fundamentally different. Use radio buttons when you have a single choice to make, and check boxes when the user can pick more than one option.
In the sample project (as in many Acrobat X forms), although the program often finds the radio buttons themselves, they may not be grouped. Radio buttons are a quick fix, and I usually delete erroneous fields, and reinsert them.
The form tools prompt you as you work (Figure 6). Name the group, and then name each component as you add it.
Figure 6: Configure radio button sets.
Tip: If you aren’t sure how to use the field, click the i icon to expand the dialog box to include an explanation, shown in Figure 6.
As with text fields, select multiple radio button sets and configure their appearance in one task. Depending on the structure of your source file, you may want to have the buttons invisible to take advantage of your original design.
Changing the choice names in the Fields panel also changes the choices shown in the Options tab of the Radio Button Properties dialog box (Figure 7).
Figure 7: Give the choices useful names.
Whether or not your check marks are interpreted correctly during the field-recognition process depends on how you’ve designed the form. Most often, as in the sample project, placing a small box following a label generates the fields. Like other fields considered here, select them as a group to make appearance changes as necessary. Be sure to look at the field names as well. In the sample project, one field was named incorrectly (selected in Figure 8).
Figure 8: Check the given names.
Whether you choose to leave the default names depends on your overall form design and data requirements. In a simple form like the example, it’s easy to figure out what the items refer to, while in a more complex form, I usually change the names to include a common prefix. For example, I might rename the fields in this form G-drama, G-mystery and so on.
One final task you should always check in a new form is the tabbing order. Many people move through a form using the Tab key, and expect to move left to right, top to bottom in a form. To see the tab order, click the Tab
Order button on the Fields panel to open the menu and then click Show Tab Numbers. You’ll see each field given a number, except for radio buttons where the choices each show the same number.
In the sample project, the tabs aren’t in the correct order (Figure 9). Some of the check marks are out of order, and I’d prefer the tab move left to right through the set of check marks, rather than by column.
Figure 9: Always check the tab order.
To fix the tab order, choose options from the Tab Order dropdown menu. In the sample project, choosing Order Tabs by Row takes care of the order inconsistencies in one mouse click.
Here are a few more tips for working with forms:
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