Among the biggest Acrobat-related hits during the recent 2006 Adobe MAX conference were the hands-on sessions highlighting the new form-field recognition capabilities in Acrobat 8 Professional.
In several sessions led by Lori DeFurio (I was a proctor in the classes), students whistled and applauded as she demonstrated the use of the latest version of Acrobat to automatically process a form and create text, a digital signature and checkbox fields. Several attendees told me afterward that they would upgrade just to obtain this one feature.
In this article, you will get hands-on experience with Acrobat 8’s form-field recognition capabilities and learn some techniques for completing the form-creation process.
Unfortunately, form-field recognition is lightly documented. I could find only three brief mentions of it in the Acrobat 8 Professional User Guide, which is available on your installation CD. Here are some tips and observations based on what I saw in Lori’s class and my own experience:
So what will form-field recognition accomplish? It will save a lot of time by creating most of the fields for you. You may have to change the size or formatting of a field, but automatic form-field recognition takes a lot of drudgery out of creating forms.
For a sample file, I used the U.S. Postal Service Change of Address form. As you can see, this is a non-fillable PDF form, like many on the Web.
To add fields in Acrobat 8 Professional, choose Forms > Run Form Field Recognition.
If your results are like mine, you’ll have to perform some minor cleanup. In my demonstration file, for example, the Fax Number and Attention Line fields are one field instead of two; and the Company Name, Taxpayer ID and Attention Line are missing, Acrobat missed the Digital Signature Field at the bottom and the checkboxes don’t force the user to choose just one option.
No problem. We can fix these minor errors quickly.
First, we will give the text fields a uniform look by specifying a font family and size.
1. Choose the Text Field tool from the Forms toolbar.
2. Then choose Edit > Select All to grab all the text fields at once.
3. Right-click (Mac OS option-click) a field and choose Properties.
4. Specify a font family and a font size. I selected 10 as the size and Arial as the family.
5. Choose Edit > Deselect All and then right-click (Mac OS option-click) a field and select Use Current Properties as New Defaults. From now on, every field you create will have the characteristics you specified in step 4.
Since you should have the Text Field tool selected, add fields to Company Name, Taxpayer ID and Attention Line. To keep our form consistent, go to the General tab of Text Field Properties and use the caption information as the field name.
You also should rename the ACS Shipping Information field Fax Number, resize it and add an Attention Line. Do the same for ACS Billing Information. Go through the form and make any other changes you think should be made to text fields. Remember to use the right-click (Mac OS option-click) commands for field alignment and sizing.
Next, click the Date Signed field at the bottom of the page. Resize it and in the Text Field Properties dialog box choose Format > Category > Date > mm/dd/yyyy.
At this point you should switch to the Hand tool and enter some sample data into the form. Make any necessary changes to the text fields, such as giving the ZIP+4 fields a ZIP+4 format in Field Properties > Format > Custom > Zip Code + 4.
Now let’s step back and look at our text fields. When I see a text field instead of a Combo Box (Pull-down list in other applications) for a list of states, I think ‘Oh-oh. Potential user data entry error here.’ So let’s use a consulting trick to add a list of states. We are going to use a list of states someone else added to their website.
To complete the form, we will change the Signature field to a Digital Signature, and fix our checkboxes.
While automatic form-field recognition in Acrobat 8 isn’t perfect, it certainly can give you a nice headstart on making a static PDF form fillable. I estimate that using it on this form would cut production time in half.
Give it a try, and I bet you will find that auto form-field recognition will save you time, too.
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