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How to set up tab order in a PDF form using Acrobat X

Learn how to set the tab order in a fillable PDF form to improve the appearance of your PDF form and also make it easier for users to use.

By February 6, 2012


In this tutorial, learn how to set the tab order in fillable PDF forms to improve the appearance of your PDF form and also make it easier for users to use. Suppose you're making a PDF form for attendees at your upcoming conference. Your users expect to press TAB to move through fields in the PDF form from the upper left to the bottom right, jumping from field to field in sequence. Sometimes the tab order isn't right.

In an online PDF form you've already created, open the Tools panel, and choose Forms > Edit to activate the online PDF form editing mode.

By default, Acrobat X shows the fields sorted by Tab Order. To make working with fields easier, click Tab Order and choose Show Tab Number. This way you see the sequence of the fields on the PDF form page.

To fix your fields, make sure you're using the Sort By > Tab Order option to show the Tab Order settings. If you want to make any changes, click Tab Order > Order Tabs Manually. Otherwise you'll see a dialog box explaining you have to order tabbing manually first.

You can order fields based on the structure, rows, or columns. For most forms, click Tab Order and choose Order Tabs by Structure as Acrobat X does a good job of ordering for you.

If you want to change the order manually, click and drag the field in the Fields pane. You'll see the field's number change on the page.

Once you're done organizing, click Preview and press the TAB key to move through your form.

Now your form is not only good-looking, it's easier for your conference attendees to use.

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Comments for this tutorial are now closed.

Lori Kassuba

2, 2016-03-02 02, 2016

Hi Abdul Imran,

Try making sure you have this preference unchecked under Edit > Preferences > Forms “Automatically adjust tab order when modifying fields”.


Abdul Imran

4, 2016-02-18 18, 2016


Is there a Javascript code for sorting form fields by name ? Because at times i sort them alphabetically by name and i want to manually replace certain fields and the entire order gets scrambled.

Lori Kassuba

10, 2014-10-17 17, 2014

Hi Jane Johnson,

Thanks for the tip. I’ve also experienced issues specifically with radio buttons and tab order.


Jane Johnson

6, 2014-10-15 15, 2014

Hi, all!

We were having the same problem of trying to rearrange how users would tab through the form.  We had the Tab Order set to Manual and were dragging-and-dropping fields in the list which would sometimes change the Tab Numbers and sometimes wouldn’t.  We discovered that the fields which were radio buttons that we tried to drag DOWN further in the list would not change but everything else would, including dragging radio buttons UP toward the top of the list.  Also, each field has to be moved individually rather than selecting a group of fields all at once in order to maintain the correct tab order within the group of fields.  We have to drag about 70 fields one at a time above the one radio button that’s in the wrong place, rather than just moving the radio button down to the correct place, but at least we can get them in the correct order.  I would be interested to know whether this works for anyone else.



5, 2014-02-24 24, 2014

Huzzah! I found a solution:

1) The preferences setting for “Automatically adjust tab order when modifying fields” should be unchecked.
2) Open the PDF and turn on the tab numbers. Go to Forms > Edit > Tab Order > Show Tab Numbers.
3) You move a field in the right-hand tab order column, but the tab order doesn’t change on the page (this is the problem).
4) Right click on that field within the page and choose Cut.
5) Then paste that field back on the page.
6) You should be able to set the correct tab order for that field in the right-hand tab order column now.

For some reason, cutting and pasting the problematic fields seems to “reset” the status quo, allowing you to change those item’s tab order.

Lori Kassuba

9, 2013-11-08 08, 2013

Hi Felicia and Nathan,

If you’re using Acrobat XI, try unchecking this under Edit > Preferences > Forms “Automatically adjust tab order when modifying fields”.



12, 2013-11-06 06, 2013

I am getting very frustrated. I have a document with many fields per page, and I have my tab order set just how I want it. The problem I am having is that any time I try to move the fields up or down to fine tune the spacing of the fields and alignment, it then throws the tab order completely out of wack. Someone please help! I’m coming up on a deadline for this document!

Felicia Lucco

4, 2013-08-30 30, 2013

Hi. Gee, this all makes perfect sense, only it doesn’t work. Like Malcolm, I have a huge doc with tons of fields. I have painstakingly gone through the steps to manually order the tabs, yet they seem to have a mind of their own and go out of sequence each time I save the doc. I have a client waiting on this, so I’m beyond frustrated.

I have the tab order set to manual. When I turn on the numbers, they show them out of sequence, so I don’t see the point. I could not find a way to renumber the fields; that would make sense. How do I stop this madness?


donna baker

10, 2013-08-06 06, 2013

Hi David -

Yes. Open the Order panel and look at your page. The comment area will be boxed, and have a number. Delete its box, the order is readjusted, and now the tab order should skip over that section of the page.


David G

1, 2013-07-31 31, 2013

Hi, I have a question that probably has a simple answer, but I’m not sure…

I have created a form that people can fill in and I have refined the tab order just like I want it, except for that after the last fillable box is tabbed over, it goes to all of the comments on the page.  Is there any way to make the Tab-Order skip over the comments on the page and only go over the fillable boxes that are part of the interactive form?


donna baker

3, 2013-07-15 15, 2013

Hi Malcolm -

There’s no logical reason for your fields not to tab properly. Maybe it would help if you repaired the installation. Often illogical issues that occur are corrected following the repair. Choose Help > Repair Acrobat Installation and let the program check through and repair its code.



8, 2013-07-09 09, 2013


I’m having the same problem Vincent describes above. In my case, the fields are numbered in the correct sequence. When I select the corresponding filed in the Filed pane and use my down arrow to scroll through the fields, they “tab” in the correct order. Everything looks to be perfect. But then when I exit edit mode and actually try the forms the fields do not tab in the right order.

I have a very complex layout with tons of fields, but I would expect Acrobat to honor the field numbers no matter what. It does not. I’m out of ideas, by all appearances this should work correct, yet doesn’t. Any ideas?



donna baker

9, 2013-04-03 03, 2013

Hi Vincent -

There’s likely a field that is improperly numbered. In the Fields pane, click Tab Order and select Show Tab Number. Read through the tabbed fields’ numbers to see where they are out of order.



3, 2013-03-27 27, 2013

I am using Acrobat XI Standard.  I am attempting to set tab order manually.  In the navigation panel on the right-hand side of the screen it shows the correct order.  However, the tab order is not correct on the actual form.  Can you please let me know how to fix this?

Thanks in advance.

donna baker

11, 2013-03-26 26, 2013

Hi Bryan -

By default, Acrobat tab order works on a single page. What you could do (although I haven’t tried it) is add an action to the last field on Page 1 to go to Page 2. Hopefully, when that field loses focus (TAB pressed again) it’ll access the first field on page 2. You’d want the action to use focus actions, rather than click actions.



1, 2013-03-08 08, 2013

When tabbing thru our multi-page form, tabbing on the last field in page 1 takes the user to last page in page 4. Would anyone know if this is a tab order issue or something else and how to rectify it. Any insight is appreciated.

Theresa Fath

4, 2012-03-13 13, 2012

Hi Donna,
Quick question…I have my tab order set the way I want it, but if a user adds an instance of a subform, it isn’t included in the tab order. Is there a way around this? Thanks!

Hi Theresa -

No, there’s no way around tab order in a subform. That would be like making the reading order branch, and that’s not something that it can do.


Comments for this tutorial are now closed.