Designing Interactive PDF Forms From Scratch

In our last blog article, we covered how to create an interactive form using an already designed non-interactive one.

But suppose you want to create a brand new form from a blank page. And you want it to be an interactive form that users can fill out onscreen. And you want to go on a vacation to a tropical paradise. Well, Foxit PhantomPDF 6 can help you with the first two of these desires.

How To Create Forms From Scratch

You can refer to your PhantomPDF User Manual for full details, of course, but the gist of form creation is simply this.

  • Create a blank PDF from FILE > Create > Blank.
  • Open the blank page with Foxit PhantomPDF, and then add form fields.
  • Add text before or after the form fields by choosing or the Typewriter Tool (see Chapter 7).

Also, PhantomPDF 6 offers a group of tools called Foxit Form Designer that you can use to create interactive forms from the ground up quickly and easily.

Foxit Form Designer Makes Creating Interactive PDF Forms a Snap

With Foxit Form Designer, you can add almost anything you can think of that an interactive form could need, using the following tools: 

  • Push Button creates an interactive form element to initiate predefined actions, such as opening a file, submitting data to a web server, or resetting a form. You can customize this button with images and text.
  • Radio Button presents a group of choices from which the person completing your form can select only one.
  • Check Box presents yes-or-no choices for individual items. If the form contains multiple check boxes, form fillers can select what they want.
  • Combo Box lets the form filler choose an item from a pop-up menu or type in a value.
  • List Box displays a list of options the form filler can select.
  • Text Field lets the form filler type in text, such as name, address, phone number, etc.
  • Signature Field creates a blank digital signature field for reviewers to sign the document.

Chapter 8 in your user manual devotes the bulk of its contents to explaining how to create interactive forms. And you can get pretty fancy, down to using the built-in JavaScript tools to handle number strings, email the completed form to you, even insert the current date or hide certain text fields until the form is printed.

What’s more, interactive forms mean you can capture data more easily. With PhantomPDF Business and JavaScript, you can pull data from your interactive forms into your database. That means less manual data entry, which reduces time, cost and errors.

Come to think of it, with all the timesaving possibilities this offers you, maybe we can help you get closer to that tropical vacation after all.

How To Create Interactive PDF Forms—And Why You’d Want To

If your business relies on any kind of form that employees, vendors, clients, or customers need to fill out, it might seem like a daunting task to take those non-interactive forms and make them interactive. But the truth is, it’s not.

In fact, PhantomPDF 6 gives you the ability to quickly and easily turn a non-interactive PDF form into an interactive form that virtually anyone can download, fill out, print, or return to you by email. (Note: for more on interactive vs. non-interactive PDF forms, please see Filling Out Non-Interactive PDF Forms.)

 

Why Create Interactive PDF Forms?

What benefits do interactive forms give you? The most obvious one is reducing the paper chase. Interactive forms let you get rid of time-consuming, error-prone paper document processing and storage. (Hello, paperless.)

Converting existing non-interactive PDF forms to interactive forms also lets you repurpose other publicly available forms, such as those from professional organizations or the government.  This alone could top many HR, legal, and government managers’ lists when they daydream about increased efficiency.

What’s more, interactive forms mean you can capture data more easily. With PhantomPDF Business and a little bit of custom JavaScript (which is built-in), you can connect your interactive forms to your database and insert, update, or delete database information. That means less manual data entry, which reduces time, cost and errors.

What’s more, because they’re PDF, your interactive forms will be viewable and usable by anyone that has a PDF reader, which most users do already.

 

Features That Make PDF Form Creation Quick And Easy

PhantomPDF 6 offers new capabilities that enable you to quickly and easily create interactive PDF forms from your existing form files. Those features are automated form field recognition and editing.

The Form Field Recognition tool automatically identifies likely form fields in your PDF documents. Simply let it do all the heavy lifting, then touch up the resulting file to add, change or remove any fields in your interactive forms.

Similarly, when you click on a form field, the Designer’s Assistant automatically fits the field into the likely space that it should occupy, giving you one-click form field creation.  Talk about time-saving.

Those two features alone may be all you need to turn a non-interactive form into an interactive one. Want to get fancier? You can add buttons, check boxes, signature fields and more. To learn how, refer to your handy PhantomPDF User Manual, or stay tuned for our upcoming blog article on designing interactive PDF forms from scratch.

 

To start creating interactive PDF forms, download PhantomPDF now.

Filling Out Non-Interactive PDF Forms

If you’ve ever faced the frustration of finding a form online that you need to fill out, only to have to print it, fill it out by hand, then scan it back into your computer and email it, you’ll appreciate these tips on how to fill out a non-interactive PDF forms.

But wait? What do we mean by non-interactive? Let’s back up.

Interactive PDF Forms vs. Non-Interactive PDF Forms

There are two kinds of PDF form files. One is a PDF file with fillable fields, which lets you fill out the form directly simply by clicking into the fields. You basically point your cursor and type. You don’t need to use any other features. Easy-peasy. This is called an Interactive PDF Form.

The other kind of form is a plain PDF file with lines and text. No fields are present. It’s basically the same as any PDF document, except that it looks like a form. This is called a non-interactive PDF form. So can you fill it out? Yes! You just use the Typewriter feature in Foxit PhantomPDF or Foxit Reader.  Here’s how.

Filling Out Non-Interactive PDF Forms with the Typewriter

You’ll know you’re working with a non-interactive PDF form if you place the pointer over a form field and the basic pointer icon doesn’t change.  To use the Typewriter feature to fill out the form, choose the COMMENT ribbon > Typewriter Tool.  Then it’s merely a matter of placing your cursor anywhere a form field appears and typing your text into the form. In essence, you’re inserting text into the document as you would with any other PDF file.  To finish typing, click anywhere outside the text you’ve inputted. Then make sure to save or print a copy of the completed form.

For a Perfect Finish, Make Sure to Spell Check Your Form

You can even spell-check the entries if your security settings allow it and if you’ve installed the Spell Checker component. You’ll know if you have because, when you use typewriter to insert text, the tool will look for any spelling errors and highlight them with squiggly lines.

To correct any spelling mistakes, right click on the misspelled words and you’ll see a list of suggested words. Choose one of the suggested words to correct your input or ignore the squiggly line.

Of course, rather than using this streamlined way to fill out non-interactive PDF forms, you can always go back to the old-fashioned method of printing the form out (aka, using precious paper resources) and filling it out by hand (aka, like your great-great grandparents used to do). But with the Typewriter tool to guide your PDF form completion, why would you want to?

To start filling out non-interactive forms, download the free Foxit Reader or PhantomPDF now.

Note that the Spell Checker component has been integrated into Foxit PhantomPDF and Foxit Reader, however, you may need to manually install updates by going to Check for Updates in the Help menu.

PDF/X Offers a Family of PDF Standards for Printing and Publishing

When was the last time you heard “too flexible” as a criticism? Well, that’s exactly what concerned the printing and publishing industries about PDF. As the use of PDF for transferring graphic arts content files between sites, publishers, and printers has grown, so have the anomalies, idiosyncrasies and plain old incompatibilities when it comes to reliable sharing of pre-press data using various PDF software.

So a group of intrepid publishers and printers took it upon themselves to work with standards bodies to develop versions of PDF that suit the varied output requirements of all manner of diverse workflow methods and production techniques.

What is PDF/X?

The PDF/X family of standards was developed to address the many diverse needs of the printing and publishing industries. As such, it offers several versions, each designed for a specialized result.

  • PDF/X-1a is for exchanges in which all files are to be delivered in CMYK (and/or spot colors), with no RGB or color-managed data.
  • PDF/X-3 is used for sharing when all files are based on device independent (color-managed) data.
  • PDF/X-4 supports transparencies, so PDF-X/4 contains all data required for output without flattening.
  • PDF/X-5 is based on PDF/X-4, adding support for external graphics via reference XObjects, as well as external n-colorant profiles for rendering intent. Use it for partial exchange of printing data using PDF version 1.6

 (Note that the absence of PDF/X-2 is not an oversight. This standard was for partial data exchange but never saw the light of day.)

The purpose of PDF/X is to facilitate graphics exchange via PDF software, and it therefore has a series of printing related requirements that do not apply to standard PDF files. For example, in PDF/X-1a all fonts need to be embedded and all images need to be CMYK or spot colors. PDF/X-3 accepts calibrated RGB and CIELAB colors, while retaining most of the other restrictions of PDF/X-1a.

PDF/X files must not only follow certain restrictions, they also must contain a special file identification inside the PDF software file that says which PDF/X version they are. Meaning, the printing conditions or output intent need to be specified in the file. This restricts a file to only conforming to a single specific PDF/X standard, even if all other requirements are met. So once you choose which PDF/X standard you’re going to use, that’s the one your file is compatible with. Period.

When should you use PDF/X?

All these PDF/X requirements and restrictions can seem like overload, but the whole point of the ISO 15930 series is to actually simplify the sharing of pre-press digital data within PDFs by ensuring that they adhere to necessary standards to ensure flawless output.  Because nothing makes a designer less happy than having to redo print jobs endlessly due to inferior output. (Your numbers people don’t love what that does to budgets either.)

So if you’re in the printing or publishing industries, it definitely pays to be familiar with the different PDF/X standards available in PDF software, especially the ones that can improve processing efficiency in your workflow, as you’ll surely see it in shorter project timeframes and lower costs.

PDF/E Gives Engineers an Archiving Format All Their Own

Not surprisingly, engineering and construction communities need to ensure that they can publish and exchange engineering and mapping data in a format that everyone can open, read and rely upon, regardless of the software used to create it.

After all, if the map that shows your public works team where the water mains are is unreadable, or off by enough of a margin that they hit one during construction, costly problems arise. Not to mention the high cost of managing distribution of and changes to engineering and map data during project and product development.

All of which prompted a group of motivated PDF users and partners to band together to form a committee dedicated to creating PDF/E. The result of their work, the PDF/E standard is the foundation for creating documents used in PDF software for geospatial, construction, engineering and manufacturing workflows.

What is PDF/E?

PDF/E is a subset of PDF, designed to be an open and neutral exchange format for engineering and technical documentation.

Like PDF/A, which is primarily concerned with long-term archiving, and PDF/X, which is the standard for printing and publishing, PDF/E is an ISO-standardized version of the Portable Document Format (PDF). In this way, it ensures compliance in order to produce consistent results and quality. This helps eliminate issues that had existed in the engineering realm previously, such as inconsistent results, sharing issues due to inaccessible external links, and proprietary formats of PDF software that each required a separate and sometimes expensive viewer.

As such, PDF/E files must be 100% self-contained to ensure view ability, so they require that all components necessary to make them readable are embedded within them. That means necessary text, raster images, vector graphics, fonts, and color information are always accessible to the engineering and manufacturing teams that rely upon these documents.

PDF/E also offers a format that enables secure distribution and supports digital signatures and authentication—both of which are instrumental to industries that frequently create documents containing sensitive data.  

It’s key to note that, because engineering and manufacturing rely upon interactive media, including animation, PDF/E allows them, unlike PDF/A and PDF/X.

When should you use PDF/E?

If you’re in the engineering, manufacturing or construction industries, chances are, you’re already very familiar with PDF/E and its usage. The standard is readily available to use in many industry applications, such as AutoCAD and Microsoft Visio, and various PDF software products.

To learn more about PDF/E, visit the Foxit PhantomPDF product page.