Creating PDF Active Forms
Using Adobe Acrobat6
So What is a PDF Active Form?
Active Form starts out as a regular PDF file which is then edited by the form provider to
become an electronic dynamic form capable of receiving user
input. PDF Active Forms can also be smart forms which perform
automatic calculations, field completions, and validation to help the user
complete the form and avoid errors.
Active Forms have seven different field types, each of which has a distinct purpose and
presentation style and accepts different types of input. The following table
||Allow only ONE selection from a group of options.
||Single character mark for "on"; default is a
bullet, as shown.|
||Provide on/off fields for answering closed-ended
questions or a choice between multiple options. Allow multiple
selections from a group.
||Single character mark (such as a check mark,
circle, cross, star, etc) for "on.".|
||Allow only ONE selection from a list of preset options.
||A pull-down menu with down-pointing arrow which,
when clicked, displays a list of options.|
||Allow single or multiple selection from a list of preset options.
||A scrollable window with up/down arrows on
||Allows for user-supplied input, such as text, numbers,
dates, time, comments, etc.
||Boxes with borders allowing for either single or
multiple lines. Boxes may be scrollable or unscrollable.|
||Invokes an action; cursor changes to a hand with
pointing index finger when the user moves it over the button.
||Icons and/or text|
||Allows insertion of digital signatures.
||When signed, changes to User Profile display
created for the signature.|
Create a PDF Active Form
1 -- Open a PDF File
- For this exercise, download the Rensselaer
Name/Address Change Form [78K PDF].
- Save the file to your Desktop, then open it
in Acrobat 6. (Note: Users appreciate being told that a link leads to a PDF, so
remember to label your PDF links appropriately, as above in Step 1.)
2 -- Define a Text Form Field
- Expand the forms toolbar by selecting the Show Forms Toolbar, the
last in the list of form field types (upper right, next to the link tool).
- Select the Text Tool from the Forms toolbar.
- Create a
text field by pointing to a space on the document, clicking and holding down
the left mouse button, and then dragging the
cursor to size it appropriately. Doing this will open the Text Field Properties
- Enter a Name
for the new field. Please note that, since you need to consider how you're
going to use the data the user supplies, you should give this name careful
consideration. Keep in mind that all field names must be unique, unless you want
multiple instances of a field to auto-populate from a single instance of input.
(For example, forms with multiple pages may ask a user to enter their name on
every page. By providing a relevant name field and allowing subsequent
instances of it to auto-populate from the initial input, we can make the process
that much quicker and easier for the user.)
- Click on the Close button.
- Place the text box above the Last
Name line on the form. To do this, position the cursor anywhere inside
the box, click and hold down the left mouse button, and drag the box to the
A Word to the Wise
Name your fields hierarchically. For instance, if asking for
first and last name, name those fields, respectively:
Name.First and Name.Last. The period separator ( . )
denotes a hierarchy shift in Acrobat; in this example, Name
is known as an internal field and
First and Last are known as terminal
fields. Internal fields have no visible manifestation on the page, but terminal
Following this hierarchy will not only help you create forms with greater
structure, but will help you when creating actions, validating, auto-creating tables of
manipulate the fields and/or their data.
- Enter the desired text for the Tool Tip, which provides a small pop-up description
when the user hovers
the cursor above the form field. For an idea of what this looks like, move your
cursor over any of Acrobat's buttons/tools.
- Click the Required check box. Under Common Properties, make sure the Form
Field is defined as Visible and that Orientation has a value of 0 (zero).
- Click on the Appearance tab. If you wish, you can use the options in the
resulting window to specify the colors, if any, of the form
field's Borders and Background. However, since, in this case, it might look
best if we don't color the field, the box with the red diagonal line indicates
to Acrobat not to draw a border and/or background.
- If you wish, you may also set the font and change its size (the default
setting is Auto, which will automatically size the font
to fit the text field you have defined. You may even change the font color
from the default black; to do this, click on the small black square which appears
to the right of the Text Color field, and select the new color from the palette
- Click on the Options tab, and specify the text alignment,
and whether you want a default value.
A Word to the Wise
When working with text fields, as in step 11, pay close attention
to your options for
Multi-line, Scroll long
text, Limit of 
Characters, and so forth. By not taking these options into consideraton,
you run the risk of receiving text in undesired
formats, or creating a field that is difficult for the user to complete.
- Click on the Close button to close the Text Field Properties window.
- Repeat steps 1 through 12 for the remaining fields which will require textual or numeric
input, such as City, State, Social Security Number, etc.
As with most Windows programs, Acrobat allows you to copy
and paste items by using the Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V keys. If the form field is selected and
highlighted entirely in red, you can copy and paste the field to quickly reproduce the
field type, its size and other properties that fields on your form may share.
After pasting the new field, simply double-click inside the new field
and begin editing its properties!
3 -- Define a Radio Button Form Field
- On the Forms Toolbar, select Radio
- Locate the Employee and Retiree options. Since these
are mutually exclusive options, we will use a radio button here, since
that particular field format allows only one selection from a group.
- As you did for the text field, use the mouse click-hold-drag technique to draw
a small box over the one on the form, and place it appropriately. A Radio Button
Properties window should appear.
- Click on the General tab and enter EmployeeStatus
in the Name field.
- Click on the Appearances tab, and use the various options to define
the field's borders, colors, and fonts.
- Click on the Optionstab, and select the field's Button Style. This
defines how the selection will appear on the form, such as a bullet,
check mark, square, etc.
- Also under Options, set the field's Export Value to Employee.
- Repeat these steps to create another similar radio button for the
Retiree field on the form. Note that this new button should
have the same EmployeeStatus field name, but an Export value of
4 -- Define a Check Box Form Field
- Select the Check Box tool from the Forms Toolbar.
- Again, using the same click-hold-drag mouse technique, try creating
a check box for each of the "HR Use Only" fields at the bottom of the form.
Some Tips and Reminders
As you create these new fields, remember to use a hierarchical
naming scheme and to set the properties under each of the
General, Appearance and Options
tabs. Be sure to give the check boxes borders and/or background colors that will be
visible to the user. Finally, note that, while the default Export Value
is Yes, that you will actually have to supply a unique value
for each of the new fields.
5 -- Add Additional Text to the Form
Now let's add some more text to our form, to help indicate what kind of choice we want
our users to make in the next form field we'll create, a list box.
- Select the Text Box tool from the Advanced Commenting Toolbar. (If this
has not appeared by default on your screen, you may open it by pulling down the
Tools menu, and then selecting the Advanced Commenting
and Show Advanced Commenting Toolbar options from the subsequent
- Place your cursor in the document above the Employee and Retiree radio
boxes, and click the left mouse button. A bright yellow text box should appear.
- Type "I am making changes to my:" in this new field.
- Left-click anywhere on the form to automatically resize the new text field.
- To remove the yellow background, left-click anywhere inside the new field. Small
blue squares will appear around the border to indicate that it's highlighted.
- Right-click inside the highlighted field and select the Properties
option from the pop-up menu that appears.
- Use the various options under the Appearance tab to define the
field's background and border.
- You may use this Properties option with any other type of
form field you create. The types of properties you can edit will simply change
according to the type of field you've selected.
A Quick Tip
As you go through this tutorial, remember that it is
always a good idea to save your work from time to time.
To keep a PDF slim and increase its download speed, use the Save
As option instead of a simple Save, to void your
history of changes and save only your changes.
6 -- Define a List Box Form Field
- Select the List Box tool from the Forms Toolbar.
- Create/draw a list box. A List Box Properties window should appear.
- Click on the Options tab.
- Enter Name in both the Item and Export Value fields, then
click on the Add button to include that item in the list
that will eventually appear in that field on the form.
- Repeat the above step two more times, entering and adding Phone
number and Home address to the list of list box options.
- Select the Multiple selection option which appears in the
middle of this window.
Doing this will allow the user to use the Ctrl key to select more than one
item from the list of options. (By definition, list boxes allow only one selection
from a list. You need to remember that, if you wish to let your users make more
than one selection, you need to specify that property.)
- Preview your new list box by selecting the Hand tool from the main
Acrobat toolbar at the top of the window. Be sure the box
allows the user to see all the options without having to scroll. Style the box
however you like, but remember your users must be able to identify these options
and how to select them.
7 -- Define a Combination Box Form Field>
- Select the Combo Box tool from the Forms Toolbar.
- Since this field is for testing purposes only in this exercise,
create a combo box anywhere on the form.
- Create a combination list, using the same list of items as you did in Section 6.
- Style the list.
Notice that, no matter how large
you make the combo box, only one item will appear at a time unless you expand
the combo box with the arrow button. Why is this?
When would you use a list box and when would you use a combo
What are the main differences between the two?
|Summary of Form Field Properties|
8 -- Define a Button Form Field
Rather than offering options for user selection or an area where
users can input data, buttons perform special actions on the data already
entered and/or selected. For example, a button can open a file, submit or reset
and so on. Acrobat offers predefined actions in the Button
- Select the Button Tool from the Forms Toolbar.
- Create a button anywhere on the form. Note that Acrobat immmediately opens a
Button Properties dialog box.
- Click on the Actions tab and select the specific
Trigger action, such
as Mouse Up, Mouse Down that will "trigger,"
or execute, the script.
- Select the Submit a form option in the Select
Action field. (You may also want to take an extra minute
to explore the other pre-defined actions available in Acrobat 6.)
- Click the Add button to add the button to the form.
A Submit Form Selections window will appear, prompting you to enter the
URL to which the user's data will be sent.
Where does it go?
Submitting a form on the Web requires the browser to upload
the form and/or its data to a web server. Normally the supplier of information,
the server must be configured to receive user-supplied data as well. Check with
your web server administrator to see what options are available to you. C&CT
currently offers a few options for passing user-supplied data from your forms,
through out systems and on to you.
How would you create a button that would print the form?
you create a button that would Save the file and then Print?
Other Tutorials for Creating PDF Active Forms