Using a Comb of Characters to Format Text on PDF Forms
This tutorial explains how to format PDF form fields to display data within a “comb of characters”. It is sometimes necessary to fill in form fields that are separated into boxes designated to contain only single characters. This may be where the data entered must follow a precise format – such as dates, social security numbers, or bank details etc.
When filling forms electronically, data entered will not automatically fill each box within the form field. In the steps below, we will demonstrate how to format a form field to be divided into a ‘comb’ of equally-sized sections.
The sample images below show an example where dates must be entered into a PDF form in a MMDDYYYY format. By using Acrobat’s comb settings, the numbers are inserted neatly in the appropriate boxes:
sample filled comb
without comb comparison
This method may be useful when filling PDF forms via a mail merge using the AutoMailMerge™ plug-in. Note that the content of the data source to be inserted into PDF forms must not contain any dashes/slashes (e.g. 01012021, NOT 01-01-2021 or 01/01/2021). Only the precise number of characters must be entered in the data fields, otherwise output fields will not be formatted correctly. Quickly remove dashes from DOB field values in the data source via a search and replace procedure (press Ctrl+H in Excel).
You need a copy of Adobe® Acrobat® installed on your computer in order to use this tutorial. The AutoMailMerge™ plug-in is also necessary for filling multiple interactive PDF forms at once via a mail merge. Both are available as trial versions.
Step 1 - Open Acrobat's "Prepare Form" Tool
Open the PDF form containing fields that you want to customize in Acrobat. See the separate tutorial for help creating interactive PDF forms.
Next, open the "Tools" panel located on the main Acrobat toolbar.
open tools panel
Find and click on the "Prepare Form" tool icon.
open prepare form
Step 2 - Open Form Field Properties
Double-click on the form field that needs to be modified. Alternatively, right-click on the field and press "Properties" to open the "Text Field Properties" dialog.
open field properties
Step 3 - Set Field Format
Open the "Format" tab.
open format tab
Select "None" from the drop-down list next to "Select format category:".
select format category
Step 4 - Set Field Options
Open the "Options" tab.
open options tab
Uncheck all boxes under this tab, then check the "Comb of" option and enter "8" into the entry box next to it. This will split the content of the field into eight separate sections. Use any number necessary to split the field - for example, for dates in a MMDDYY format, use a "6" character value.
Press "Close" to close the dialog and save changes.
confirm field options
Step 5 - Fill Form Fields
Save the PDF form, and press "Close" to exit the "Prepare Form" tool.
When filled, the characters typed into this modified field will now be equally spaced apart:
sample reformatted date
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