Creating Interactive PDF Forms

Using Prepare Form Tool in Adobe® Acrobat®

What is PDF Form? ↑overview
PDF form is a special kind of PDF document that contains interactive fields where textual information can be entered or check boxes may be selected. You can create a PDF form from any PDF, word processor, image file or a paper document. You will need to add fields to the regular PDF document using form editing tools provided by Adobe Acrobat. PDF forms are widely used to collect or distribute various government and bussiness documents.
What are PDF Fields? ↑overview
Fields are interactive elements where user can either type text or make a selection.
There are 9 basic field types:
  • Text Field - for entering textual and numeric information.
  • Check box - for making a single variable selection.
  • Radio buttons - for making a selection from a set of options.
  • List box - for making a selection from a list of options.
  • Dropdown list - for making a selection from a dropdown list of options.
  • Push button - for performing actions, such as submitting or printing the form.
  • Signature - for digitally signing documents.
  • Barcode - for displaying textual infomation using various barcode symbology.
  • Image - for displaying an image.
Examples of different PDF field types
How to Fill PDF Forms? ↑overview
Manual filling: PDF forms can be filled manually using Adobe Acrobat Reader, Adobe Acrobat or any other compatible PDF viewer.
Automatic filling: Use mail merge tool such as AutoMailMerge plug-in for Adobe Acrobat to automatically produce multiple PDF documents by populating PDF form template from data files such as spreadsheet or database.
Preparing a PDF Form ↑overview
If you already have a PDF document you want to use as a template, then select File > Open from the main Acrobat menu and load document into Adobe Acrobat. Alternatively, create desired document in text editor (such as MS Word) and save it as PDF file. It is also possible to create a PDF document by scanning a paper document (not recommended).
Adding Form Fields ↑overview
If you are using "classic" Acrobat DC (pre-2022), then open a PDF document, select Tools on the main toolbar and find Prepare Form tool.
Select Prepare Form tool
If you are using a new Adobe Acrobat interface, then select Prepare Form tool from All Tools tab:
New interface Select Prepare Form tool
The following tutorial shows how to use "classic" Adobe Acrobat interface. It is a lot more convinient to use. Please see the following page for instructions on how to switch to "classic" interface in the new Adobe Acrobat.
Double-click on the "Prepare Form" icon to open a PDF form editor. If a currently open document does not contain any form fields, then you would be prompted to either select an existing file or scan a paper document. Click "Start" button to use a currently open document:
Select a file or scan document to begin
Adding a Text Field ↑overview
Once a document is open in the form editor, click on "Add a text field" icon located on the top toolbar (assuming you are using a "classic" Adobe Acrobat interface):
Select a Text Field tool
Move cursor to a page location where you want to place a text field. You would see a moving blue rectangle that represents a field. Press and hold left mouse button and drag a rectangle where you want to place a text field. You will be able to change field position and size at any time:
place a text field on the page
If you are using a new Adobe Acrobat interface, click on Text field and repeat the same procedure as outlined above:
Press on text field icon
Naming the Field ↑overview
Once the text field is placed, you would be prompted to enter a field name (by default, all new fields are named Text1, Text2 and etc.):
Naming the PDF form field
It is important to know that fields with the same name share the same value. If you want to have two fields that can hold different content, then they need to be named differently. If two text fields have the same name, then they would automatically share the text value. Typing text into one field will automatically show the same text in all other fields with the same name.
If you are using a new Adobe Acrobat interface, then you can rename form field by right-clicking on it and selecting Rename from the popup menu or clicking on Properties.
Naming the PDF form field
Click on Properties to access form field properties dialog where you can change all field settings.
Naming the PDF form field
Set the Appearance ↑overview
Field name and visual appearance can be changed at any time via Properties dialog. Right-click on the field in the form editor and choose Properties... from the popup menu ("classic" Acrobat interface):
Classic interface right click menu
Properties dialog
If you want to change text font or color, then select Appearance tab and use "Font Size" and "Font" menu to choose desired text appearance. Make sure the field is big enough to display a required number of characters while using selected font settings. Use "Auto" font size if it is necessary to fit all text into the field and make it all visible. Note that if text is longer than the field's width some text will be cutoff.
Appearance tab
Samples of different text field styles:
Samples of text field styles
Focused Field Appearance ↑overview
Many appearance options such as border, fill and scrollbars are only visible when a field has an input focus or "Highlight existing fields" option is turned off (not recommended). The below example shows a multi-line text field with and without a focus.
focused vs unfocused field appearances
PDF File Size and Fonts ↑overview
IMPORTANT: The resulting PDF file size can be greatly affected by selecting certain fonts. It is suggested to use one of the basic fonts to avoid file size increase. These fonts are listed at the top of the font list: Courier, Helvetica, and Times Roman.
Required Fields ↑overview
Any form field can be designated as required. The user of the form will not be able to submit the form without completing all the required fields. The required field is displayed with a red outline:
required field appearance
Use a "Required" option in the field's Properties dialog to set a field as required. Alternatively, right-click on the field and select Set as Required Field from a context menu.
designating a text field as required
Using "Auto" Text Size ↑overview
Use “Auto” font size when it is necessary to fit a variable amount of text into a limited size text field. The PDF viewer will automatically adjust the font size to fit field content into a text box to make sure all text is visible.
Using Auto font size in text fields
Creating Multi-line Text Fields ↑overview
If a text field needs to hold multiple lines of text, then select “Options” tab and check “Multi-line” option:
Make sure that text field is tall enough to show a required number of text lines. You can do that by either typing text into the field or specifying a default value:
Adjusting Multiple Fields ↑overview
Use the form editing tools to nicely align & distribute form fields on the page. The first step is to select multiple fields at the same time. Click on the each field you want to select while holding a Shift key. All selected fields will appear with a blue outline:
Selecting multiple fields
Click on one or more icons that corresponds to the desired editing action. In the following example, we applied "Match width" and "Align left" operations:
Align, center and distribute menu
The same method can be used to set visual appearances of the multiple form fields at once.
Saving the Form ↑overview
The newly added field will apear in the "FIELDS" list on the right-hand side of the screen ("classic" Adobe Acrobat interface):
Fields list in the classic interface
It looks similar in the new Adobe Acrobat interface:
Fields list in the new interface
Repeat the above procedure for every field you need to add to this PDF document.
Make sure to exit form editor once done adding form fields, otherwise some menu items will be inaccessible. Use File > Save menu to save changes to a file.
Saving Reader-Enabled PDF Forms ↑overview
Ordinarily, users of Acrobat Reader DC and earlier can’t save filled-in copies of forms that they complete. However, you can extend the rights of a PDF to allow these users to save form data. If you have Acrobat DC Pro, you can include additional capabilities for Acrobat Reader DC users, such as adding text to non-interactive forms.
Use choose File > Save As Other > Reader Extended PDF from the main Acrobat menu, and choose one of the following options:
  • Enable Commenting & Measuring - (Acrobat Pro) Allows users to add comments or access the Object Data, Measuring, and Geospatial tools.
  • Enable More Tools (includes form fill-in & save)
Using Buttons to Submit PDF Form via Email
This topic is covered by a separate step-by-step tutorial.
More tutorials ↑overview