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Adobe Acrobat 9 How-To #91: Simplifying a Visually Complex Form

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Donna L. Baker demonstrates the power of Adobe Acrobat 9 to recognize form fields, a very useful capability when you need to bring forms (intact, if possible) into PDF files.
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Some forms are fancy—period. There's little chance that Acrobat 9, regardless of its intelligence level, can identify and build form fields on a page that uses a lot of graphic content, or one in which it's difficult to make out what might be the fields.

Visually complex forms are generally made in a layout or imaging program, but you don't have to start from scratch or add the fields manually. Here's how to combine an interesting form (built in Adobe InDesign) with the power of the form-field recognition process in Acrobat to add fields:

  1. In your source program, configure the layers so the field labels and their structures are on one layer, and export two versions of the form:
    • Export the form layer as PDF to use for placing the fields.
    • Export the entire publication as PDF to replace the single-layer form after fields are added.
  2. In Acrobat, choose Forms > Start Form Wizard to open the Create or Edit Form dialog box. Leave the default selection "An existing electronic document" (Windows) or "Start with a PDF document" (Mac) and click Next.
  3. Locate and select the PDF containing the form layer, and then click Next. Acrobat processes the file, and the results are shown in the Form Edit mode. As Figure 1 shows, all the text fields have been inserted automatically.
    Figure 1

    Figure 1 The form field layer contains nearly all the required fields.

  4. Modify the fields as required. In the example in Figure 1, which uses five text fields and one checkbox, only the checkbox was inserted manually.
  5. Save the file, and close the Form Editing mode window.
  6. Choose Document > Replace Pages to open the Select File with New Pages dialog box. Locate and select the full version of the form. Click OK. Click OK again in the subsequent Replace Pages dialog box.

The full form structure replaces the simplified form structure without affecting the fields, as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2

Figure 2 The revised form shows different content but the same field structure.

Is all this effort worth the time? Good question. A few factors are involved, but as a general principle, yes. Whether to use two versions of the form must be based on its overall complexity. Unless you're confident that the form's appearance will wreak havoc on the recognition process, it may not be worth the time involved to export two versions from your source program. In the example, Acrobat assigned over a dozen form fields to the full form layout, only two of which were actually the correct fields in the right locations.

Your choice is also based on how quick you are. If you're a whiz in your source program and not so fast in Acrobat, making the extra version may take far less time than fixing fields. The inverse scenario also applies.

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