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Filling Out Paper Forms with the Acrobat Typewriter Tool

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These days, a simple PDF form just won’t do. No one wants to print out a PDF document and be forced to handwrite or—even worse—find a typewriter to fill in all the fields. Author John Deubert walks you through how to use the Acrobat X Typewriter tool that, in its modest way, one of the handiest gizmos in the Acrobat X toolbox.
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I’ll bet this has happened to you.

So, last night I had a dream involving penguins, escalators, and a dentist. Wondering what it all meant, I searched the Web and found a clinic near my home that specializes in dream interpretation. After a brief telephone conversation, they emailed me a New Patient Questionnaire (Figure 1), with instructions to “print it, fill it out, and fax it back.” I emphasize this was not an interactive PDF form; it was a paper form they had scanned (or maybe laid out in Microsoft Word) and saved as PDF.

Figure 1 A paper form sent to me as a PDF file that I need to fill in and “fax” back.

Now, I got rid of my fax machine about the time I sold off my 300 baud modem. I don’t fax. I also don’t fill things out by hand if I can help it; my handwriting has baffled the finest government cryptographers, so what chance does a clinic desk clerk have?

In the really old days (back when I was still using that 300 baud modem), I would have taken the paper form, rolled it into my trusty typewriter (remember those?), and then typed my name and address and put little typewritten X’s in the appropriate checkboxes.

So what do I do in this modern, improved era, when owning a typewriter is at best a mild eccentricity?

Well, you use the Acrobat X Typewriter tool, is what you do.

The Typewriter Tool

The Typewriter tool is, in its modest way, one of the handiest gizmos in the Acrobat X toolbox. With it, you can place pieces of text on top of any PDF page for any purpose. In my case, I wanted to fill in the PDF-format paper form sent to me by the dream clinic.

The Typewriter tool lives in the Content panel of the Tools pane with the title “Add or Edit Text Box” (Figure 2). When you select this tool, Acrobat displays the Typewriter palette, which rides on top of your other Acrobat windows (Figure 3).

Figure 2 The “Add or Edit Text Box” tool is in the Content panel of the Tools Pane.

Figure 3 The Typewriter palette contains the tools we’ll use in this article. Note that it floats above the other Acrobat windows.

When you click the prominent “Typewriter” button at the left end of this palette, the mouse pointer turns to a standard text-entry I-beam; click anywhere on the PDF page, start typing, and the text will be laid on top of the other page contents. We can use this tool to fill out the entire paper form with nice, legible, typewritten text, including little x’s in the checkboxes (Figure 4).

Figure 4 We’ll use the Typewriter tool to type text on top of the PDF page, filling out the paper form.

Let’s try it out; we’ll fill out the New Patient Questionnaire together. If you wish, you can download the PDF file at; search the page for “”; otherwise, just read on and look over my shoulder.

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