Join Claudia McCue for an in-depth discussion in this video Why use PDF forms?, part of Acrobat XI: Creating Forms.
As you start planning your form, one of your first decisions is whether you're going to create an HTML form or a PDF form. Now I'm going to assume, since your watching this course, you're at least considering PDF forms but let's take a look at the differences. Here's an HTML form, you can see that it has fields where I can enter my name, a subject, my email address and then a brief message and then when I'm finished I can press the submit button and it'll send that data to the recipient. Here's a PDF version of the same form.
It has fields where I can enter my name, the subject, my email address, a multi-lined field where I can enter my message and again, a submit button, so that I can send this information back to the recipient. So, is one solution better than the other? Well, let's look at the differences. I think it's important to compare these features. How easy it is to design the form that you want, how you distribute that form so that you can get information back, and then how you capture that data and make use of it. As far as designing the form, if you're comfortable in an HTML editor, well then, making an HTML form makes sense to you, but if you're not comfortable in HTML editors, then PDF becomes a more attractive solution.
So, for example, if you're comfortable in Microsoft Word. You can design your underlying artwork in Word. Make a PDF. Take that into Acrobat, and add the form fields. The same thing goes for Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator. And there's something really nice about Adobe InDesign. Starting with version CS6, there are actually built in form capabilities within InDesign. And that means that you can build a lot of your form components in InDesign, and then, sort of, finish it off in Acrobat. Now, there are some things that InDesign can't do, like create fields that calculate, but you can just create most of your fields in InDesign and then finish it off in Acrobat and there's actually some nice things in InDesign that make it a little bit easier in some respects than Acrobat for designing forms.
And of course, I'm going to show you that later on. But in truth, if you have Adobe Acrobat on your computer, you have an Acrobat target printer. That you can print to from any application, and what that means is that in theory, any application can be used to design your form, and then you make a PDF and finish it off in Acrobat. As far as deploying the form, of course if it's an HTML form, you can view it in a web browser, you can host it on your Internet, you can host it on a public website, but you can do those things with a PDF form as well.
But here's something you can do with a PDF form, you can send it as a e-mail attachment. Maybe that's not all that elegant, but it works, when it comes to capturing data, there is a lot of commonality between HTML forms and PDF forms. If you need to perform validations, for example if you need to limit a value that can be put in a field or limit the entry to just numbers or just letters. You can do that in both HTML forms and PDF forms. If you need calculations, for example, in an order form, you can do that in HTML forms or PDF forms.
And that's going to to require a developer, so if you don't know how to do that, you're going to have to hire a developer. And that's whether your using HTML forms or PDF forms, think of the form as sort of the front door. You need that server process in order to massage that data and get it into a database. But PDFs can combine data into a spreadsheet. I guess you could call it sort of the poor man's database, but it works very well and is very easy to do. Here are two nice aspects of PDF forms, you can fill out a form off-line. Download the PDF, fill it out and you can save that filled out form.
And in fact, you could be partway through, save it, come back tomorrow and finish it up. So, to sum up what I think are the advantages of PDF forms. You have design control. This is especially important if you're trying to mimic a real world paper form that people are used to. That's a lot harder to do in HTML. And, in fact, you probably have the digital file for that form. You can easily convert that to a PDF form. It also means that, if you're not an HTML coder, you can use programs that you're familiar with and create the PDF. And that means there's also no need to learn code for most functions.
You can deploy via the web, you can use Adobe's FormsCentral, you can put it up on your intranet, you can e-mail it. So are PDFs the perfect solution for every form? Well, probably not, but if you're not comfortable creating HTML and you don't want to hire a developer, PDF forms are a great solution for most of your form needs.
- Designing forms
- Exporting PDFs from Word, Illustrator, or InDesign
- Creating and editing text fields, list boxes, and more
- Adding buttons and check boxes
- Converting frames to fields
- Creating matrixes
- Adding calculations
- Enabling PDFs for Acrobat Reader
Skill Level Intermediate
Q: Forms Central is mentioned in the course but not covered. Why not?
A: Adobe decided to discontinue the feature, so we removed coverage of it from this course.