Join Michael Murphy for an in-depth discussion in this video Hybrid forms: Designing for both print and PDF, part of Creating PDF Forms with InDesign.
When it comes to setting up forms in InDesign, one of the first things you'll need to decide is whether your form is going to be strictly electronic, meaning it will never be printed out or completed on paper, or if it needs to be a dual purpose or hybrid form. In other words, one that could either be printed or filled out on paper, but also completed and submitted electronically as a PDF form. If you're not sure, the safest bet is to try designing your form so that it can work both ways. In that case, you may need to limit yourself a bit and not take advantage of every one of the interactive form features InDesign has to offer.
That's why it's important to make this decisions up front. You can then strategically design your form and set things up in a way that's going to benefit your end user however they choose to complete the form. So how do you determine what's going to work in one and not the other? Let's take a look. On the left are a number of options I call hybrid form elements. These are suitable for either print or PDF purposes and they amount to your standard fare form elements. In other words, radio buttons, which you see up here, check boxes and text fields.
Now, a radio button in a PDF form is an either or choice, meaning you select only one of the available options. As soon as you select another, it deselects whatever you've already selected. Now, a paper form can't emulate this behavior obviously, but you can easily add language above any choice like this, such as check only one, like you see here, to make it clear to the user that they need to limit their choice to a single option. Similarly, check boxes can take advantage of language such as check all that apply because check box options on a form allow you to select as many as are appropriate for you.
Lastly, there are text fields and I'm going to quickly turn off field highlighting in this form so we can see how these two different presentations of text fields are set up. This first set of fields treats the form very much like a web form. Everything is sort of boxed off, giving you space to enter in information. This works great in a PDF and it works great online, but it may feel a bit confining for someone filling out the form on paper. So you can always opt for this presentation down at the bottom, which is very much like a paper form.
It has a very typical and familiar look to it and it's easy to fill out. And this presentation in print works very well, but when Highlight Existing Fields is on in this form, you can see it works just as well as a PDF form. What you won't be able to take advantage of in a form that's also supposed to work on paper are some of the more interactive elements of a PDF form. For example, a combo box, which is essentially a drop-down menu with many options from which the user gets to select just one.
Or a list box, which is a rectangular area of whatever size you choose it should be from which a user can select, Shift-click to continuously select, or Command or Control-click to discontinuously select multiple options if you make that setting available to them. This is not something that works on paper, but it works just fine in a PDF and it saves a lot of space. And two other options available to you in InDesign and in a PDF form that just don't work on paper are buttons.
A button on paper isn't going to do anything for you. So it's typically better not to include something like this Print button or the Submit button on a form that could potentially be printed out and distributed as a paper form. In this course, we're going to begin by looking at these options on the left, the more universal form elements that will work for both a paper form and a PDF form. Then we'll move on to the more interactive elements here on the right and other functionality exclusive to PDF forms.
- Designing hybrid (print/PDF) forms
- Working with styles
- Creating text fields
- Adding check boxes and buttons
- Using button actions to present contextual options
- Exporting and distributing a PDF form