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When good form layouts don’t work

Quite a few people ask me if there is some way to make fillable text fields in InDesign. Sadly, the answer is no.

While ID can easily create interactive buttons, there is no way to make fillable text fields, in, for instance, a direct response coupon.

The best answer is to create the document in InDesign and leave rules to indicate where the fillable fields should be. (A great tutorial on this was written by Carl Young for the Adobe Acrobat User Community at:

http://www.acrobatusers.com/tutorials/2007/form_field_recognition/

It’s very simple. You create your ID document. Export as PDF, and then in Acrobat Pro choose Forms > Run Form Field Recognition. Faster than you can say “Fill in the Blanks” Acrobat has converted all the spaces to fillable fields.

I was even able, ONCE, to get it to recognize circles and rectangles as check boxes.

But then, suddenly, my demo file stopped working. No matter what I did, I couldn’t get Acrobat to recognize those elements as fillable areas.

I couldn’t figure it out for months and months. (And had to keep apologizing during my demos.)

Finally, yesterday, I saw the answer.

The Form Field Recognition won’t recognize elements that are inline objects. (I had cleaned up my original demo with inline objects to make everything align better.)

As soon as I swapped the inline items for ordinary objects, the Form Field Recognition feature works like a charm.

Obviously an inline object has a different page geometry than an ordinary object.

Finally, on a semi-related note, I discovered that I kept getting accessibility errors when I ran the Form Field Recognition command on my documents.

While the accessability object doesn’t stop the fields from being read, it does cause a problem for those who need their forms to be compliant with Section 508 of the US Disabilities Act. (This makes sure that web pages and PDF documents can be read online using screen readers.)

If you want your PDF to pass accessibility options, you can’t export from ID to Create Acrobat Layers.

I haven’t done a lot of work on this second topic, but if anyone has more to add, I welcome the input.

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Comments

9 Comments on “When good form layouts don’t work

  1. Great tip! I actually had a job recently where this would have come in handy. I wish I could go back and do it again.
    I made my form fields, but they were the rigid ones in Acrobat. This is great to know…

  2. Oh that’s great, I was having real problems with fillable forms. I always anchored boxes like that thinking it was ok to do so. I was nearly pulling my hair out before I just said forget it. But now I’ll give it a shot again and hopefully have some success.

  3. I might have another piece for the form field recognition puzzle. We created an example InDesign file, using inline rectangles. Acrobat recognized about half of the rectangles as checkboxes — so it does appear that inline objects can be used in form recognition, although the results were somewhat random.

    We discovered that changing the stroke weight of those rectangles fixed the recognition problems. Originally, our checkboxes were 1pt black lines — and the results were spotty at best. But simply switching to 0.5pt or 2pt strokes seems to have worked in every test we’ve run.

    I’m sure there are other factors involved. But there are cases where inline graphics can work for form recognition. I’d be curious. Try changing the stroke weight and see if that has an impact on your test files.

  4. Yep I agree with Craig re checkboxes – .5pt & 2pt strokes seem to work (inline or not), but 1pt doesn’t.

    Also I’ve found it’s important that you export the PDF as version 1.7 (Acrobat 8).

  5. I have Acrobat 7.0, and it sort of has a command for that at “Advanced>Forms>Make Form Fillable in Adobe Designer”. I think it’s only in the PC version though. And the result looks terrible. Rules look like question marks; eps, PSD, and ai images don’t appear; formatting is screwy, etc. I sure hope Acrobat 8 does a better job of it. However, I’ve used Adobe Designer successfully to create interactive forms from scratch. It’s not like working with InDesign, but if you need something that people can fill out and e-mail the results back to you, it works pretty well. The filled-in information is saved to an XML file and e-mailed to an address you’ve embedded in the PDF. The person who receives the file can either repopulate their copy of the form using “Advanced>Forms>Import Data to Form” or just open it in their browser.

  6. Hmm. I’ve made the boxes and circles 2pt, and exported as 1.7, and I can’t get Acrobat to convert them to checkboxes for me. Anyone else have tips?

  7. In my particular instance, I had a square that I wanted to be recognized as a checkbox. The square’s dimensions were 0p9 by 0p9 and the stroke was .5pt. I found that if I made the stroke on the inside of the square, it would be recognized, yet if I put it on the outside of the square, it would not. Hopefully somebody can use this information.

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