Create PDF Forms using InDesign CS6

PDF forms are a useful tool but can be time-consuming to create. InDesign CS6 makes form creation simple to create and revise.

Form creation before InDesign CS6

The previous workflow for form creation involved a two-step process.

  1. Design the form and export to PDF
  2. Open in Adobe Acrobat and use the form creation tools

If you have a form with only a few fields, it may not be time-consuming; however, intricate forms take a significant amount of time. Acrobat’s built-in form wizard can automatically look for form fields but it takes time to correct mistakes and if your form is aesthetically¬†pleasing, it will certainly not be recognized. Changes made to the design would require you to endure the form field creation from scratch.

Form Creation using InDesign CS6

InDesign CS6’s Buttons and Forms palette provides the ability to add form fields, eliminating the extra step in Acrobat.

1. Design your form

For use as an example, I have put together a team member information form. This is useful when planning workflows on large marketing collaboratives. Information submitted from these forms can be automatically collected into a spreadsheet (An upcoming tech tip).

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The initial layout must include a text frame for each form field, a rectangle for each check box or radio button, and a rectangle or shape for each button.

2. Create Single Line Text Fields

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Select each text frame that will be used as a form field.

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With the text frame selected, choose “Text Field” from the Type dropdown available in the Buttons and Forms palette (Shown Above).

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Uncheck “Multiline” and set the font size to “Auto”. Fields such as first name do not need to be multiple lines. There should be adequate space for long names. Setting the font to auto will keep all text visible. Font size decreases as space is needed.

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Give your form field a name. When using automatic form field collection, these names will be used as column headers in the resulting spreadsheet (Covered in upcoming tech tip).

4. Create Check Box Fields

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During design, you should have created rectangles for each checkbox.

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Set the field Type to “Check Box” (If you would like to modify the design, you can do so after creating the field. The Appearance section of the Buttons and Forms palette. Select the state you would like to modify and then make your changes to the check box. These changes can include color, stroke, shape, and effects. You may not delete and recreate).

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Similar to the check box, radio button are created in the same manor. I find “Selected by default” an option that I occasionally use.

5. Comments Text Field

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The comments field differs slightly from our standard form field. You will want to select the “Multiline” and “scrollable” options.

5. Create Buttons and Assign Actions

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During design, you should have created a button. This example form has clear form and submit buttons.

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Set the Type to “Button”

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If you want to animate the button, select “Rollover” and “Click” to activate them.

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With the button object and “Rollover” state selected, design your effect (For this example, I have added a drop shadow and reduced the distance settings).

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In order to enable to button to perform a function, we must assign an action. Press the Action “plus” icon and select “Clear Form”.

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Repeat the previous steps to create your Submit button.

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The most basic submission type is to use the HTML function “mailto”. Add this function a colon and the email address you want to recieve responses from. In our example we use “mailto:name@domain.com”. This works exactly like a website which has an email address. The recipient’s default email client will open and the form response will be mailed to the indicated email address.

6. Adjusting the Tab Order

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If you are creating Section 508 compliant documents, i.e. you do federal work, you are probably familiar with the Articles palette. If you are not familiar with the Articles palette and create section 508 compliant documents, you are either doing it the hard way or are not doing it at all (A topic for an upcoming tech tip). For this tech tip, we will focus on this palette for its ability to set the tab order for your form.

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Start by creating a parent article.

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Then select the text frame for your first form field over to the Articles palette under the parent article. In the example above, you see all of my form fields placed and organized. Do not get discouraged when dragging the actual text frame. It will appear to be moving the frame on tour layout until you have placed it on the palette. You can easily select all fields and drag them all at once.

7. Saving your PDF form

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PDF forms must be saved as “Adobe PDF (Interactive)”. This can be found under the Export Option.

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In addition to the default options, you should check the “Create Tagged PDF” and “Use Structure for Tab Order” boxes.

PDF forms created using InDesign CS6 automatically grant the save feature to recipients using PDF Readers. They may save the document and email manually using Acrobat Reader (or similar read-only application).

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Member Spotlight: Erika Booker

Erika BookerErika Booker has provided Marketing Professional Services in the Central Florida area for over 10 years. Her heart belongs to Central Florida, having been born and raised in Orlando. She is currently a Marketing Manager at Tetra Tech, Inc., where she and her team support nearly 400 employees in meeting the marketing and business development goals of the Infrastructure Eastern Region (IER). Erika utilizes her years of experience in marketing, media communications, sales, and proposal management to lead her team in continually working to increase the company’s proposal win rate. Her experience in the A/E/C industry includes prior employment with Atkins North America, formerly PBS&J, as a proposal coordinator and as a senior editor in the proposal department at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. Erika obtained a Master of Science degree in Media Communications/Marketing and Advertising from Webster University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration/Marketing from the University of South Florida. She joined SMPS in 2012 and continues to wish she had joined earlier in her career. Erika serves as Co-Director of Marketing Mechanics for the Central Florida Chapter Board of Directors.

What I love about SMPS are the opportunities to learn and grow from other industry professionals. Membership has expanded my industry view and sphere of influence.

Tetra Tech is a leading provider of consulting, engineering, program management, construction management, and technical services. The company supports government and commercial clients by providing innovative solutions to complex problems focused on water, environment, energy, infrastructure, and natural resources. With more than 13,000 employees worldwide, Tetra Tech’s capabilities span the entire project life cycle.