Create Form with InDesign and Acrobat

I needed to update an advertising contract form that had been produced in Microsoft Excel. The form worked great, but it had a lot of formulas and awkward drop-down boxes. I struggled with it for quite some time, but thought that there had to be better way of achieving the result I wanted.

I’ve been using Adobe InDesign and Acrobat for many years, so I am very familiar with the programs and comfortable using them. I thought I would try making the form with InDesign and converting it to an interactive PDF that could be emailed and then all the particulars could be selected by the end-user easily.

There are many ways to create a form similar to the one I created, using Adobe products or other applications. I chose to use InDesign and Acrobat, but that doesn’t mean Microsoft or some other programs wouldn’t produce the same, or better, results.

Here are the steps I took:

fig. 1

fig. 1

1. I created a form “graphic” in InDesign CC (2014) Mac. I made boxes for the fields I would add in Acrobat and boxes that would become checkboxes later. Figure 1 shows the finished InDesign document.

2. Once I had the image completed in InDesign, I exported it as a PDF, using the smallest size setting. One thing to note is that, after the form is built, it is easy to update the InDesign image simply by re-exporting it to a PDF and then using “pages>>replace page” in Acrobat to update the image used as the base of the form. Figure 2 show the export function from InDesign.

fig. 2

fig. 2

3. Now that the PDF is created, I open it in Adobe Acrobat Pro. I’m using the latest version, Acrobat Pro DC, but I’ve used older versions, which work just as well. From Acrobat XI Pro, for example, simply select “Create Form” then “From Existing Document,” which is the second of two selections. Figure 3 shows the Acrobat Pro DC window.

fig. 3

fig. 3

4. Acrobat gives you many form field functions to choose from. For my form, I used checkboxes, text boxes and drop-downs. When a drop-down is created, you can add all selectors you want. I use a hyphen as the top-most selection and make sure that, when opened, the PDF shows the hyphen in the drop-down. This gives the end-user a visual clue that something needs to be selected. You could also add an item that says: “select one” or something. Figure 4 shows the drop-down dialogue box. There are, of course, many other customizable options, but I’m not going to go in to every detail. Trial and error is the best way to come up with exactly what you need.

fig. 4

fig. 4

5. For the dollar-amount rate, I used a text box and formatted it to currency. Figure 5 shows the dialogue box for that.

fig. 5

fig. 5

6. This was the tricky part of it. I had my checkboxes to indicate the months selected and I had my Rate box formatted, but couldn’t figure out how to get them to multiply and add up. So, I created an “invisible” text box which I placed in a corner at the top of the page. This intermediary field calculated my checkboxes and my rate to create the total, or checkboxes X rate = total. I guess it could be expressed as: c X r = t. Figure 6 shows the dialogue box for calculating the checkboxes.

fig. 6

fig. 6

7. The next step is to take the sum of the chekboxes and multiply by the rate so it would create a total in the “Total” box. Figure 7 shows the second part of the checkbox formula.

fig. 7

fig. 7

8. The last thing I like to do when I’m making PDFs is to set it to open as “fit page.” This way, the recipient doesn’t have to zoom out or scroll around to see the whole document. Of course, a smaller monitor will show a small image, but at least you know what you’re gonna get. This is achieved in the Document Properties dialogue box. There are fields to add metadata, too, which can come in handy. I add information in here so that if the recipient needs to contact me, or just wants to know who created this fabulous work of art, it’s in there. Figure 8 shows the dialogue box to make the PDF open as “fit window.”

fig. 8

fig. 8

9. The last step, of course, is to test, test, test. Fill out the form yourself, send it to colleagues, friends, grandma, grandpa, your cousin’s dog, try it on a Mac, try it on Windows, try it on Linux, with Acrobat Reader, with Acrobat Pro, whatever you can think of, to make sure it works correctly for everyone. It doesn’t always!

So, that’s it. This is a simplified overview of how I created a form using Adobe InDesign and Adobe Acrobat Pro. Here’s a link to a sample form which can be used as a guide: sample-contract. Double click the form fields to see the customization functions I used. Have fun PDFing! Thanks for reading.