About fillable PDF forms and determining their capabilities

Reader cannot create fillable forms

The free Adobe Reader cannot create fillable forms. You need the full Acrobat product to create forms that Reader users and other Acrobat users can fill in.

Acrobat X

In Acrobat 9 and Acrobat X, you can create interactive forms that other Acrobat or Reader users can fill in and submit. Another option in Acrobat Professional or Pro Extended lets you save a PDF as a simple form where users can type information directly onto the PDF.

Acrobat 10.x: 

About PDF forms

Many companies, organizations, and government agencies use Adobe Acrobat or Adobe Acrobat Capture to convert their paper forms to PDF (Portable Document Format) forms. PDF forms can be accessed over the Internet or via email. If a PDF form includes form fields (for example, text fields, buttons, list boxes), you can fill the form onscreen with an Acrobat product. (Acrobat products include Adobe Reader, Acrobat 3D, Acrobat Professional, or Acrobat Standard.)

Create rights-enabled PDF forms

With Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions, you can create a rights-enabled PDF form. With a rights-enabled form, Adobe Reader users can comment on, fill, save, distribute, submit, and add digital signatures to the form. When you open a rights-enabled PDF form in Adobe Reader, a dialog box appears outlining the extended capabilities of the PDF file.

For more information about Adobe LiveCycle Reader Extensions, see the Adobe website at www.adobe.com/products/server/readerextensions.

Determine PDF forms capabilities of Acrobat products

The following Acrobat products enable you to work with PDF forms:

Adobe Reader capabilities

Adobe Reader provides the following forms capabilities:

  • View, navigate, and print PDF forms, including form field data
  • Search forms (requires Adobe Reader with Search)
  • Fill fields within a PDF form (cannot save changes to a PDF form)

If a PDF form is rights-enabled, Adobe Reader provides these additional capabilities:

  • Save forms and data locally
  • Fill and submit forms online
  • Distribute forms to others for review and comment
  • Add digital signatures

Acrobat Standard capabilities

Acrobat Standard contains all the capabilities of Adobe Reader, in addition to the following:

  • Export and save PDF forms in Forms Data Format (FDF). FDF is a text file format specifically for data exported from PDF form fields. FDF files are smaller than PDF files because they contain only form field data, not the entire form.
  • Save or Export PDF form information as a PDF file or in XFDF format for XML-based FDF files.

Acrobat 3D and Acrobat Professional capabilities

Acrobat 3D and Acrobat Professional contains all the capabilities of Acrobat Standard, and allow you to create Adobe PDF form fields. On Windows only, Acrobat 3D and Acrobat Professional 6.0 and 7.0 include Adobe LiveCycle Designer 6.0 or 7.0. More advanced features in Adobe LiveCycle Designer let you use scripting objects, integrate a form with a data source, and create dynamic forms.

Determine whether a PDF form can be filled onscreen

To determine whether you can fill a PDF form onscreen, check to see if it contains interactive form fields and check for restrictive security settings. (For more information about PDF security settings, see the Acrobat or Adobe Reader Help.)

To determine whether a form contains interactive form fields, do the following:

  1. Open the form in an Acrobat product.
  2. Select the Hand tool, and then drag it over fields in the PDF form. The form contains form fields if the Hand tool changes to either of the following icons:

         An I-beam (the Text Select tool, which you use to type text in a text field)

         A pointing hand (which you use to select an option or to check a box)
  3. In Acrobat 3D, Acrobat 7, or Adobe Reader 7, click Highlight Fields or Highlight Required Fields in the Document Message Bar. Interactive fields display a colored fill.

Note: If you use Acrobat 3D or Acrobat Professional, you can verify that a form contains form fields by selecting a form tool. Acrobat then highlights any form fields. On Windows XP, form fields are highlighted in blue.

If the PDF form doesn't contain form fields, you have the following options for completing the form:

  • Print the form and fill it manually.
  • Use the Text Box tool (formerly the Free Text tool) or the TouchUp Text tool to type text in the document. (For more information about using the Text Box tool and TouchUp Text tool, see Acrobat Help.)

If you use Acrobat 3D or Acrobat Professional, and the PDF form doesn't have restrictive security settings, you can use form tools to create form fields. For information about creating form fields, see the following sources:

  • "Creating and Filling Out Adobe PDF Forms" in the Acrobat 6 Professional Help. (In Acrobat, choose Help > Complete Acrobat 6 or 7 Help.)
  • "Create PDF Forms" in the Acrobat Professional 6 Help. (In Acrobat, choose Help > How To > Advanced Editing.)
  • "Creating Adobe PDF Forms" in the Acrobat 3D or Acrobat Professional 7.0 Help
  • Acrobat Forms JavaScript Specification at http://partners.adobe.com/asn/acrobat
  • Acrobat Forms Data Format (FDF) Toolkit SDK at http://partners.adobe.com/public/developer/acrobat/fdf/topic.html

To check the security settings of a PDF form:

  1. Open the form in an Acrobat product.
  2. Choose File > Document Properties, and then select Security.
  3. If Not Allowed appears next to Changing The Document, Filling Of Form Fields, or Signing In The Document Security dialog box, it's necessary to change these security settings to Allowed before you can fill the PDF form onscreen. To change the security settings, do the following (If you use Adobe Reader, you cannot change the security settings):
    1. In the Security panel of the Document Properties dialog box, choose Password Security from the Security Method menu.
    2. Click Change Settings, type the Permissions password, and then click OK.

      Note: If you don't know the password, contact the document's creator.
    3. Choose a compatibility option.
    4. If desired, select Require A Password To Open The Document, and then type a Document Open password.
    5. Select Use A Password to restrict printing and editing of the document and its security settings.
    6. Choose a printing option from the Printing Allowed menu.
    7. Under Changes Allowed, choose either "Filling in Form Fields and Signing Existing Signature Fields" or "Commenting, Filling in Form Fields, and Signing Existing Signature Fields."
    8. Click OK to all the dialog boxes that appear.

    9. Save, close, and reopen the document to access the form fields.

Fill IRS tax forms

You can fill PDF versions of certain IRS tax forms onscreen with any Acrobat product, available from the IRS on the Small Business Resource Guide CD-ROM 2002. To obtain the Small Business Resource Guide CD-ROM 2002, call the IRS at 800-829-3676 and request IRS Publication 3207, or visit the IRS website.

Note: You cannot electronically submit filled PDF forms to the IRS. However, the IRS now provides rights-enabled PDF forms so you can save filled form information using Adobe Reader.


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