How to Make PDF Forms – Quickly and Easily

(This article was also published on Medium)

I hate filling out forms, especially if I have to print them out or do it by hand.

Handwriting is uncomfortable for someone who rarely does it, especially if you were told all the time you were growing up how bad your writing was. The most handwriting I do these days is the occasional check and I avoid that as much as possible.

Dragging my aging typewriter out of the closet for a single form is a hassle. I had to retrieve it to loan to a friend the other day and was relieved that it still even worked.

I didn’t ask why she needed it but I suspected it was for forms of one kind or another and that inspired me to take another look at the tools commonly available for PDF files, a common format in which forms can be published and distributed.

It used to be that if you wanted to do anything more than view a PDF, you needed special software — either the full Adobe Acrobat package itself or one of the other titles that would do limited annotation and editing of the format. Even the creation of PDFs required extra tools. I was thrilled when Microsoft Office finally added the ability to print directly to PDF as a native feature.

On my current system, PDFs automatically open in Microsoft Edge so I first looked at how it was handling the files and was pleasantly surprised to find some native annotation features right there in the browser.

This one feature means that if you’ve downloaded a PDF form from the web, you can quickly fill in the fields by adding text annotations within Edge. No extra software is required and you can even adjust the text settings, such as size, for each field.

If you have a paper form and can scan it, or at least take a really good picture of it, you can save it to PDF and add the fields.

Google’s Chrome browser does not do this natively but there is an extension that you can quickly install. The Adobe Acrobat: PDF edit, convert, sign tools extension provides the ability to add annotations and highlighting, including text fields, to your PDF files. You will need to activate one of the extension settings to allow access to file URLs but, after that, it works like a charm.

Once you’ve added the necessary text annotations, it’s just a matter of saving a copy of the PDF file with the new information and you have a neatly prepared form that you can e-mail or print for sending.

In my latest video, I show a demonstration of these features in both browsers as well as an online alternative, SmallPDF.com. SmallPDF is an excellent website that provides all of these features along with the ability to convert between PDF and many other formats, including JPG and Word. I use it regularly to convert PDF announcements to JPG for sharing on Facebook.