Filling PDF Forms

QUESTION:
I have to fill out a form (college application) that I downloaded. I can’t find a way to convert a pdf file to a format I

can use or find an application that can let me write on top of the pdf file. I do not need to change the file just print it

as background with my text on the foreground. I do not want to spend too much money on this. — Rodrigo

It is possible for the people who made the form to make it ‘fillable’. That is, they spend some time saying where all of

the blanks are.

Anyone with a copy of the full Acrobat product can do this
(not the free Reader), provided File > Document Info > Security
shows ‘Security method: none’ (and in some other cases which
cannot be checked with Reader).

The full Acrobat product can be had for a little over $200 US.
Whether that is expensive depends on your budget, and what else
you would do with it.

It is not unreasonable to ask the creators of forms made available
in PDF format why they did not make it fillable. Clearly, if they
do it once it is to many people’s advantage. Especially for short
forms, it can be worth asking them. Sometimes they have already
done it. For instance the US tax service, IRS, make many of their
most popular forms available in both fillable and non-fillable
format. (I’m not sure if popular is the right word there.)

However, if the form is long and complex (is a college application
long these days?) there may be a good case not to do this. That’s
because there is no way to save a part-filled form with Reader.
You would have to fill it and print it all in one session. The
longer the form, the less viable that is.

It is not really practical to convert the form to another format.
First, it needs software you don’t have, and presumably don’t
want to pay for! Second, there isn’t really another suitable format
for complex forms. If Word was suitable, people would distribute
DOC files.

So, what can you do? Probably the college are using the internet
to save postage. You have the form, you can print it. Now you are
in just the same position as if they had posted it to you. They
aren’t likely to be upset or surprised if you write on it instead.
I’m not sure I can remember how to write!

If you really want to fill it on-line you could try:


  1. Buy the full Acrobat product (but check the form is not protected).
    Be warned that making a form fillable is fairly slow work, and
    not necessarily worthwhile if you’re only going to fill it once.
    For instance, you have to drag out a box for each place you want
    to type, and give it a unique name. (If the names aren’t unique,
    the form fields will all hold copies of the same information.)

  2. Here’s an idea. Use Word or something to put your name and other
    details onto a BLANK sheet. Hold it and the form up to the light
    and adjust the Word file until the form fields fit where they
    belong. Now…print the form, and put the paper back in the printer,
    to print your name and details over the top. (Check your printer
    is not damaged by this process before you try – some laser printers
    do not like this!).

  3. Rent or borrow time on a computer which has the full Acrobat installed.
    (Allow plenty of time for the job!).

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About the Author: Aandi Inston

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