Earlier this year, Adobe released Adobe Designer 6.0 to the general public, which finally gave people an intuitive and effective way of designing PDF forms. Designer was the first real solution for solving the problem of controlling layout and adding interactivity to a form from the single application*. This release also incorporated Adobe’s XDP file format, and a number of key features such as the ability to closely integrate and bind your forms with databases, web services and XML schemas.
In this article I’ve highlighted what I think are the important new features to be added with the version 7.0 release.
Information on the release of v6.0 of Adobe Designer can be found at Planet PDF here.
Dynamic PDF Forms (without Form Server!)
Dynamic forms prove their worth when you have a section of a form where there are varying amounts of data. For example, a customer’s invoice may have three or just the one item listed as being purchased. So you want to be able to grow/shrink a particular part of your form dynamically. Adobe LiveCycle Designer 7.0 allows you to do this, with all the processing done on the client-side using Acrobat/Reader 7.0 (thus, it requires you open the PDF in v7.0 Acrobat or Reader).
To utilize dynamic PDF forms with version 6.0 of Adobe Designer, it required you to use Adobe Form Server to pre-populate the form with the data on the server before it’s delivered to the user. Now, with Designer 7.0 this dynamic population of data can be completed on the client-side. Whilst Form Server is a great product and has its uses for particular tasks, this is good news for those who may not want to invest (or cannot invest) the time and resources for deploying a more complex server-based solution — but would still like to take advantage of using dynamic PDF forms.
Check back once Acrobat 7.0 is shipping for an example of a dynamic PDF form in action.
Email Form Submissions
Adobe LiveCycle Designer 7 introduced a new type of form control called the Email Submit Button. This new control type allows a form designer to explicitly set the button to email the form data to a particular email address. The big plus however is the fact that it works with both the full version of Acrobat and the free Reader.
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alt=’Select Email Client dialog’>
Figure 1. Selecting the type of email client to use
Relating to the screenshot shown in Figure 1 above, if the user selects ‘Desktop Email Application’ then when they click ‘OK’ an email message will appear with the data file attached and default text in the to, subject and body fields.
If either ‘Internet Email’ or ‘Other’ is selected, then a dialog will appear allowing them to export the data file to their local drive. Again, this too (using the exportAsFDF and exportAsXFDF methods) could not be done with the free Reader when the form was created in Acrobat.
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alt=’Sending the Data File dialog’>
Figure 2. Ability to save data file to disk.
Paper Forms Barcodes
Another new form control that you’ll find in Designer 7.0 is the Paper Forms Barcode. Built into this control is logic that automatically updates the barcode to represent the current form data the user has keyed into the form so far.
What this means is that when filled out and printed, this barcode can be scanned using a 2D barcode scanner and the data will be decoded and extracted and processed (e.g. insert information into company database system). Additionally, you can specify (when designing the form in Designer) whether you want the extracted data to be in formatted XML or a tab-delimited format.
This would be a great timesaver for instances where users currently fill out a form online, print and return it via mail: rather than having to manually key in the information it can instead be scanned with the information being processed automatically. Additionally, with the decoded data being in XML format this makes for a smooth integration with other 3rd party systems.
There are particular restrictions regarding adding usage rights (using LiveCycle Reader Extensions) to your barcoded PDF forms that you should be aware of. Details can be found at the Adobe website.
* When using Acrobat to create forms, a layout change (e.g. change of text, images) usually meant going back to the authoring application (e.g. Word), making the changes, converting to PDF and applying all the form fields again.