Friday, March 13, 2009

How to fill out (and save) PDF forms

PDF forms. At first, they look pretty handy. It's a pdf, but it's got boxes you can click on and type in, with the font and text size all taken care of for you. Sometimes, it's just that easy. Many times, though, you'll be greeted with the dreaded "You cannot save a completed copy of this form on your computer. If you would like a clopy for your records, please fill it in and print it." Well, that's not very convenient at all. You can't save it to email it, and if you find a mistake after you have already printed it and closed the program, you have to fill it in all over again. Adobe would like you to shell out $450 for Acrobat Pro to be able to save these forms. Not to fear, Evince (aka "Document Viewer") to the rescue. Maybe. If you're lucky, you can open and fill out the form with Evince, which does not restrict you from saving the file. If you're unlucky, as I have been with these things, Evince won't recognize that the document is a form, so you can't fill it in.

At this point, you might well want to give up on filling out the form, and just use one of those programs that let's you type anywhere you want on the document. I used GIMP for this, but there's a number of alternatives that let you do the same thing, and GIMP would be a bit overkill if you don't already have it installed. Another option is to try and figure out PDFedit. This program looks promising, but the learning curve was too steep for me to try to fill out a form with it.

Here's where a little gem called Cabaret Stage comes to the rescue. It's not a perfect solution, as you can't install it from the repos. Instead, it's a proprietary java software that you can get from the developer's website: The download page isn't entirely in English, but just click the "Ich stimee zu" button to accept the license agreement and start the download. Run the file (right click, properties, permission tab, then check the box next to "allow executing file as program", then double click the file to run it). I put the program in my ~/opt directory, and then added a menu item to launch the program. It gives me a few error messages when it starts up, but I ignore them and it seems to run just fine. Once it's all set up, this program enables you to fill in and save PDF forms, even the ones that Evince didn't recognize and Adobe wouldn't let me save. The PDF's I've saved with Stage open just fine in other PDF readers, and can be opened and edited again with Stage too.

1 comment:

  1. Great advice, worked immediately to fill in a form on Ubuntu (where Adobe Reader 9.0 miserably didn't work on XP x64), thanks