How to fill out a PDF form with your computer

I fielded a call from a client today who wanted to know how to transfer a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) form he received via email to Microsoft Word so he could fill it out using his computer, save it, then email it back. My short answer was that he couldn’t do it.

Technically, it can be done through a series of computer hocus-pocus, Jedi mind tricks, a great deal of knowledge about the Windows clipboard, Adobe Acrobat, Microsoft Word and a lot of time. Knowing that this client didn’t have these tools at his disposal, I elected to tell him that it couldn’t be done.

Adobe Acrobat forms (PDF files) are not easy to edit or annotate because the purpose of a PDF is to preserve the formatting and integrity of the original document. Some PDF form designers can make their forms fillable using our computers, if they choose to do so. For example, many government sites like the IRS have forms that can be downloaded and printed or filled out right from our computers. Again, these forms are designed this way and not all PDF forms can be filled in via computer.

It bothered me all day that I still didn’t know of a better solution for this common question; how to fill in a PDF (Adobe Acrobat) form on the computer. I did some research tonight and found that our new favorite PDF reader (Foxit Reader) has this capability built-in (see illustration). However, the free version will let you fill it in, but if you save, print, or email the filled in form, it will have some verbiage along with it stating that the feature is a pay feature. If you pay Foxit $40, you can use the feature and not have the trial verbage printed on your form. If you need to fill out a lot of PDF forms, this looks to be a great solution.

I write and talk about Web 2.0 all the time and lo-and-behold there is a Web 2.0 option for filling in PDF forms online. Aptly, it’s named On-line PDF form filler. Unlike many of the Web 2.0 services I have introduced, however, On-line PDF form filler charges $1.49 per form. Considering the time savings a tool like this can provide, I think the cost is certainly more than reasonable for the occasional form. And if you need to fax the filled in form to someone, they can do it for you for just another $1.

I like the above two options just dandy, but I did find a few other PDF form fillers that can be purchased, but I haven’t tried them: