Add a Flatten Document Menu Item to Acrobat

NOTE: This older article only pertains to Acrobat 9. Use an Action to Flatten documents with Acrobat X or XI.

I recently did a Digital Signatures eSeminar (you can watch the recording here), and one of the top questions asked was:

How do I flatten a PDF document so my signature stamp cannot be easily removed?

In previous articles (1, 2) I’ve discussed how to scan in your signature and create a stamp which you can use to “sign” documents.

Molly Brown signature annotation

Once you place the signature on your document, it appears as an annotation in a layer on top of the base document.

This allows you to move or delete the stamp.

However, the recipient of your file can also move or delete your stamp, or print without your stamp showing.

That is worrisome . . .

The solution is to flatten the document before sending it out.

Flattening means to move the stamp information to the main document layer so it will always print and cannot be selected and deleted easily.

Many folks simply print the document to the AdobePDF print driver. However, that process takes several steps.

In this article I’ll show you how to download and install a free script that adds two menu items to Acrobat:

New Flatten Menu option added by the script

Works for Forms, too! The solution here also covers the ability to flatten form fields so that the content cannot be changed.

Read on to learn how to:

  • Download the free Flatten Pages script
  • Install the Script
  • Use the Flatten Pages feature
  • Issues and Caveats
  • Electronic vs Digital Signatures

Credits

I’d be remiss if I didn’t give credit to Adobe’s Lori DeFurio who created the script below and an accompanying article on the Acrobat User Community Website. You can find Lori’s original article here. It is definitely worth reading and includes a video tutorial and an alternative script which adds a button to Acrobat.

How it Works

Acrobat is extensible via JavaScript. Lori wrote a short JavaScript that adds two new menu items to Acrobat Standard, Pro or Pro Extended.

Step 1: Download the Free Script

flatten.txt (3K) Opens in new window from Acrobat.com

Note: The link will take you to my Acrobat.com account. The file will preview. Click the Download button in the upper left corner to download the file.

 

Step 2: Install the Script

Quit Acrobat if it is already open.

Rename the downloaded file:

FROM: flatten.txt    TO: flatten.js

Then, place a copy of the script into your Acrobat JavaScript folder.

Adobe Acrobat 9 JavaScript Folder LocationWindows XP
C:\Program Files\Adobe\Acrobat 9.0\Acrobat\Javascripts

Window Vista and Windows 7
C:\Program Files (x86)\Adobe\Acrobat 9.0\Acrobat\Javascripts

Macintosh Intel
/Users/USERNAME/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Acrobat/9.0_x86/JavaScripts

Folder locations for Acrobat 8 are in Lori’s original article.

Step 3: Using the Script

Using the Flatten Pages script is simple.

  1. Open any file which contains comments, annotations or form fields.
  2. Choose one of the following:
    Document> Flatten current page
    Document> Flatten all pages
  3. Acrobat will display a brief warning dialog.
    NOTE! This change is permanent. Work on a copy if you want to preserve the ability to edit the comments and stamps!
  4. Click OK

Issues and Caveats

A few things to keep in mind about using the script:

  • Adobe doesn’t officially support this script, but it works great for me and other customers.
    • Flattening your signature stamp doesn’t necessarily prevent someone from removing it from the document. A knowledgeable Acrobat user could use redaction tools to remove it. If you are concerned about that, you could secure your document with a password.
  • The script flattens all comments, annotations and form fields. You can’t choose to flatten one without the other.
  • The script is destructive, so you may want to work on a copy of the file if you later want to change
  • If the script doesn’t show up in your document menu:
    • Quit and re-launch Acrobat
    • Check to make sure you put the script in the correct folder
    • Ensure that JavaScript is turn on
      • Choose Edit>Preferences and check “Enable Acrobat JavaScript”
      • If that option is not available, your IT department has turned off JavaScript and locked it out for users. Call your IT staff for help.

Electronic vs Digital Signatures

Signature Stamps are a type of electronic signature, but they are not a true Digital Signature which has encryption.

That said, anywhere a faxed or scanned version of signature is accepted, a flattened document is an excellent, green alternative.

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