While at Adobe MAX last week, I was asked how a user could flatten form fields with Acrobat X. Flattening form fields means removing the form fields themselves and placing the data onto the PDF as regular items. This is a common request for folks who want to “lock down” a form without using password protection.
A person who overheard the request chimed in with “just print it to a new PDF!” While correct, printing to PDF to flatten form fields is not optimal. If there are any transparent art elements in the PDF, for instance, they will be replaced with non-transparent “flattened” artwork. Any interactive content will also be removed and replaced with poster frames, if available. What, then, are we to do if we want to keep our PDF just like it was, but without any form fields?
Acrobat Pro can automatically preflight PDF documents using a robust and configurable preflighting engine. In addition, since Acrobat 8, it can also apply what are known as fixups to PDFs in addition to preflighting. Preflight profiles in Acrobat often contain only fixups, and we’ll use one of these fixups now.
With a PDF open, open the Tools pane and open the Action Wizard panel. Next, we need to create a new Action. Click the Create New Action button to open the Create New Action dialog.
The Action Wizard allows you to schedule a series of steps from a pre-determined pool of steps on one or more PDFs. All of these steps get bundled into an Action, which you can start by clicking the Action’s name in the Action Wizard panel. We’ll name our new Action later. First, we need to determine on what the Action will act. By default, Acrobat will start with A File Open in Acrobat. This will use the currently open file as the target for the Actions that are about to take place. You can also choose other sources, such as a file or folder to which you would browse, a scanner, or even let the user decide at the start. I’ll keep the default setting, since I want to be able to flatten form fields in a PDF that I am completing.
The Action Wizard allows you to provide instructions to users as well, and it’s a good idea to let the user know what’s going to happen. Click Add Instruction Step to add an instruction step. Enter a title for this step and also the text that will show in the dialog. I included the following: “This Action will flatten form fields in the PDf that’s open in Acrobat. It will not flatten form fields in an XFA (LiveCycle) PDF. When complete, it will save a new PDF with the word flattened inserted before the .pdf extension” Click Save to close the dialog.
Having given our user instructions, we can now choose the sequence of events. For this Action, we want to execute a Preflight profile. Acrobat X comes with a wide assortment of Preflight profiles, some of which contain only fixups. The one we want is called Flatten Form Data. To choose a Preflight Profile, open the More Tools panel and then click Preflight, which is at the top of the list. A Preflight step will now appear in the list under Action Start. To configure which Preflight Profile will be executed, click the Options button in the Preflight step. Having chosen the Flatten Form Data Preflight Profile, click Safe to save the step.
The last thing we need to do is to configure how the flattened PDF will be saved. I want the flattened PDF to go in the same folder as the original PDF, but with a new name to indicate that it has been flattened. To the right of Save To:, click the menu and choose Same Folder Selected at Start. Then, click the Options button to open the Output Options dialog. Choose Add to original file names: and enter “_flattened” into the Insert After field. Ensure that the output format is set to Save File(s) As Adobe PDF, and then click OK to close the dialog. You can choose to Overwrite existing files if you wish; it will not affect the original form.
Having configured the Action, it’s time to save so that we can use it. Click Save, and enter a name for the Action. I called mine “Flatten Form Fields” and entered the text from our alert dialog as the description. Click Save to save the Action, which will make it available in your Action Wizard panel.
To use the Action, open a PDF with Acrobat form fields that contain data. In the Action Wizard panel, click the name of your new Action. You will be reminded of what’s about to happen, and then you can click Next to proceed. You can choose not to show this Actions dialog again. Next, Acrobat will pop up our custom alert, and when you click Next, Acrobat will flatten the form data and save the new PDF. This new PDF will have all form data flattened onto page content and all fields will be removed. This is a great example of how Actions in Acrobat X can help get complex or obscure jobs done quickly and easily.