Creating a forms Workflow in Acrobat 8 Professional

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If you watched the eSeminar last Wednesday (July 11, 2007), you saw me whiz through creating a Form Distribution Work flow from a word document that I recieved from my son’s soccer team. I got a lot of feedback asking for a more indepth look at how to create a forms based workflow in Acrobat 8 Professional (Note: that this is a windows only workflow for now, the workflow for the Mac is slightly different and I will be putting the Mac version up here as soon as my Mac comes in :-).  So for all my adoring fans, here you go!


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Ok so, as with the eSeminar, I will start in Word with the orginal document that the team sent out. I mean come on, trying to type in the spaces then backing out to keep the layout correct is just a royal pain. So, if this happens to you, be a hero and follow these steps. I will start by creating a PDF from the Word Doc using the PDF makers.  I can’t stress enough to use the PDF Makers (the little Acrobat Buttons you see in all the office appilcations. Your resulting PDF will be a much richer and will make this process much easier.

Fig. 1  Using the PDF Makers to create the PDF from Word

Ok now that we have the PDF Created, we still can’t fill in any of the fields.  But, wait, there is a a way, it is called the typewriter tool!

Fig. 2  Our word document as a PDF

Just go to Tools Typewriter Typewrither and you will get a cool little cusor that will allow you to position text on the line or anywhere on a PDF (Fig 3)

Fig. 3 Using the Typewriter tool

which is a really quick way of filling out a form that is a flat document (one with out active fields), but, the person that gets this form will still have to enter the fields into what ever system by hand, and as we all know that is a huge bummer!  In short the data collection is a no go!  So what can we do to this PDF to make it a dynamic xml form?  Well pior to Acrobat 8 you had two choices, first you could just use Acrobat and manually draw fields on the PDF.  This was pretty easy to do, but, is a bit tedious.  Second, you could try to import it into Acrobat Designer and even though much more powerful, not real user friendly.  So what do you do?  Well your a lucky dawg, dawg, (humm, losing some street cred here) you use the new Create New Form in Acrobat 8!  Here how it’s Done.

To start, go to Forms Create New Form, this will start a wizard that will walk you through creating a dynamic form and create a distribution/collection workflow.

Fig. 4 Starting the Form Field Recognition

Now we just answer the questions as needed:

Start with an electronic document, notice that you have a few options here as well, but will be saved for other posts

 

STEP 1 – In this case we will start with the Current Document

 

STEP 2 – Now you have an interesting choice, adding fields by hand (booo) or Run Auto Field Detection (this sounds like much more fun!)

 

STEP 3 – Show you have completed the Auto-Detection, notice that the fields have all been found, your mileage my vary.  One of the tips for a better field detection is to make sure there is a space between the fields, and the explanation text.

 

STEP 4 – Congratulations!  You got the first part done.  Now the wizard will auto start Adobe LiveCycle Designer this is a step that requires you to create a eMail button.

 

STEP 5 – Add the buttons, here I add my eMail and de-select the Add a print button

 

STEP 6 – Now in the video you will see an expanded lesson here but for the blog entry just save it off to somewhere you can find it.  Then reopen the PDF in Acrobat.

Now you have a form sitting in Acrobat, we need to send it out so that we can get some data back.  We will now start the Distribution Form workflow.

Start the Distribute Form workflow by going to Forms Distribute Form.

 

STEP 1 – Set your delivery options; here I am using the simple eMail return, you can secure them on return but we will save that for another post

 

STEP 2 – Ok this is a very important step here, this is where you are going to tell the system where to put the Data Collection.  This will be a repositatory for the returned form data.  Make sure you out this in a location that you have access too, and will not change.  If you move it, every time you open an eMail with a return form you will have to manually direct the data to the new location. Again not the end of the world but still a hassle!

 

STEP 3 – Tell Acrobat who else gets to play.  Here you can either grab people from your Address Book, or type in an eMail, Note the you can type many eMails at once the only thing to know is to make sure to add a return between each address.  Your address book will be automaticlly linked to Acrobat at install, you do not need to do any thing to your system to get this bonus.

 

STEP 4 – Tell the recievers what they are doing.  In step 4 you tell the recievers of the form what is the about, you can have a standard boiler plate message body saved as a text file and just link it in at run time. Here I just added the text "Thanks Tim"  at the bottom.

You are now done and a eMail has been placed in your Outbox.  The workflow has began.  The video shows what happens when a user gets the form and fills it in, adds a digital signiture, and then saves it (all things new to Acrobat 8 Professional) with the Adobe Free Reader!  What will happen now is as people start to submit the forms back you will start getting eMails with the data, so this is pretty good, but, what can you do with this data, how do you COLLECT this data, what form is it?  Well let Acrobat come to the rescue here, simply open your eMail and double click on the attachment.  Acrobat will load and you will see a new Form but it is a PDF Package, the data you are recieving from the eMails is XML data that is propogating the fields of a PDF Package (pretty darn cool) this allows you to collect, collate, and look at the data. (fig.5)

Fig. 5 – Here the PDF Package give you a great look at your data

But, this view of the data is a bit structured and sometimes you want to do some math on the data or hook it to some other data.  You have the option to export the data to either XML or a CSV file that can be opened by Excel, or almost any database program out there!

Well, that’s it for this one, whew it was a long one, I better go, Brasil and Argentina are about to start the finals of the Copa America, and dude, I can’t miss that!  Be good and remember to put some life in your life!  For a Video of this Blog Click here!

Tim Huff