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Creating an Electronic Form from a .jpg Scan using Adobe Acrobat X Professional

by Norm Dickinson, 11/16/2011
Adobe Acrobat X Professional is the program of choice for creating powerful .pdf files. PDF stands for Portable Document Format and the standard was developed by Adobe Labs years ago as a way to share a document across multiple operating systems and devices. Most computers and a growing number of phones and other devices can open and print .pdf files. Reading and printing the files requires the free Acrobat Reader program for any device which doesn't have Acrobat installed.
One of the more powerful features of Acrobat Professional is the ability to create electronic forms from a .jpg scan of a paper form. These forms can then be easily distributed across the web, filled in and returned in a completely paperless fashion.  The distribution feature of the software allows results from multiple form recipients to be tracked and collated into a useful and comprehensive database.
This short tutorial will show you how to create an electronic form using Adobe Acrobat X Professional. The steps will also apply to other versions of Adobe Acrobat with minor differences depending on the version you are using. Refer to the Acrobat help files for more information about form creation, including advanced steps and database management.
We are going to use an actual membership application for the Upper Kennebec Valley Chamber of Commerce, located in scenic Bingham, Maine. This started out as a piece of paper which has now been scanned into a .jpg file at high resolution using a flatbed scanner. The original was then optimized using Adobe Photoshop CS5 to reduce the file size, crop the edges and convert it to black and white. This step is optional, but it can be helpful depending on the quality of the original scan and the file size. You can also use other software such as the Picture Manager feature of Microsoft Office 2010 to perform the same functions.
To get started on the conversion, launch Adobe Acrobat X Professional by clicking "Start" (Windows Orb), "All Programs" and "Adobe Acrobat X Pro." Alternately double-click on the desktop icon if one is available. Click "Create PDF Form or Online Form" from the "Getting Started" section of the startup menu and click "Next" to use the default option of "Use an Existing File." Note that the option to scan directly from a paper form is available from this menu and may prove more convenient for certain types of scanners that are connected directly to the computer that will be performing the conversion.
Click "Browse" and navigate to the image file, and then click "Open" and "Next" to allow Acrobat to open the file and scan it for fields it can recognize on the form. Click "OK" to close the notification window and review the fields that Acrobat located automatically. It is handy at this stage to have a paper copy of the form to compare to the version being shown on the screen. Notice that the right column has a list of the fields located by Acrobat, adn it has attempted to name these fields based on information found nearby on the form. Much of this information is erroneous in many cases, but it can be helpful on some simpler forms.
In our sample form, Acrobat was able to detect 14 data fields and create text boxes for each of them. However, we are going to delete each of these fields before creating the fields we need in this example. Feel free to download the actual form used for the tutorial on the right in order to follow along. In order to remove the automatic fields, click on the first named field in the "Fields" section in the column on the right and press "Delete" on the keyboard. Press delete repeatedly until all of the fields have been removed, but do not delete the "Page 1" document itself.
The first field we want to create is the Business / Town Name field. Click "Add New Field" and select "Text Field" from the drop down menu. Move the mouse to the "Business / Town Name" field area of the form, paying attention to where the upper left corner of the text box is located. The size and shape of the final box is determined by the mouse, not by the indicated size as you move the mouse. Click and hold the mouse button, and drag the mouse to create a text box of the desired size and shape that just fills up the available space for the field. Release the mouse button and name the field using the yellow "Field Name" box that appears.
Click the "Add New Field" button again and repeat the process for the other obvious fields such as address, phone and web site. Adjust the field sizes by clicking on a field and using the small corner and side handles to drag the box into the desired shape with the mouse. Try to line the fields up and make them all the same size for a more professional appearance.
When you get to the field that asks how you would like to be contacted, we will insert some check boxes instead of a text box. Click "Add New Field" and choose "Check Box" from the drop down menu. Move the mouse to the "E-Mail" line and click to place the check box. (Name the box "Email Contact" or something similar to avoid using the same name that was used for the Email contact line above.) Repeat for the "Postal Mail" line.
The next section offers a choice between two different options that are mutually exclusive. For this "Yes or No" option, we will use radio buttons. Click "Add New Field" and choose "Radio Button." Fill in "Radio Button Choice" with the word "Yes" and fill in "Group Name" with a description of the question, such as "Website Link." Click "Add Another Button" to create the second button for the "No" answer and place the second button. Fill in "Radio Button Choice" with the word "No." Notice that the "Group Name" has already been filled in for you, as this radio button belongs to the same group as the last one we placed.
We can now place a check box next to each of the categories listed at the bottom of the form, and add text fields to the three "Other" lines and the "Amount Due" line to finalize the document fields. Remember to hold the mouse button down and drag each field onto the form to make it the desired size as you place it, or to click on each field after it is placed and drag it to the proper size. Label each field as it is created with a unique name.
Now that the fields have been created, it is important to make sure the "Tab Order" is correct. This is the order that the fields will highlight when the "Tab" key is pressed on the keyboard. Users familiar with filling in forms will expect the "Tab" key to bring them to the next field, but if the tab order is incorrect, it may not go where it is expected to. Click the "Tab Order" button next to "Sort By" in the right column and click "Show Tab Numbers." Click "OK" to close the tab order notification.
The tab order should progress down the form in a logical sequence without bouncing out of order. This is now indicated by a number in each field, starting with the number "1" in the "Business / Town Name" field at the top of the form. In my example, however, the order for the form goes from the "Email" option of the contact preference, directly to the website link yes or no field, and then back to the "Postal" option of the contact preference. It would be more logical to progress through the whole contact question first, before bouncing down to the next question and back up again.
To fix this problem with the tab order, we will change the order in the right column by clicking and holding the "Postal Mail Contact" entry and dragging it above the "Website Link" entry. Other changes can be made as desired.
Save the file now by clicking "File" and "Save As" and "PDF." Name the file and choose a location for it, and then click "Save." Click "Close Form Editing" to exit the form creation mode and see the final result of the file. Test the file with actual information to see if the text size fits into the boxes and that everything flows smoothly in the form.
Adobe Acrobat X Standard
Original Scanned Page
(Right-click and choose "Save Target As" to save a copy of this document in order to follow along with the tutorial.) 
The Finished Form
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