How to add instructions to a PDF form

When designing interactive PDF forms, it’s always helpful to provide instructions on how to fill out the form –  especially if the form is complicated. So when a community member posted this question:

I would like to design an intro page to a form providing a bit of instructions, or customize the purple bar above the form where the copy reads…”Please fill out the following form…”

I thought it would be helpful to provide some suggestions on how to do this.

First, I should mention that the purple message bar (officially called the Document Message Bar) is not customizable. But, there are several other techniques you can use to display instructions. Here are some ideas:

  1. Create a button that opens a PDF attachment with instructions – this article on How to make a link or button to open PDF attachments can help you get started using this technique.
  2. Show/hide form fields containing instructions – Thom Parker’s tutorial on Hiding and Showing Form Fields can help you get started with this.
  3. Place instruction on form fields that delete when clicking – Gilad’s discussion on Is there a way to add instructional text to my text field that will disappear when clicked? will help you make this happen.
  4. Create a button that turns on/off a layer that contains instructions – Ted Padova’s tutorial can help guide you through this process.
  5. Create a button that displays a hidden form field of a PDF page with the instructions – Max Wyss’s discussion details how to do this.

I’m going to elaborate on #5 because I’d like to display instructions that are visually appealing and not merely text. So, to start I’m going to log into Adobe Creative Cloud and download some new visual assets that are provided free of charge (for Creative Cloud subscribers) from the Creative Cloud Market. In the Market, I found a graphic that I’d like to use for my instructions.

assets

I’m going to place this graphic in Adobe Illustrator and create a one-page PDF of the instructions. Here is what my PDF instruction file looks like.

instruction

Next, I’ll open my PDF form and create a new button field and open the field Properties. In the button field properties, select “Visible but doesn’t print” from the General tab. Under the Options tab select Label only and add the word “Instructions” in the Label: area. Next under the Actions tab we’ll create two JavaScripts. First, select the Mouse Up Trigger and Run a JavaScript Action and click Add. In the JavaScript Editor dialog type the following code:

editor1

Click OK. Again on the Actions tab choose Mouse Exit as the Trigger and Run a JavaScript from the Select Action dropdown and click Add. In the JavaScript Editor dialog type the following code:

editor2

Click OK and Close the Properties dialog. Next, create another button form field called “instructions” large enough to fit the instructions. Click All Properties and select Hidden from the Form Field: dropdown on the General tab. Under the Appearance tab choose No color for the Border and Fill color. Under the Options tab choose Icon only from the Layout dropdown. Click the Choose Icon button and select the PDF file with the instructions and click Close. To test, select the Preview button in form editing mode, and click the instructions button.

instructiontest

If you would like to learn more about form techniques in Acrobat XI check out my session on Adding and Editing Form Fields in Learn Acrobat XI on Udemy.com.

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