Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Acrobat Typewriter Tool: Just Embrace it!

One of my long-standing issues with PDF forms is that they typically not correctly set up as Acrobat forms. People (without Acrobat) often send me forms to fill out. There are either no Acrobat forms fields, there are missing fields, the form fields are too small, the forms are scans of copies of faxes...they are truly a pain to work with. I used to go through the trouble to manually create form fields. This week, I decided to do all my forms electronically. No more printing and filling-out, and then re-scanning. No more, I say! And anyone who has ever had to read my handwriting will agree: my filling out forms in Acrobat is the preferred solution.

So today's task: fill out a form to set up my new PO box. Here is the form as it was emailed to me. It's a beauty, huh?


Tto fill out this form, here are my options:
  1. Print the form, fill it in by hand, and rescan it.
  2. Create Acrobat form fields by hand and type in the form fields.
  3. Run Acrobat's Form Field Auto-Detection, then fix whatever the automated system didn't catch, and then type in the form fields.
  4. Fill out the form using the Typewriter Tool.
I'm choosing option #4.

I long overlooked the Typewriter Tool because it's so understated... A hidden little gem without any whizbang features. It just lets you type...wherever you want. What a novel idea!

Back when I was in high school, I got a scholarship from the local county fair. My award? A typewriter. I think the people who chose the prize probably didn't know that most kids used computers, but nevertheless, I now had my very own typewriter. When I left for college, I left the typewriter with my mother, who used it in her accounting business to do... guess what...? Type wherever she wanted on her paper forms.

Fast forward about 15 years and I'm working in a corporate job (without any typewriters), when my boss asks me to add a signature line to the bottom of a PDF contract, so he can then print it out and sign it. My clunky solution was to make a custom stamp in Illustrator (containing his Name, Title, and a signature line), load the custom stamp into his Stamp library in Acrobat, stamp the document, then he could print out the document, sign it, rescan it and send it back. When I told him about this custom stamp idea, he rolled his eyes at me.

Fast forward about a year or so when I discovered the typewriter tool. I initially found it a real pain to work with because I didn't understand how Acrobat classified it, and I couldn't figure out how to work with it. Here are some lessons I've learned in using the less-than-intuitive Typewriter Tool.

  • Show the Typewriter Toolbar. Every time I wanted to use the typewriter tool, I had to keep going back to the menu...until I discovered "Show Typewriter Toolbar." Ah... much better.
  • The default Typewriter font is too big. So make it smaller. The options for changing the face face and size are hidden...until you click somewhere on your page with the typewriter tool. Then you can adjust the font settings.


  • Once you have typed with the Typewriter Tool, it seems next to impossible to move the text block or edit the text. According to the Acrobat Help File:

    1. To move or resize Typewriter text block, select the Select tool, click a Typewriter text block, and drag the text block or one of its corners.
    2. To edit the text again, select the Typewriter tool, and then double-click the Typewriter text.
    • If you're able to get this to work, then you have more patience than me. I gave up and found a workaround hiding in the Comments tab. If you're a designer like me, you would think that to edit the text, you would click on the Typewriter tool, and then click back in the same place where you just typed...but that makes a new Typewriter Text block. So, to easily edit your Typewriter text, click on the Comments Tab in the bottom left of the screen. Even though Acrobat classifies the Typewriter Tool simply as a "Tool" not a "Commenting Tool," the typewriter text blocks are actually found in the Comments tab. So if you click on one of them, you can edit your typewriter text. Clicking on your typewriter text block also selects the text, outlines in blue and gives it handles, so you can move it around. And see how the text in the comments tab is highlighted in blue? You can actually edit that text, and it will change the Typewriter text block on your page. Nifty!




      Edit: 9-20-16
      The article is from Acrobat 9, but it works the same in later versions. They just changed the name of the tool. Now it is called the Add Text Comment tool. Here is a screenshot from Acrobat DC.