How to get complex PDFs filled out and do more with the data

Fumbling with fillable PDF forms is like wearing a brand-new pair of shoes for an all-day trek — you’ll make it through the day, but you may not enjoy the journey or the outcome.

A fillable PDF form can usually collect information in the format you want, but if someone doesn’t fill it out properly, you may end up receiving nothing at all.

Even if people successfully fill out a PDF form and share their responses, you still need to figure out how to transfer that data into the software tools that keep your workflow running smoothly.

If all else fails, you can print out PDF forms. But it’s easy to misplace or damage paper forms, and deciphering the responses can be difficult.

Enter JotForm Smart PDF Forms. Just upload a fillable PDF, and this new tool will instantly transform it into an online form.

A fillable PDF uploaded to JotForm appears on the right, and the online form created from the fillable PDF is on the left.

Since a near-exact replica of the uploaded fillable PDF form is created, you no longer need to spend hours recreating the form from scratch. You can distribute this online form — like any other created in JotForm — by sharing a dedicated link to it, sending it in a customizable email, or embedding it on your website.

You can also assign forms from a desktop, a laptop, or the JotForm Mobile Forms app on a mobile device, as well as control who can access your form, what they can do with it, and whether access should be cut off at a certain time.

Whenever anyone fills out your form, JotForm Smart PDF Forms will store a copy of their submitted information in your JotForm account. Responses can also be sent automatically to other software tools in your workflow, such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and Box, when you connect your form to one JotForm’s form integrations.

But JotForm Smart PDF Forms doesn’t just turn a fillable PDF into an online form.

Individual fields in your online form are linked to similar fields in the fillable PDF that you uploaded.

JotForm Smart PDF Forms can use incoming form responses to automatically fill out the uploaded PDF file.

In fact, a copy of the PDF with submitted information can be sent as an attachment in an autoresponder email to those who fill out your form or as a notification email to colleagues.

You can even enable respondents to preview a copy of the completed PDF before they complete your online form and download it once they submit their information.

With JotForm Smart PDF Forms, you no longer need to worry about receiving empty copies of fillable PDFs that didn’t save someone’s data properly, much less printing PDFs that must be filled out by hand.

JotForm Smart PDF Forms can seamlessly turn fillable PDFs into professional-looking online forms that not only collect data and inject it into your workflow but also use this same submitted form information to fill out the uploaded PDF in an instant.

How a dog agility organization speeds up its workflow with JotForm Smart PDF Forms

The Agility Association of Canada knows what fast looks like — and it’s not just the name that gives it away.

As the accrediting organization for dog agility obstacle courses and competitions, the Agility Association of Canada plays a key role in regulating the sport and overseeing events across the country.

For years, the nonprofit organization relied on fillable PDF forms, including order forms, membership forms, application forms, and request forms, to collect information from participants, officials, administrators, judges, and volunteers.

But there was a big problem with that.

Robert Cooper, an Agility Association of Canada volunteer who manages all of the organization’s forms, said he would frequently encounter issues with individual fields or receive PDF forms with no information at all.

“I just had so many issues with the forms, and I was trying and trying to resolve them,” Cooper said. “I realized that I was spending a lot of time on it and thought maybe there was another option. That’s when I found JotForm.”

Although the nonprofit now relies on JotForm to collect information from members and representatives alike, the association still relies on PDFs for longer, more complex forms, such as inspection forms and incident reports. That’s because these forms are difficult to build from scratch in JotForm and can become complicated if people only need to fill out certain sections.

One example, Cooper pointed out, is a form used by 10 Agility Association of Canada volunteers to review and approve individual courses that dogs run during competitions. Their submitted information is stored in a Google Sheet, analyzed at the end of each month to determine how many courses they reviewed, and ultimately used to pay each person accordingly.

JotForm Smart PDF Forms can streamline Cooper’s workflow by turning fillable PDF forms, like the course review form, into online forms that he can customize and share with people to fill out.

Since specific online form fields are linked to corresponding fields in the uploaded PDF, any incoming responses are used to fill out the PDF form automatically.

While customizing an online form that you’ve created with JotForm Smart PDF Forms, you can easily delete specific fields and remove the links to corresponding fields in the fillable PDF. This is particularly helpful if a field in your online form doesn’t look quite right or if you want to use another form field to fill in a field in the PDF.

You can also add a new field to your online form, resize the corresponding field on the fillable PDF, and then drag it to the spot where submitted form responses should appear. This process can sometimes take a while, but it ultimately saves you time in the long run, especially when you have to process large amounts of submitted form information quickly.

JotForm Smart PDF Forms also enables you to use conditional logic, which can hide or show specific questions in your online form based on someone’s previous responses. All answers provided through your form — as well as any questions respondents skipped — will also appear in the PDF that you uploaded to JotForm.

Conditional logic, Cooper said, enables him to shorten the forms and make the form-filling experience easier.

“What I find with PDFs is that you can’t hide a field if you’re OK with another field, so to speak,” Cooper said.

Cooper can also assign forms to judges or volunteers on his laptop, desktop, or mobile device. Judges and volunteers can then fill out forms while they’re in the field by using the JotForm Mobile Forms app on their smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

Conclusion

Trying to collect the information you need from fillable PDF forms can feel like a catch-22.

You may want an easier way for people to fill out forms on their laptops, desktops, or mobile devices, but you also need the responses to appear in a particular PDF to comply with regulatory or administrative requirements.

Filling out PDF forms or printing them so that they can be filled out by hand is tedious, but creating an online version of a PDF form from scratch doesn’t sound much better.

JotForm Smart PDF Forms can solve this problem by automatically turning your fillable PDF forms into eye-catching online forms that you can easily customize to meet your needs.

When someone fills out your online form, their submitted responses can be used to complete the fillable PDF form that you uploaded to JotForm. If you link fields in your online form to the original PDF, people only need to share information with you once.

You can also inject any submitted form information that you collect directly into your workflow by sending it to third-party software tools such as Google Drive, Box, or Dropbox. All you have to do is use one of JotForm’s handy form integrations.

At the end of the day, it’s a win-win situation for you and the people who need to fill out your forms.

Try JotForm Smart PDF Forms for free today! See how turning fillable PDFs into online forms and simultaneously collecting information in both formats has never been easier!

This article is originally published on Aug 24, 2020, and updated on Aug 25, 2020.
AUTHOR
Darin is a content writer at JotForm. He is passionate about disrupting perceptions, solving problems, and helping people be more productive with the easiest online form builder. Outside of the office, he is a rush-hour straphanger, adventure seeker, coffee drinker, and frequent traveler. You can contact Darin through his contact form.

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