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Tip: Annotating PDF Files

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Lots of people talk about “going paperless” – I’m a big advocate – and paperless is slowly becoming possible.┬áTechnological advances and progressive societal attitudes are breaking down many of the barriers.

One barrier that has remained though, is the PDF form. Whether it’s claiming work expenses, applying for a financial services product or signing a contract for service, we are often stuck with having to complete a PDF form.

If the form was online … no problem, we’d just complete it on the screen. Products like Survey Monkey and WordPress Plugins have made it easy for even amateurs to draft online questionnaires and forms.

Other times we might find a word processing file, generally in Microsoft .doc, .docx, .xls or .xlsx format … still relatively simple; we’d just download the file, populate our answers and send back the saved version. If we have a scanned version of our signature we can even sign the document!

But what happens when the form is a PDF file? Companies use Adobe’s .pdf format when they don’t want the content or the layout of the form to change. The expectation is that you’ll print a paper copy, populate your answers and then mail, fax or scan/email the document back.

What a pain!

Populating a form that’s a PDF file is time-consuming, error-prone and destroys our paperless world!

Or does it?

Here’s 4 tips on how we can populate a PDF document without having to resort to paper!

PDF Pen from Smile Software: $US59.95

  1. Use PDF Pen software. At $US59.95 it’s not cheap. But it’s powerful: add text, images and signatures; make corrections; fill out PDF forms; OCR scanned documents. If you find yourself working with PDF documents regularly then PDF Pen will quickly prove it’s worth.

    Zosh by ABJK NewCo, Inc.: $AU3.99 from iTunes

  2. Use Zosh on your iPhone. This $AU3.99 app is a quick and easy way to fill in a form or add your signature. I’ve been using it for 12 months and am a big fan. There’s a bit of setting up – you need a (free) account and you need to email your source document to Zosh before that document will appear in Zosh (so you won’t be using it for highly confidential documents). But it’s intuitive, flexible and best of all you don’t need to be at your desk … this is an iPhone app!
  3. Use Apple Preview’s Annotate function. When you open a .pdf file in Preview one of the buttons along the top of the document is Annotate. Select that and a selection of Annotate Options become available along the bottom of the document. Selecting the Text option turns the cursor into cross-hairs. Drag to create the text box then type. You can format the text’s colour, size and font using the standard Apple font selector. You need to create each individual text box, so it’s a bit fiddly but you end up with a populated .pdf document. The major downside is that you can’t drag a signature file into a Preview file.


  5. Use your Word Processing program. This works with both Apple Pages and MS Word (although I find Word a bit more fiddly). Create a new blank document with the same page orientation as the form – either landscape or portrait. Drag your PDF page onto the document and stretch it so that it takes up all the page. Add a text box, or paste an electronic version of your signature on top of the PDF. In Word you may need to adjust the Picture formatting for both your PDF and your signature file so that you can freely align and manipulate your text box and/or signature. Once it looks OK then Print it as a new PDF document. Brilliant!


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