Dealing with PDF forms

One of the side effects of our remote work environment is a different understanding of how online documents and signatures work.

I personally have been living in the electronic document world for a while now–a standard workflow for me is receiving an electronic invoice, opening it in Acrobat (either Acrobat Pro or Reader) and signing it:

This usually works well. However, there are documents that faculty and staff need to sign that are PDF forms. PDF forms are specially formatted to allow users to enter data into specific form fields. For whatever reason Acrobat does not allow documents designed as PDF forms to be signed in Acrobat.

Fortunately, there is a simple workaround (at least on Windows, see below for the issue on a Mac): You can fill out the form in Acrobat (again, either Reader or Pro) and then “Print” the document, but print it to a PDF instead of a normal printer:

“Microsoft Print to PDF” is available on any computer with Microsoft Office installed. Users with Acrobat Pro may also see an “Adobe PDF” virtual printer in your printer list. Either will work.

When you print to PDF you will get a file dialog asking you to name the file to save. I recommend using a different name than the original form.

When you print the PDF you will get a new PDF with the form fields filled out that you then can use the “Sign” functionality in Acrobat Reader or Pro to sign normally, and then email or send the file to the appropriate offices. As always, remember that email cannot be used to send information (such as social security numbers, bank account information, etc.) classified as “Confidential” by the University’s Data Classification Standard. Offices who request such data will provide you another mechanism to share that data with them.

Unfortunately Adobe Acrobat on a Mac does not allow you to print to PDF, asking you to save the PDF instead, which will not make the document editable. We are exploring options for determining the best way to handle this. For now the option of printing to paper, signing the paper, and scanning the signed form back into a PDF is probably the best option (and I believe the option most commonly used when we were working on campus.)

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