In this article I am going to ask you to take shortcuts. In life and in Office.
I am going to ask you to beg, borrow, and steal. Or should I say – get inspired.
Because we are going to talk about templates; humanity’s greatest invention after the printing dye. Okay, kill that hyperbole. But templates are vital time-saving devices and you can use them for almost any situation in life. We called them “stencils” in school. We abuse them as “forms” when tax day comes calling. NASA uses them for everything from scientific and technical reports to project plans. You can bet there’s one there for reporting alien life forms, too.
So, take the template shortcut. Even the Feds are doing it.
Why don’t we skip downloading Excel templates or depending on Google Docs templates? Why don’t we make our custom PDF templates for anything in life? Why don’t we steal a few ideas and tweak them to our needs?
Why Should You Make Your Own Custom Template?
So you can show off. No, really.
Think of your resume. Maybe you are among the endangered who create the perfect resume from scratch. Most of us “cheated”, thanks to downloadable resume templates that are available for every experience level. Designing your own resume template would have given you exclusivity among the herd.
Think of your business idea. Your great business idea needs an action plan. Create your own template to mirror business needs, use it to go to the market and secure funding. A custom template again, shows initiative and the thought you have put into it. It reflects the best practices.
You could become an influencer like Eric Ries with his “Lean Startup” effect on business templates like Business Model Canvas and Lean Canvas.
Think of your personal brand. Templates are a rage. They are also a sales tool. Create a template on a repetitive business process in your industry. It can be as simple as a sales invoice. Spread it around like nectar on social media and industry forums — it will get picked up.
E.g. As a writer or blogger, you can create a professional writing proposal template in PDF. A creative designer can showcase a portfolio template in PDF designs. A real estate agent can use a real-estate purchase offer template as a calling card.
Think of it as a money making hobby. Stuck at home and want to start something with your design chops? Making (and selling) PDF templates can be a creative home business idea. Etsy.com alone gave 14000 hits with a search for “pdf templates.”
No, really. Do it just to stretch the creative muscles. Do it because you have all the tools for it. And do it because no other available template fits your needs.
How to Make Your First PDF Template
PDF templates are supported across all devices and browsers, retaining the design of the layout. They are the most widely circulated document format.
You will have your own objective for a template. My goal was to create a template for recording my daily learning goals – What did I learn today?
An online search revealed many “study planners”, but none suited my unique need; a continuing journal of personal learning. So, it was time to create a custom template to meet my need. This is how my first template turned out.
To begin with your own template — look into your computer. You have all the tools you need. No need to shop, yet.
- Microsoft Word (or PowerPoint or Google Drive)
- A pound of creative flair.
Personal Choice: Microsoft PowerPoint 2013.
The choice of tools depends on the final look of the template. Microsoft Word and PowerPoint both have the same tools. Similar steps can be followed in Microsoft Word 2013 to create a custom PDF template as well.
For graphics heavy templates, I prefer PowerPoint over Word for three reasons.
- Apart from converting the slide into a PDF template, I can review my planner as a slideshow.
- I can preview the template as a slideshow with more rigor, e.g. magnify in the Slideshow view.
- The slide workspace (empty area around the slide) allows me to store stuff that I might want to use later. Convenient.
STEP 1: Design Your Template on Paper
We have almost forgotten the power of simple paper to stir our ideas. But this simple step can make or break the entire process.
To clarify your template outline, ask yourself three questions.
- Why am I creating this custom template?
- What are the different parts of the information I want to record?
- How would I like to see the flow of the information displayed?
You can use flowcharts or even sketchnoting to flesh out the basic framework of your template. To get over any mental blocks, borrow and steal ideas from places like Pinterest and Google Images. Remember, it’s allowed if you “steal like an artist!”
STEP 2: Size Your Template
A printed PDF template can be formatted like a booklet or laid out on a regular A4 paper. Choose your paper size. In PowerPoint go to > Ribbon > Design > Slide Size > Custom Slide Size. Choose A4 for standard paper size and the Portrait Orientation.
STEP 3: Prepare the Slide
A few preliminary steps before you start your slide work.
Go to Ribbon > View. Select Rulers, Gridlines, and Guides.
Gridlines and guides are important for lining up each element on the slide and relative to each other. Both are drawing “supports” and are not a part of the final file. Gridlines are fixed in their location on the slide. Any object that comes within a pixel’s breadth of one of these guidelines snaps to it.
You can move the Guides around (horizontal / vertical) and use it to check alignment of individual elements on the page. Activate the Grid and Guides from, open the dialog box from the little arrow in the Show group of the View tab.
Now select the Snap objects to grid check box and then adjust the grid spacing to the setting you want. To see the grid onscreen, select the Display grid on screen check box.
Finally, select the Display drawing guides on screen check box. Remember, you can move them around the slide by clicking and dragging them.
STEP 4: Start Creating…
This is where you have to fall back on your own creativity and the drawings tools PowerPoint or Microsoft Word offers. They are all easy to grasp and adequate for the task. Let me take you through three drawings to illustrate the ease of doing it in PowerPoint.
# The Top Black Pentagon with The Date.
The black pentagon is a PowerPoint “Pentagon” Shape. Go to Insert > Shapes > Scroll down to Block Arrows > Select Pentagon.
Set Shape Fill to Black (solid) and Shape Outline to No Color.
Grab the rotation handle and turn the shape 90 degrees clockwise. Size, drag and position it on the slide
# The Project – Obstacle – Plan Process.
The “project-obstacle-plan” diagram two-thirds down the template is a Smart Art graphic called “Basic Process.” As the name indicates, it is used to show a progression or sequential steps in a task, process, or workflow.
I repurposed that to depict the flow of a learning project idea. A project idea can face an “obstacle” (e.g. lack of tools or time). Every obstacle can be overcome with a plan (e.g. watching less TV).
The Smart Art graphic has been recolored with Shape Fill (None) and Shape Outline (Black) to the final form as seen in the template.
# The “Month Streak” Calendar.
The Month Streak is a visual display inspired from the Jerry Seinfeld’s “Don’t break the chain” method to stop procrastinating.
With PowerPoint you can use a Table (Ribbon > Insert > Insert Table) to create a monthly calendar. Then, use a Table style (Ribbon > Design > Table style) to give it another visual touch. PowerPoint gives you a Live Preview as you cycle through the styles.
Entering the dates is a manual chore though.
In short, designing your template means playing around with fonts, Shapes, SmartArt, and placement. You can combine two shapes to create your own unique bullets. For more visual kick, you can also insert pictures. I would advise against it as the final PDF template will be headed to a printer. Keep it simple.
But can’t you do it all in color?
Why not. But a black and white template saves printer ink. Also, if your knowledge of color theory sucks it could be another layer of unnecessary effort. Printed colors also look different from those on the screen as monitors use the RGB (red, green, blue) color model, which usually supports a wider spectrum of colors. Printers use the CMYK (cyan, magenta, yellow, black) color model. CMYK can reproduce most — but not all — of the colors in the RGB color model.
STEP 5: Printing to PDF
The final step of converting your PowerPoint or Word document to a finished printable PDF template is a small hop.
Go to File > Export > Create PDF / XPS Document and click the button to save the file in a designated location. Check your printable PDF template with a PDF reader and then take a printout to verify the layout.
As you can see, creating a printable PDF template is easy. Making an editable PDF template is slightly more complicated because you have to use a paid tool like Adobe Acrobat Pro DC to create fillable form fields. The user can then enter information into the template with the free Adobe Reader which recognizes the fillable fields.
But all is not lost for us freebie hunting cheapskates just yet. Here’s a quick and dirty workaround for editing the PDF template we created.
Use Online PDF Editors
Online PDF tools can save you a lot of work and some money too. But here are the choices if you are looking to type into a PDF template and save the information:
And last but definitely not to be ignored, Mihir shows us how to edit our PDFs in Chrome. If there’s any other solution, I am all eyes in the comments.
Tell Us Your Ideas for Custom PDF Templates
As we see above, creating a template is easy. It is the idea and the layout that needs planning. But there is inspiration all around us today. It could be a simple to-do checklist. Maybe, it is a template for a business plan. Or it could be a pattern that helps you trace out a sexy tattoo.
What is your idea for a PDF template? Are you searching for a template you haven’t found, yet? Reach out in the comments.
Image Credit: Business Model Canvas (Wikimedia Commons)