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If you’re a freelancer, small business, or running a non-profit organization, fillable PDFs could be really useful for you. You might send them to clients to apply for your services, or to create a design brief for a project. You may use them yourself if you regularly need to provide clients with standard information that only changes a little, such as an invoice for payment. This article will show you how you can design your own fillable PDF form, completely free.

Free & Open Source Fillable PDF Creation

discover-libreoffice-draw

Most PDF-creating programs charge if you want to do anything more involved than reading a PDF. With LibreOffice Draw, an amazing open-source program in the LibreOffice Suite, you can take full control of creating documents including fillable PDFs, and it won’t cost you a dime.

Incidentally, LibreOffice Draw, which we covered more generally before LibreOffice - A Free Office Suite For Windows, Linux & Mac LibreOffice - A Free Office Suite For Windows, Linux & Mac Read More , can be a decent overall alternative to Adobe InDesign and Adobe Illustrator for creating art, illustrations, and documents.

Adding Plain Text

After you download and start up LibreOffice Draw, your document will be blank. You’ll need the Drawing Toolbar to put shapes and text on the page, and you’ll probably find it at the bottom of your screen (although you can dock it where you prefer).

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libreoffice-draw-toolbar

 

To put text on the page, click on the T symbol in the Drawing Toolbar, and then click on your document about where you want the text to go. I like to put down all the plain text (like titles, headers, and questions) first, roughly where I imagine they should go, and then move them around afterwards, taking into account the space for the answer fields.

PDF-without-fillable-forms

Making Forms

To add a form field to your document you’ll need to turn on the Form Toolbar, which you’ll find under View > Toolbars > Form Controls. I re-sized mine to a more squat rectangle so you can view the name in the image.

To edit the form fields themselves, you’ll need to be in the Edit mode. Toggle the Edit mode on by clicking on the Form Control item that has a little hand on it, until it’s selected. Toggled off, you can ‘test’ the form itself to make sure it’s working the way you want the user to interact with it.

The Option Button (aka Radio Button)

If you want the person filling out your form to select 1 item from a list of options, add Option Buttons to your form (also known as Radio Buttons).

To add a set of Option Buttons, ensure Edit mode is turned on and click on the round Option Button item. Then click-and-drag a rectangle roughly where you want the option button and accompanying text to be on your document.

Right-click on the Option Button you just created and select ‘Control’.

Give this set of Option Buttons (the ones that represent possible answers to one question) a name. In this example, the question asks, “Did you liked the article?” and the three options will be ‘yes’, ‘a little bit’, and ‘not at all’. I’m calling the group of option buttons ‘liked-it’, and labeling the first Option ‘yes’.

After you create one option button, you can Copy it (CTRL-C) and Paste it (CTRL-V) (it may paste in place so you might not really see it until you move it), and then nudge it into position with the arrow key or by clicking-and-dragging, until it looks something like the below example.

The key to the Option Buttons is ensuring that each option that belongs to the same group has an identical name. When you toggle Edit mode off to test the buttons, you should be able to select only one of the options in a given group at a time.

The Checkbox

The key difference between an Option Button and a Checkbox is that the Checkbox is designed to let the person filling out the form select multiple options.

To put checkboxes into your document, you’ll need to select the Checkbox item in the Form Control menu. You can ignore the 3 options at the end that are toggled-on. Draw a box where you want a Checkbox to appear, and then (just like with the Option Button) name the group and label the individual checkbox.

After that, copy-and-paste enough checkboxes for all the ones you need, move them into place, and re-label.

The Text Field

The option right after the Checkbox option is the Text Box, which allows for open-ended answers from the person filling out the form. This is the easiest one to create. Click-and-drag to create a rectangle for text-entry, and you’re done!

The important thing to remember is to make the text box large enough for the letters entered. You can choose the font that entered text appears in, but the program a person uses to fill it out may not necessarily render the spacing around the text the same way. That just means you’ll want to leave a little more space than you think you need, just to be on the safe side.

Aligning Everything

After you’ve got all of your form items placed in your PDF, you might want to organize and align them, so it doesn’t look like a jumble. Fortunately, LibreOffice Draw has a handy Align toolbar, which you can turn on by going to View > Toolbars > Align.

To use the Align toolbar, all you have to do is select the elements in your document (form or plain-text) by clicking-and-dragging to encircle them (or Shift+Click), and then click the appropriate button in the Align toolbar.

The upper left button will align everything to the left, the upper middle will centre things horizontally, and the upper right button will align everything to the left. The lower set of buttons vertically align elements, either to the top, centre, or bottom.

Test Your Fillable PDF

When you’re done creating your form, export the PDF and try it out in a program like Adobe Reader or one of it’s many alternatives This Is Why You Don't Need Adobe Reader This Is Why You Don't Need Adobe Reader Adobe Reader isn’t just unnecessary – it has a history of being an application you wouldn’t want on your system. From being extremely heavy and slow to having a long series of security flaws, Adobe... Read More . You can even test out the fillable PDF I created in LibreOffice Draw for this article.

Learning More

There’s so much more that you can do with LibreOffice Draw when it comes to creating PDFs Create PDFs For Free & Convert PDFs To Word Documents Create PDFs For Free & Convert PDFs To Word Documents Read More and forms. A hint of the customization options can be seen in the screenshots in this article, but you’ll have to dig in yourself for me. If you have very specific questions about PDFs, the LibreOffice Ask site is a great resource for learning more from advanced users.

Finally, for those of you who may be looking for a fillable PDF solution for work and have program installation locked down, never fear: there’s a portable version of LibreOffice you can carry on a USB stick, too.

LibreOffice has had PDF form creation as a feature for quite a while, but one of the nice things about the software is they’re updating it all the time and always adding new features LibreOffice 4.2 Brings Major Changes To The Popular Microsoft Office Alternative LibreOffice 4.2 Brings Major Changes To The Popular Microsoft Office Alternative LibreOffice (Version 4.2) offers better performance and better interoperability with MS Windows, and further lays claim to its title of the best free office suite for Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux. Read More . It’s worth keeping your ear to the ground for developments.

Have you ever had to create a fillable PDF form before? What software did you use, and if it was commercial, was it worth paying for over LibreOffice Draw?

  1. Robert McCormick
    July 8, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    Can you create a fillable pdf that calculates automatically? Say for a purchase requisition?

    • Jessica
      July 8, 2015 at 4:27 pm

      Hi Robert, I don't think so as PDFs don't typically have any capability to calculate in them.

      The way I've seen former employers handle that is by creating an Excel spreadsheet (though Libreoffice Calc may be able to do the trick) with various cells locked except the ones where a person would input their details for requisition or reimbursement, feeding information into a locked cell with a formula making the calculations you need.

      Hope that helps.
      Jessica

  2. Paul Davidson
    October 6, 2014 at 1:21 pm

    Great Article! I mostly use PDFfiller to create or edit PDF forms. Its not the same thing, but maybe you know someone that needs it. It also allows you to erase in a pdf, esign, efax, add logos, pics to pdfs, etc. Its pretty easy to use and its pretty cheap. I think you can get a free week if you and a friend both register. Here is the link where I was able to get the form I need http://goo.gl/wnr0qE.

  3. Kevin
    August 24, 2014 at 4:08 am

    Thank you for this. It also highlighted to me that with Adobe Reader XI you can actually save the filled form too! This is a change from previous versions, in which you needed to code the form with Acrobat Pro to enable this feature.

    • Jessica C
      September 4, 2014 at 9:54 pm

      Glad you found it helpful, Kevin! And yes, being able to save filled forms is fantastic. I always used to hate having to print and scan or mail a form. Defeated half the purpose of doing it digitally.

  4. Paul
    August 21, 2014 at 11:06 am

    would be good to point out if the form can be sent via email too? Great article. will be highlighting this to colleagues.

  5. Jorge
    August 14, 2014 at 10:37 pm

    Thank you for this article. It certainly is an excellent alternative to Acrobat.

  6. Rasheed
    August 12, 2014 at 7:03 am

    Nice to see such a facility in LO.

    Thank god, I pray for those all goodies done by u and other OS fellows

    Can u pl. find time to see and/or work on the enhancement issue
    http://ask.libreoffice.org/en/question/34393/enhancement-requestpage-number-function/
    and
    https://bugs.freedesktop.org/show_bug.cgi?id=79257

    • Jessica C
      August 13, 2014 at 5:38 pm

      Hi Rasheed, glad I could share with you a useful LibreOffice feature. You may want to express your interest in enhancing LibreOffice to the LibreOffice developers on their site/in their forumz. As far as I know, the MakeUseOf authors aren't involved in improving LibreOffice - we just write about it.

  7. Jessica C
    August 9, 2014 at 10:07 pm

    Hi Jorge, thanks for the feedback! What kinds of articles about the LibreOffice Suite would you be interested in?

    • Jorge
      August 11, 2014 at 10:53 pm

      It would be nice to see some simple tutorials just to show up LibreOffice Suite functionality like Gantt charts in Calc, simple database management in Base such as creating tables or making reports, how to create custom themes for your slides in Impress, insert page enumeration excluding the title page in Writer, and so on.

      Simple and common things that are useful and don't do any harm to know them.

    • Jessica C
      August 13, 2014 at 6:01 pm

      Great ideas here, Jorge. I suppose we often take this sort of knowledge for granted sometimes, and forget that sometimes simple, straight-up how-tos go a long way to helping people get the most out if their technology.

      Plus who really wants to read a manual, am I right?

  8. Jorge
    August 9, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Great and useful article, I had no idea about this LO Draw functionality. Congratulations for it!

    It would be great if you could post more articles about the Libre Office suite since it's free software (both meanings) and still full of features which are as good as non-free alternativas or even better.

    Thank you.

  9. Sanuja R
    August 9, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    This guide is very useful for small companies that want PDF forms to give to their clients, but don't have enough money to buy something like Adobe Acrobat XI. Great of you to encourage open-source software.

    Also, just as Godel says, some people who aren't very good at computers would very much appreciate a ready-made form to ease tight deadlines.

    I like your article very much.

    • Jessica C
      August 9, 2014 at 6:03 pm

      Hi Sanuja! Thanks for your comment! Open-source software is a passion of mine.

      Even though I have many of the 'professional' versions of software, I still often go to use the open source version. I enjoy seeing the areas they worked on that are different from the professional software. It always amazes me what people create in their spare time and I look forward to writing about more open source software in the future.

  10. Godel
    August 8, 2014 at 11:28 pm

    Excellent article Jessica, you did good.

    Please consider having a downloadable PDF available for how-to pieces like this (although I saved and printed one myself).

    • Jessica C
      August 8, 2014 at 11:44 pm

      Hi Godel, thanks for the compliment and for the feedback. Will talk it over with the rest of the MUO team.

  11. Avijit
    August 8, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Excellent Article Jessica! Plan and simple step-by-step article. It is really a pain to create a fillable PDF. I know there is a option in Open Office/Libre Office But there is no proper guide about that. Thanks Again!

    • Jessica C
      August 8, 2014 at 11:32 pm

      Thanks Avijit! Glad you found it useful.

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