Software

A quick Word trick for typing text into a scanned document

This quick trick will have you up filling in scanned paper forms in less than two minutes.

Paper forms aren't obsolete, not by any means. But if you want to use Word to fill them in, you can. A quick and easy trick renders most paper forms into an electronic file. It's not a perfect solution, but it'll work in a pinch.

First, scan the form and save it as a graphics file. You're on your own with that step as systems are unique in their instructions. Be sure to save the scanned form in a format that Word can use, such as jpg, png, or bmp. (There are many more.)

Once you have the scanned document file, insert it as a picture as follows:

  1. In a blank document, open the header section. In Word 2007 and 2010, just double-click in the top margin area. In Word 2003, choose Header and Footer from the View menu.
  2. With the header section open, click the Insert tab. Then, click Picture in the Illustrations group. In Word 2003, choose Picture from the Insert menu, and then choose From File. Browse to the file and double-click it or select it and click Insert.
  3. With the picture file selected, choose Behind Text from the Text Wrap dropdown in the Arrange group on the contextual Format tab. In Word 2003, right-click the picture, and choose Format Picture. Click the Layout tab, choose Behind Text, and click OK.
  4. Close the header section.  Don't worry if the graphic dims a bit.

With the graphic in the header's background, you can now type as you normally would, using the graphic as your guideline. There are no special controls or tabs to position the cursor for you. You can certainly go that route, but that takes a lot of work, and unless you're going to reuse the form a lot, it's probably not worth the effort.

Most likely, the form won't align just right the first time you try. Simply open the header and adjust the position of the form as needed. You can also change the font, font size, and tab stops to accommodate the form's fill-in positions.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

44 comments
psauve
psauve

I like to use the [b]Page Layout[/b] tab -> [b]Page Background[/b] -> [b]Watermark[/b] -> [b]Custom Watermark[/b] and be sure to insert at 100% and uncheck the [b]Washout[/b] box.

aricl9999
aricl9999

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Shadeburst
Shadeburst

Fantastic tip and it took 2 minutes just as advertised. Thanks!

jonc2011
jonc2011

Jack Klaber suggests Acrobat Pro, but Standard is all you need. Allows you to type directly in any unprotected pdf. Also allows you to securely sign the form, a big plus.

ian.snape
ian.snape

If the form fields are not all in line vertically, make the width of all columns quite small (say .5cm) Insert the scanned form (insert picture). Either Right click on the form or goto to format then arrange and 'to background' Now you can play with the cell heights and widths until the bottom left of a cell is where a field should start. It is much easier than positioning text boxes (or the cursor)

jack.klaber
jack.klaber

if you need to do a lot of filling out forms or signing them, why not using Acrobat Pro?

techgecko
techgecko

why word? Open a blank PowerPoint - choose portrait orientation. Insert scanned image and resize to fill Inset text box(s) as required, filling the form as you go. Save as PDF

padgettn
padgettn

Use an online .pdf to Word converter like http://www.pdftoword.com or others that do just as nicely. They really do a great job converting complex forms into workable Word docs and then you can just type into the fields themselves! WaLa! Worked for me many many times.

Chief-Tiff
Chief-Tiff

If you have a web based form thas fits on your screen as one page, you can 'print' from explorer using ALT+Print-Screen and then drop that into Word; crop and enlarge as required. I leave it in the main document and send it behind text. Turn on the "Show Formatting" or'P' button in word and you can see if your text is in line or not. I thought I was clever when I did this just two days ago. Now I know lots of peole do it ;-p

mrechlin
mrechlin

I just paste the pdf doc right into the word doc,

viProCon
viProCon

Why not try using borderless text boxes inserted where the fill-in fields are on the scanned document? That seems like less work than trying to align tab stops, although, if the document is a reusable one perhaps the tab stop idea is still better. One thing that puzzles me about this article's solution though I don't care to experiment to find out: why put the picture in the Header? Does that prevent it from getting bumped by the text and by being in a header it keeps the scanned image in place?

krsmav
krsmav

I set up dozens of law office forms, which we used every day. I set up a complex table, entered the boilerplate and then locked the cells with a single click. Word makes you monkey with FormFields, a major PITA, or set the table up in Excel, a world-class PITA. Get with it M$. You know how to let a user lock a cell in Excel. How difficult could it be to add this functionality in the next version of Word.

markwilla
markwilla

Word can be an absolute pain when it comes to aligning text with other elements on a page (such as the scanned form in this instance). After all, its a word processor not a DTP or form design application. When I need to print onto pre-printed forms I use a simple and inexpensive form design application called InForm Designer. Not only does it allow me to import a scanned form or a PDF equivilant, it also allows me to only print the data I fill in and not the form background (which is obviously on the pre-printed form already). Furthermore, it also has functionality that ensures filled in form content aligns perfectly when printed on to a pre-printed form - no matter what printer I use. Find out more about InForm Designer and download a fully functional trial here... http://www.flysoftware.com/products/inform_designer/overview.asp I hope you find it as useful as I have.

prush
prush

This is one of the reasons why OneNote is my fav app outta the Office suite. This is too many steps to go through in Word.

maluiv
maluiv

I use Powerpoint to do this and I get better control of the positioning of the text fields over the form image. Remember to put the scanned form in the master slide, just to be sure not to move it accidentally when you are adding the text fields on the normal slide. Powerpoint allows to have several master slides and we can configure each normal slide to use one of them, in order to fill a multiple page form.

izharaazmi
izharaazmi

As we know Office OneNote gives the power of "type anywhere", the alignment of indents and line breaks aren't the issue! They are also very easy to use so nothing much to learn.

frehen
frehen

Nice trick, but if one has the ability to scan a form, one better use OCR scanning. This translates the form into a Word document and you can easily go to the places where things have to be filled in. True, this does not always work very good as lines and sentences are not always read correctly, but also that can be altered.

tantg
tantg

Will it work for multipage form? Or do we need to open separate word docs for each page?

paulm
paulm

Great idea, and no doubt one of those "Why didn't I think of that" scenario's for many people but I can't help thinking the instructions are somewhat misinformed. They are too complicated and sketchy for beginners (who probably wouldn't be on this site anyway) and made me laugh with the "you're on your own" comment. And then ends just like that...

MarkM_in_Atlanta
MarkM_in_Atlanta

I insert the image into Word, resize it to its "normal" size (if necessary), and put text boxes only where I need them. The text boxes can be precisely positioned using the Ctrl-arrow keys (sometimes the Alt-arrow keys) and the font size can also be adjusted accordingly. Using the regular text area in Word usually takes too long and too much adjusting/effort to get it just right from line to line -- at least, for me it does. For a lot of lines to fill in, you may need to adjust the picture/form a little for everything to be in the right places.

dfogg
dfogg

This is very useful tip. It appears it can be used for putting text on any type of picture (pdf, jpg,...) that has been inserted into a word document. So it is more useful than just filling out forms. However, I don't understand the reason to insert the picture in the header. I think the following is simpler and it works for me using Word 2003: Open a word document: 1. Insert Picture from file 2. Right click on picture in word document, and select format picture. 3. Select layout tab 4. Select: Wrapping style: Behind text 5. Select OK Text can now be typed over the inserted picture. The previous suggestion by jarris for changing the format size to position the text is useful. This suggestion adds the details to Evan H.'s suggestion.

ginmemphis
ginmemphis

This is a great tip! Can't believe I've never thought of it before. I don't do many paper forms, but some of my users do and I just tell them to use a pen. Now, all I have to do is teach them about headers and pictures. (Not a tech savvy bunch.) Hopefully it will save me time down the road. As for text boxes -- they are a pain in Word, and most forms would require too many to hassle with. I'd recommend just using spaces/returns.

mcalpinem
mcalpinem

It might be easier to just do a screen clipping of the form, drop it in OneNote and add your text. That seems like it would be faster and involve less...fiddling.

Kieron Seymour-Howell
Kieron Seymour-Howell

Word is not a desktop publishing application. I suggest using more capable software like Publisher, or Corel Draw for precise text placement such as this. Corel applications have the advantage of improved PDF output as well.

jarris
jarris

I'll probably create a page (template) for this type of situation that already has character spacing on each line of the whole page. That way you could just start typing pretty much anywhere on the page. To position the line of text higher or lower, just highlight a small section of spaces (where there isn't any text) on the line above and hit CTRL + [ , or CTRL + ] which will increase or decrease the font size of the selected section, thereby raising or lower in the text you just typed.

Evan H.
Evan H.

and set the picture's position as "behind Text"

Realvdude
Realvdude

The value of this may depend on what you are doing, but is a good tip. 1) Susan's example is a great example of my first thought; there is a PDF version of the form that will accept entry http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/fw9.pdf. So if you need to fill out a standard form, check to see if there is already and electronic version available. 2) Print to the original form. Once you have your information typed, remove the image from the header and print on the original form. You may want to print on blank paper and check the alignment first, before printing on the form. 3) Scan just the printed area of the form, to allow margins for alignment. 4) If the document is meant to be typed, it will likely expect 10 or 12 pitch and single line spacing.

tjsan42
tjsan42

Just double-click at the start of the form field and you can type there without having to use multiple new-lines and spaces or tabs.

omb00900
omb00900

Why not just STAY in the graphics program that the scanner uses and use the text function of that program (infinitely less finicky than M$ Word) to fill in the blanks? I've been doing that with Photopaint for the last 20 years! So much easier than the method described here.

bd1235
bd1235

I like this. It is a good trick. If the file is a PDF then you can overtype in a similar way with Nitro PDF Reader. It is a good, free alternative to Adobe Reader and is not targetted by malware (yet).

lehnerus2000
lehnerus2000

Couldn't you create Text Boxes, which could then be positioned/sized as required?

JamesLeeP
JamesLeeP

I appreciate the tip, but this method is not exactly 'quick', especially for end users who are not as technically sophisticated. Re-positioning the graphic may work for one field, but what about the fields further down on the form? One would need to further adjust the font size, or create columns in the document...perhaps even a table to match the original document. This method just went from 'quick' to 'it's just faster to print the document, and use a pen.'

maluiv
maluiv

This works great for me, but I would paste the scanned image in the master slide. You can create several master slides in case of a multiple page form.

ssharkins
ssharkins

Placing it in the header keeps it out of the main document's drawing layer.

ssharkins
ssharkins

OneNote's a great idea, but it doesn't come with all versions of Office.

psauve
psauve

Place one form per page in the same Word document!

barry.brown2006
barry.brown2006

That works perfectly. Once you get it aligned vertically, just double click on the box you want to enter text into and you are there. No more spaces or tabs.

Realvdude
Realvdude

Though many graphics programs can scan, as well as MS Word. You could also edit the graphic in Word to add text boxes; but again could be much slower than using hitting the Enter, Tab and Space keys to get where you want to type.

ssharkins
ssharkins

I suppose if you want people to have the ability to reuse it, you could do that. I'm not sure I'd want to take that route, but this might be a good way to line things up when you're printing to an existing form. And then you could remove the picture from the header.

Realvdude
Realvdude

As mentioned after the first graphic in the third setance.

ssharkins
ssharkins

It's quick when it works -- if you can't make it line up, it's not a great solution for you. Nothing wrong with trying and you should know quickly enough whether it's something you want to bother with.

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