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Curing the Pain of Pre-Printed Forms

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Curing the Pain of Pre-Printed Forms

JimmiKin
Despite the popularity of using electronic forms for capturing data, many businesses and organisations still rely on pre-printed forms. Even Government authorities continue to mail paper forms and expect them to be painstakingly filled in by hand or completed using a typewriter!

If you, like me, have awful handwriting and your typewriter is buried under a mound of dust in the loft, filling in paper forms can be excruciating. Not only that, manual and mechanical processes are error-prone, resulting in inaccurate information flooding back to the form publisher.

When I received a pre-printed Criminal Record Check Application form*, I decided I would try to find a solution for filling it in without tarnishing the pages with my spider-like scrawl or the fixed type of my 30 year old typewriter.

Despite having word processing, DTP and image editing software installed on my PC, I figured an application purposely developed for designing and filling forms would be better suited.

I knew Adobe had software in the guise of LiveCycle and Acrobat but these were far too expensive for the purpose of my experiment. Not only that, having battled with Illustrator on many occasions, I imagined Adobe's form design solutions would be as equally unwieldy. I therefore needed an inexpensive and simple solution...

After typing "form design software" into my search engine, I clicked the link to the first organic result I thought would accomplish my goal - a form design application called <a href="http://www.flysoftware.com/products/inform_designer/overview.asp">InForm Designer</a> developed by a company called <a href="http://www.flysoftware.com">Fly Software</a>. I'd never heard of the software or indeed the company but after a quick read of the product page I downloaded, virus scanned then installed.

I followed the two inline tutorials provided and immediately realised I could import a PDF or bitmap form and use it as the background to my InForm Designer project. I also discovered an option to prevent the PDF or bitmap background being printed while still having it viewable on-screen.

After scanning the pages of my pre-printed form, I imported each bitmap into a page of my InForm Designer project. All I needed to do now was add interactive form elements such as text boxes and check boxes so I could type and click what the pre-printed form demanded.

Long story short: 30 minutes later I had added all the interactive form elements I needed and the form was ready to be filled in! A click of a button put InForm Designer into filler mode and I was ready to type my name, address, blah de blah.

So far so good! But what about printing the filled in form content? Would it align with the pre-printed form? Sensibly I printed on blank sheets of paper then compared each one with its original counterpart. Unfortunately the output on each page was misaligned by 4mm horizontally and 5mm vertically. I had no idea whether the software, scanning process or printer had caused the discrepancy but whatever it was I guessed I would need to start moving the content of each InForm page to compensate. Or so I thought!

I was about to save my InForm project when I noticed an option on InForm Designer's File menu called Printer Offsets. After curiously clicking it I discovered a mechanism for specifying horizontal and vertical offsets that Fly Software claimed would ensure output aligned perfectly on a page no matter what printer was used.

After typing the 4mm and 5mm misalignment values into the corresponding InForm controls, I again printed on blank sheets of paper then compared the output to the pre-printed form. Just as the developer had stated, the alignment of the filled in form content was perfect.

I was now certain that InForm Designer was the form design and filling solution I needed, but would its cost suit my limited budget? Thankfully, yes. Fly Software use a licensing mechanism other developers could learn from. Instead of buying a licence for the entire application, all I needed to purchase were licences for the design tools I had used to create my form - text boxes and check boxes.

After visiting the Fly Software website and parting with just $15, the two InForm Designer tools I had used were licensed and the copyright watermark that had been inflicted on my form pages disappeared. Minutes later my pre-printed form contained the information it requested. Not painstakingly written by hand or punched by a typewriter, but beautifully printed to pin-point precision.

As you can see, InForm Designer fulfilled my requirements without compromise. My only quibble: I had to create the electronic overlay of the pre-printed form myself instead of the publisher presenting me with something similar themselves!

I'm sure if publishers provide an electronic overlay for their pre-printed forms together with access to a free-to-use form filler application (which Fly Software do indeed provide), more forms would be completed, and errors that occur as a result of poor handwriting would be eliminated.

As a recipient of pre-printed forms, how have you avoided filling them in manually or mechanically?

As a publisher of pre-printed forms, have you provided recipients with an electronic form overlay so they can fill then print the information you require? If you have, what did you use to design the form overlay?

*The Criminal Record Check Application form is published by the Criminal Records Bureau (UK Home Office). It is only available as a paper form and must be completed by UK residents who will be in contact with children or vulnerable adults either voluntarily or through employment.