Collecting Data Using PDF Forms

In his keynote address at the 2014 Hadoop Summit, Hortonworks CEO Rob Bearden estimated that the “digital universe will grow from 3.2 zettabytes today to 40 zettabytes in only six years.” With one zettabyte equaling somewhere near one billion terabytes, that’s quite a bit of information that needs to be collected. Unbeknownst to many, the right PDF software application stands to play a big role in this process.

Using enterprise grade PDF software, your organization has the ability to create forms to collect data from those who access it. Sharing these forms is easy. You have the option to email them, make them available for Download from the web or share them through a SharePoint server if you’re using a PDF editor product such as PhantomPDF from Foxit. What makes PDF software such a logical choice is how easy it makes the process.

Building the form

Typically users fill-out two types of forms – those that are interactive and those that are non-interactive.

A non-interactive form is a plain document where users enter information with the typewriter tool on their PDF reader or print them out, fill them out by hand, and then scan them into a digital image.

Interactive forms, on the other hand, are a lot more powerful and robust. The technology behind this type of form allows users to enter information directly into the fillable areas on the document.  Products like PhantomPDF even automate parts of the form development process.  Form elements can be

  • Radio buttons
  • Push buttons
  • Checkboxes
  • Combo boxes
  • List boxes
  • Text fields
  • Signature fields

For data collection purposes, a unique name based on the surrounding content is applied to each form field.

Collecting data

Using a non-interactive form puts the task of organizing collected data in a manual process, so someone has to transfer the information into a readable file. For zettabytes of data, this is an understandably inefficient process.

Interactive forms, however, allow you to export form data to a file, even export form data, and send it via email. Relying on JavaScript’s ability to connect with Windows ODBC, developers have the ability to connect form information to a database to insert, update or delete data. Leveraging the features available in PhantomPDF, you can even combine form data collected from multiple PDF files into one sheet as a CSV file.

So as you can see, interactive forms make the process of collecting data not only easy, but in some cases, nearly instantaneous, as well as enabling you to make data collection a standardized business process.

As businesses move into the future, even smaller organizations will find themselves reliant on data collected from customers, prospects and even employees to help drive the business decision making process. Tools such as PDF software make data collection a simpler process, especially for those who aren’t keen on learning a query language to manage the incoming flow of information. Add this to the many other tasks that a quality PDF solution brings to the table and it’s easy to see why so many businesses are making PDF software applications a standard in their everyday toolkit.

7 thoughts on “Collecting Data Using PDF Forms

  1. alienfrik

    Hello, I am new on this forum. Is there a way to export form fields (text field, combo box,..) to similar pdf, so that I don t have to do it again on new pdf, the fields are on the same position. So I have a lot of same pdf and I want that receiver of the pdf to fill out only in fields I want. And that I don’t do it for all 100 pdf. So I want to export and import form fields without autorun Form Field Recognition.

  2. Eugene Demin

    This is something I always wanted to utilize in my small business. I know how to label form fields, but I don’t have java script and I am not about to learn it to make a few forms. Where can I find someone to help me make a few forms for my business?

    1. FOXITBLOG Post author

      An alternative to using JavaScript for data collection in your form would be to use Foxit Cloud Forms Publisher. This solution will take an existing interactive PDF form and turn into an online form, which can be accessed through a web browser. Users can then access the form by going to a hyperlink that you provide them with. As the form owner, you can then view all form response data in a single location, download a CSV file with all responses to your form, or download individually completed forms.

      To learn more about Foxit Cloud Forms Publisher please visit

    1. FOXITBLOG Post author

      There are multiple ways that the fields can be labeled, but the easiest is to use the Form Field Recognition function in the FORM tab, or you can use the Manage form fields button on the vertical bar on the left hand side of PhantomPDF. To collect data, you will need to use JavaScript. For more information, please refer to page 203 of the User Manual. You can access the User Manual from the HELP tab, the third button from the left hand side of the horizontal ribbon toolbar.


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