How many times have you received a PDF file that needed to be filled in, but there was no convenient way to do it? We’ve all been there, and the hassle of printing a document or finding software you can use to fill in the form can be a bit annoying. Apps like Microsoft Word can in fact convert PDF files into an editable format, but they often ruin the formatting in the process, plus Microsoft Word isn’t exactly a free tool. Even if you’re not the one filling the form yourself, you might feel bad for not making it more convenient for other people to fill in your form. Thankfully, there are ways you can make your PDF file fillable for anyone who opens it.

The most official way to do this is, of course, using Adobe Acrobat DC (the paid version) on your desktop or laptop. But we’re big fans of free tools here, and we’re here to help you create a fillable PDF form for free. To do this, we’re going to be using an online tool called PDFescape. This tool is also available as a desktop app but, much like Adobe Acrobat, advanced editing features like these are paid. The online version is ad-supported, but you can use it for free. There are some limitations though — files must be less than 10MB in size and have less than 100 pages.

Create a fillable PDF from scratch

PDFescape gives you the option to either create your own PDF form from scratch, or upload a PDF file to edit. This can be useful if you’ve already created your form but didn’t know how to make it fillable. However, we’re going to start by making one from the ground-up. We’re going to use a simple form just to show you the possibilities.

  • Go to www.pdfescape.com/open and choose Create a new PDF Document. Choose the number of pages (up to 25) and the size of the page, then click Create.
  • Start by adding the text you want to your form. Click the Text button in the top left corner to add text. You can choose from a handful of fonts, font sizes, and other formatting options. Like we’ve said, we’re going for a pretty simple example here. Let’s say we’re creating a registration form for an event, for example. Here’s the basis for the form we want to create in our example.

The base of the PDF form, showing just text

The base of the PDF form, showing just text

  • Now, we have to add the form fields we want to use to make the PDF fillable. For the Name and Email fields, we’re going to want to use the Text form field type. This allows users to enter a single line of text. Click Form Field, choose the default type Text and click Select. Then draw the field where you want to place it. You can simply click anywhere to create a field there with default dimensions and resize it afterward, too.

A PDF form with a fillable text field

A PDF form with a fillable text field
Once the field is created, you can fill it in yourself, as a way to give users a hint about what to write. A field called Name should be fairly self-explanatory, but it might be useful for others.

  • For the Country field, we can use a Dropdown field type.
    • Start by clicking Form Field, then choose the Dropdown type and click Select. Click where you want to place the field and resize it to your needs.
    • To add multiple options to the list, right-click the form field and choose Object properties.

Configuring a dropdown list for a fillable PDFConfiguring a dropdown list for a fillable PDF

    • Add each option as a separate line next to Field options. Click OK once you’re done.
    • You now have a dropdown menu to select from the options you added.
  • For the age field, let’s say we only want to specify an age group. We can use a radio button for this. Here’s how:
    • Click Form Field, then choose the Radio type and click Select.
    • In order for the radio buttons to work as intended – as in, you can only select one – you need to create them all in one go. We’ll create six options here. You can also right-click one of the existing buttons and choose Duplicate to have it attached to the same group of buttons.
    • Now, radio buttons don’t come with labels, so you’re going to have to add them as text. In the end, it’ll look something like this:

Fillable PDF with radio buttonsFillable PDF with radio buttons

  • Next, in order to choose interests, we’re going to go with regular checkboxes. Unlike radio buttons, these let you choose as many options as you want. Click Form Field, choose the Checkbox type, then click Select. Place as many checkboxes as you see fit. Much like radio buttons, checkboxes don’t have labels attached, so you’re going to have to add some text manually. Your form should look something like this, though hopefully with better alignment.

A fillable PDF with checkboxesA fillable PDF with checkboxes

  • For the last field, the goal is to let the user write longer text, so instead of a standard text form field, we’re going to use a text paragraph. Click Form Field, select the Text Paragraph type, then click Select. Then, draw a box for the user to write text. With that, our form is complete.
  • Now, use the sidebar on the left and click the Save & Download PDF… button (the green square with two arrows). You’ll now have a proper PDF file. You can open it in any PDF reader, and it will be fillable. Here’s what it looks like filled in:

A fillable PDF form filled with a standard PDF readerA fillable PDF form filled with a standard PDF reader

Now you can share your original file with anyone, and ask them to fill it in. Of course, you don’t have to design it the exact way we did it — we just wanted to show off some of the possibilities with a tool like this.

Use an existing PDF

While the steps above are definitely a valid way to create a fillable PDF file, it’s not always what you want. What if you received a PDF file and you want to turn that into a fillable form? Or maybe you used a more powerful tool like Microsoft Word to format the document, but now you want it to be fillable? PDFescape can do that too. Here’s a quick showcase of how it works:

Previously-created PDF file open in PDFescapePreviously-created PDF file open in PDFescape

  • Your PDF will open, and now you have all the same tools as before to make it fillable.
  • Add all the fields you need to add here. You can still add more text, too, which is important if you want to use radio buttons or checkboxes. Here’s what we did in our example:

PDF file now with fillable fieldsPDF file now with fillable fields

  • There’s no field for the signature, but you shouldn’t need one. Most PDF readers let you annotate the file, which can be used for a signature if necessary. For devices like tablets and convertibles, users can even use a digital pen to write their signature.

Creating fillable forms like this makes it much easier to get answers to forms, since the person filling them in doesn’t need any special software to do it. It may not work with very basic PDF viewers – like the pre-installed software on a phone – but if it allows annotations, you should be good. We filled these forms with the PDF viewer in Microsoft’s Edge browser.

This is one example of a tool that can create fillable PDFs, but there are others. LibreOffice is another free tool that lets you do this, for example. We went with PDFescape because it’s simpler and doesn’t require any kind of installation. We hope you found this guide useful. Be sure to let us know if there’s anything else we should add.