Adobe Acrobat Filter: Acrobat help, hacking PDFs
April 4, 2014 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I am regular user of Adobe Acrobat Pro (Version 9, currently), for document manipulation purposes. I am certainly not expert at it, but I'm not entirely stupid. I sometimes run into forms (the ones I work with are typically from various state and federal government agencies) where the helpful persons setting up those forms either accidentally or set up with programming/permissions that don't allow me be able to manipulate the forms. These are not high level sensitive documents, or anything, and all I am trying to do is to be able to add/edit/delete various form fields in order to fill out the forms properly. Here is a link to the current form that has me stymied - it is the S-Corporation election form from the IRS (form 2553):

In prior years I have had no problem do the simple form fields that I've needed to do, but with this latest version of the form it won't let me convert it, to say PDF/A, or use the form wizard. In some cases it tells me I can't do certain things because it is an XML form, in other case it is because of the security settings - it is set for no security, BUT the way the document is set up changes are not allowed.

There must be some way to allow me to save/export/whatever this document that will allow me to manipulate this PDF - what am I missing?

NOTE: In certain circumstances like this in the past I have exported the PDF as TIF format, then converted them back to PDF - this allowed me to do what I need to do. I resist this approach, however, because I find this tends to degrade the quality and appearance of the document.
posted by kjl291 to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Your use of the term "manipulate" is confusing me. Are you saying you cannot fill-in the forms? Or, are you saying you want to actually alter the content of the form?
posted by Thorzdad at 8:11 AM on April 4, 2014

You could use a command-line tool like Ghostscript to strip all the special functionality from the file without losing any quality, but that might be more of a scorched-earth solution than you're looking for.
posted by Zozo at 8:19 AM on April 4, 2014

I ask because, government forms should be locked-down to thwart alteration.

That said, if they aren't password-protected, you should be able to open any PDF in Illustrator and hack-away to your heart's content, then re-save as a new PDF.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:19 AM on April 4, 2014

Sorry - By "manipulate," for my purposes, I mean I need to be able to add my own form fields, and/or delete/edit the form fields already in place from the document's creator. Here is what I do with forms such as this - I put in my own form fields in the relevant spots (often text fields, but sometimes other types) and name the form fields in accordance with the field names of a specific set of XML files that I work with - this allows me to import the corresponding fields into the form via the "Manage Form Data" functionality of Acrobat.
posted by kjl291 at 8:21 AM on April 4, 2014

We use A-PDF Restriction Remover to unlock forms that have weird security, and it works really well.
posted by AzraelBrown at 8:22 AM on April 4, 2014

"I ask because, government forms should be locked-down to thwart alteration."

I agree, however I have no desire to alter the actual form, just the fields - I just want to be able to fill it out using adobe acrobat and my fields and not theirs. The purpose of the form is to be filled out - which many people do by hand. A fairly large point of a PDF and Acrobat pro is to allow one to do this very thing, and if this form can be filled out by hand (which it often is) there is no reason under the sun why I shouldn't be able to put in the exact same information using fields of my choice. I would still be providing the same answers anyone would if doing it by hand or anyone filling it out via Acrobat reader using the form fields as they currently stand.

This is not some high level, or complex, or classified document. It is a simple form publicly available to anyone. I have no desire to alter the actual form, but there is no reason (other than a bureaucratic desire to complicate things) that I shouldn't be able to fill out the proper form data in my own way.
posted by kjl291 at 8:35 AM on April 4, 2014 [1 favorite]

"if they aren't password-protected"

Also, it is not password protected.
posted by kjl291 at 8:36 AM on April 4, 2014

I agree, however I have no desire to alter the actual form, just the fields

As someone who creates PDFs as part of my job, this *is* altering the form. The reason under the sun that you can't add your own fields where ever you like/in whatever size is because they don't want you to. Forms are forms for a reason - they are designed (one hopes) to be read quickly and easily by someone, which happens best when everything is in the same place in every form. You adding fields wherever means the person or the machine on the other end of the process either can't read it or it takes longer.

ANYWAY. I have sometimes run across weird Adobe forms where I *should* be able to fill out a field (an already existing one that they want me to fill out) but someone has done something that makes it so that can't happen. Sometimes what works is to print it and set the print-to to Microsoft XPS Document Writer, which then (if it works) creates an xps document that you can then save as a PDF with no restrictions. This only works sometimes, in my experience.
posted by rtha at 9:00 AM on April 4, 2014

If you know how to torrent, go to one of the big sites and search for "pdf cracker." There's about 3-4 companies who make these (AAA, if I remember correctly).

Also, there's always this. I have no idea about the veracity of the website.
posted by kuanes at 9:47 AM on April 4, 2014

The short answer is that the form you noted in your question cannot be edited with Acrobat Pro. It is an XML form (as opposed to a Static Form). You need Live Cycle Designer to edit or LCD Server to convert. Both are pricey.

But if you want another site to look at., but it won't help for this form because the password protection is not what is causing you grief. It is the PDF structure. In fact, the security of that IRS form can simply be turned off via a menu. FILE MENU>>PROPERTIES>>SECURITY>>SECURITY METHOD>>"no security", (note: this example is from Acrobat Pro XI. Your version could be differnt)

You may be able to print to an image only PDF if you have the drivers, but that will kill the ative form fields. You could, conceivably, take that "image PDF", bring it into Acro Pro 9 and rebuild it. As I haven't used AP9 in a couple of years (I work with APXI and LCD3), I am not sure what you will get out of it.
posted by lampshade at 10:27 AM on April 4, 2014 [2 favorites]

I appreciate all of the answers - I've tried them all and unfortunately nothing worked - but I was able to figure it out because of the feedback received from you fine folks.

I did say I didn't want to export it as a TIFF and then reimport that back to a PDF - that does work but I have found that leads to a bit of image degradation.

I ultimately tried exporting it to encapsulated postscript (eps) and back to PDF, and it worked great, with no image degradation, at least to my eye.

Thanks again!
posted by kjl291 at 10:58 AM on April 4, 2014

and name the form fields in accordance with the field names of a specific set of XML files that I work with - this allows me to import the corresponding fields into the form via the "Manage Form Data" functionality of Acrobat.

I'm having trouble understanding exactly the kind of alteration you're trying to make (as are some other commenters, I think), but this remark makes me think that maybe you just want to have control over the *names* of the fields (not, for example, their types, their positions on the page, their quantity, their data integrity restrictions), just to make the names match your XML files, so Acrobat can figure out the correspondence between the fields in the form and the contents of the XML files.

If that's right, maybe it'd be easier to pre-process the XML files to make a version whose names match the PDF form as provided. It's much easier to alter XML (say, by XSLT, or even by plain-text processing software like Unix shell tools) than to alter PDFs, and that way, if there is a machine processing the forms at the other end (as rtha suggested), then it won't be confused by renamed fields.
posted by stebulus at 10:02 AM on April 5, 2014

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