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Friday, January 27, 2012

Saving a PDF that doesn't allow saving form contents

Several organisations, consulates, for example, have forms that need to be filled up in PDFs. They have very smart PDFs that change as you fill out the form and generate nice 2D bar codes at the end with all the information easily scannable when you submit the form. Most of these forms can be saved after you've filled them out, which is important if it's complex and you need to work on it for a few days, or if you need to put it on a pen drive and take it somewhere else to print.

Every now and then however, I've come across a PDF that won't allow you to save the form contents. This kinda sucks, so I decided to find a work around.

I first tried the print to PDF option, however Adobe won't let you print these particular PDFs to a PDF.

I tried Preview, but you can't fill out the form in Preview.

Then I tried actually printing it to a dummy printer. Note that this is for MacOSX.

  1. The first step is to open your printer settings. If you don't have a printer create one:
    Print & Fax
  2. Then open the Print Queue and pause it
    HP Deskjet F4200 series
  3. Step 3, is to print your document to this printer.
  4. Now look into /private/var/spool/cups for a file that was created within the last few minutes. It should start with d and have a lot of numbers after it. You'll need sudo:
    sudo ls -l /private/var/spool/cups
  5. copy this file somewhere convenient, and give it a .ps extension (it's a postscript file).
  6. You can now open this file with Preview. I recommend opening it and reordering the pages, and then save it as a PDF.
That's it. There's a way to do it for windows too, but I don't have a windows box handy to document it. Linux is trivial.

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