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Create a smart PDF document with Scribus

Scribus is an open source desktop publishing application for several platforms, including Linux. In his latest tutorial Sukrit Dhandhania uses it to create a smart PDF document designed to help collect data…

This article originally appeared in issue 87 of Linux User & Developer magazine.

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Sometimes we need to create a document containing a form for a client to fill out. This form is shared either by email or by downloading from a web location. A lot of people will use a word processor, most often Microsoft Word, to create such a document. It’s the popularity and general availability of Microsoft Word that is the reason for using this tool in most of these cases. One issue with this approach is that using a word processor to create a form will more often than not cause you to make a compromise on your design as it is not a professional design application, but a word processor. A better approach to solving this problem would be to use a more standard file format, such as PDF. PDF documents work the same across all major operating systems, such as Windows, Mac OS, and Linux. Let’s take a look at how to use Scribus, an open source desktop publishing application available for all these three platforms, to create a smart PDF document containing a form which your client can fill out. In the end, she can hit the Submit button at the end of the document, and the data she just entered will be sent right back to you by the document.


Scribus: This great open source desktop publishing application for Linux is a must…
Adobe Acrobat Reader: Like it or loathe it, it’s one of the best PDF readers around today.

1. Create your document

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We’ll begin by creating a simple one-page form document. Create a new document with Scribus. Go to File>New and pick a single A4 document from the options presented to you. You may leave the rest of the settings to the default options. Hit the OK button.

2. Grid view
To make things easy for you while you are designing your document, it may be a good idea to bring up the grid view in Scribus. In the grid view, Scribus displays a green grid in the background of your document which makes placing your objects in line easier. To enable the grid view, navigate to the View item in Scribus’s menu and check the Show Grid option. The grid is there as a reference for you while you design your document and will not appear in the final PDF document that you output.

3. Ruler guides

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Like the grid view, you can also use the ruler guides to help you while you design your document. The guides are a more flexible marking of lines that prove very useful when designing a document. Make sure that you are able to see the ruler at the top and left-hand sides of your document. If not, you can enable them by going to View and checking the Show Rulers option in the menu; also enable the Show Guides item in the same menu. To use the guides, click on the top or left side ruler and drag your mouse into the document without letting go of the mouse button. Let go of the button when you arrive at the point where you want the line to be. By placing such lines from the top and left, you can easily align your objects. Like the grid, the ruler guides too don’t appear in the final output version of your document.

4. Plan our your document
Now we’re almost ready to begin working on the document. What we need to do before that is to figure out what our document will look like. Let’s say we are designing a PDF form for our clients so that we can collect their contact information. So this form would consist of their name, address, telephone number and email address. Aside from that, we need to include a Submit button. We will also try and make the document a bit easier on the eyes and throw in a nice background and a couple of images. Okay, time to begin designing.

5. Add a title

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Let’s begin by giving your document a title – Contact Information Form. To do this, click on the Insert option in the menu bar and click on the Insert Text Frame button. The mouse cursor will now look different. Create a text box by clicking and dragging the mouse. Once you have done so, double-click inside the newly created text box and enter the text ‘Contact Information Form’.