Filling forms with OmniGraffle

The ubiquity of scanners that convert documents to PDFs has led many of the businesses I deal with to send me forms via email. It is expected that I will print the form, fill it out, rescan it, and email it back. But since I don’t have a scanner, I can’t do what’s expected. Here’s what I do instead.

First, I open the attached form in Preview. I select the form, sans the surrounding white space, and copy it to the Clipboard.

I then open OmniGraffle and paste the form onto the new page. After centering the image, I lock it so I won’t accidentally move it with any later operations. Then I fill out the form using OmniGraffle’s tools—putting Xs in boxes, circling items, adding text, etc. Multi-line text can be adjusted to fit on the form’s lines by setting the leading. If a signature is needed, I import a PDF of my signature1 and move it to the appropriate spot.

When I’m done filling out the form, I export it as a PDF and attach that PDF to the email that goes back to the original sender. And I save the PDF for my own records.

If the form has more than one page, I simply repeat the process for each page.

You don’t need OmniGraffle for this trick; any vector graphics program should work, but don’t be surprised if yours doesn’t. I know that LineForm and Intaglio work, but VectorDesigner and my old copy of Illustrator CS2 don’t. VectorDesigner moves the form elements around when you paste it in; Illustrator CS2 just won’t paste it at all. (This is probably unfair to Illustrator. CS2 is an old PowerPC application, and I’m testing it on an Intel-based iMac. I suspect a more current version would work fine.)

I’ll probably have access to a scanner soon, but I think I’ll still fill out forms this way. It’s more convenient because I can do everything at my desk, and the result looks better. Also, since I can type faster and more accurately than I can handwrite, it’s probably faster, too.


  1. I scanned my signature about 15 years ago, when I had ready access to a scanner, and used a vector drawing program (Illustrator? Freehand? too long ago for me to remember) to outline it. The file size is small (less than 8 kbytes) and it always prints at the printer’s resolution. I’ve been using EPS and PDF versions of it ever since, more than justifying the time it took to make the outline.