Filling Out Forms on a PC
+ a Few Words about OCR
A reader wrote to ask if there is a way to fill out forms on one's computer that have been downloaded or scanned. Well, let's start with downloaded forms, which are normally one of two types: those meant to be printed on paper and filled in manually, or those designed to have blank fields filled in on your computer, such as an online purchase order.
As for scanned forms, they can be output as OCR (optical character recognition) documents, which can be edited; but there is no easy way to fill in the blanks via your keyboard on a form that was designed to be printed out and filled in by hand.
Speaking of scanners, I get lots of calls from users who are confused about what scanners can and can't do. Here's a brief overview:
A scanner recreates what it sees on paper by "digitizing" everything into tiny dots, which — from a distance — appear to be an exact copy of what was scanned. Scanned items which are output to paper are likewise printed with tiny dots, which end up looking very much like the original document or image.
The sharpness of such output depends on the DPI (dots per inch) resolution used when scanning, as well as DPI chosen for the output of one's inkjet or laser printer. The scanning resolution is normally determined by what you tell the machine you intend to scan, such as a color photo or a shades-of-gray drawing or a page of black and white text.
You can choose the DPI for your print-outs, where 300 DPI is usually adequate for family snapshots, while a "draft" printout of a document intended for subsequent editing and printouts can be as little as 100 DPI. Printouts on high gloss paper for professional use are usually 600 DPI or higher. A scanned image that will only be shown online needn't be more than 96 DPI, since that's as high as the average monitor can display it anyway.
If you plan on scanning text you want to subsequently edit, you need OCR software, such as OmniPage or TextBridge. Some scanners come with an OCR program, and there are shareware programs that can be found online.
A scanner basically just "takes a picture" of a printed page, while an OCR program looks at the bitmap image and tries to convert the little dots into legible text that can be fed into a word processing or spreadsheet program (such as MSWord or Excel). The cleaner the original page, the better chance of its accurate reproduction. Otherwise your software can confuse characters such as, say, 3, 8, and S. Having the original document aligned properly to the edges of the scanner bed also helps to ensure accuracy, as does using a page that is free of coffee stains, fingerprints or penciled notes.
In any case, a spellchecker is almost always required before you are done editing OCR-scanned text.
Re: Filling In Forms via Your Computer
Regarding the above article on filling out forms, Richard Allen wrote to say, "I have
been using a program called Form Pilot for a number of years and am very happy with it. A number of types of documents can be used with it if converted to .bmp, .jpg, etc.or scanned in. The version I use is a free version, which I don't believe is available now, but can be purchased for about $30.00. I used it for filling out and saving 1040 and CA540 forms before they changed the PDF format, which allowed the forms to be saved."
More About Filling In Forms via Your Computer
Bob Fulton wrote to say, "I found a free Advanced Health Care Directive on the California Healthcare Association. website in PDF form. As you might guess, I could not fill in the blanks on the computer as there was only a hand there - no active cursor. I tried a select all, then copy, then paste into a blank MSWord doc page. It copied without the PDF format, but slightly changed in format - "fill-in lines" missing. However, it was relatively easy to edit into a very useable form and fill in names, dates, wishes, etc. The final forms looked very "professional" and we had them notarized! After I did all this, I found out that they also furnish it in MSWord form! But I learned a lesson, hopefully! I've tried it on another PDF form, and it worked.
Thank you, Richard and Bob, for your helpful feedback. It is appreciated!
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