Best Way to Modifiy Large Editable PDFs repeatedly

Hey there! I’m asking for help because I’ve got a job I’ve done a few times, and each time it’s been a slog - I’m hoping there’s a better way than what I’ve been doing so far.

One of our clients is a big fancy golf club, and this job in particular is handling their membership packets that contain all the info about pricing and benefits and whatnot. The base design hasn’t changed in forever, but over the last year I think they’ve sent through several changes - the last update was in late November of 2020, and I -just- got another one, to give you a sense of scale.

The changes themselves haven’t been huge headaches - the design is pretty simple, and the worst I’ve had to deal with in the base design is balancing out some weird line spacing. For the printed form, this is easy - I make the changes in InDesign and export them for print. Where I’m running into a huge, huge headache is that I’m simultaneously tasked with converting it to a fillable PDF for digital usage as well, and there are so many fields with special formatting, requirements, and settings that adding a single line or changing the space means I have to go through and re-set all of those.

While for small text updates I can often get away with making the edits both to the base InDesign document, Acrobat and Indesign do not handle their text and image boxes with the same integrity, so if I have image changes or any change to line spacing or structure then I either have to make a new PDF from the indesign document and re-set all the fillable fields -The auto recognize feature takes a lot of the pain out of positioning, but I still have to go through and check/change all the field names, settings, and make sure nothing was missed, which is very time consuming and difficult to make sure it’s a match for the last round; or I have to try to make the design changes in Acrobat to parallell the ones made in InDesign to the master document. This lets me keep the form formatting, but as mentioned above, Acrobat and Illustrator are not on the same page for design controls.

So right now I’ve got a pretty big workload with a pretty big chance to miss something for very small changes, no matter which route I take. I’m hoping someone out there can help me figure out a better approach to this - is there a better way to make changes to a fillable PDF in Acrobat, or preserve/transfer the fillable fields from one to another, or something else I’m not even thinking of? Or should I just tell my sales rep who’s sending me these jobs they’re going to have to accept that it’s not the minimum setup time they’re writing it up as?

Assuming you’ve got a good, finished PDF file of the form that works as intended…

Open the InDesign base layout, and take out all the InDesign-native form fields, if there are any. (In my PDF forms workflow, I’ve given up creating fields in InDesign. Even with the recent improvements, it’s not worth the extra trouble. When starting a new form, I use InDesign for the layout only, and add all the form fields in Acrobat.)

Then, when you need to change the base layout in InDesign:

  • Revise the layout as needed
  • Export the revised page(s) to PDF
  • Open the PDF of the form; (existing version) in Acrobat Pro
  • Use Acrobat’s Replace Pages function to bring in the revised base layout(s)

This leaves all the preexisting form fields intact and in position. Depending on the nature of the layout changes, you’ll have to adjust their positions accordingly (in form-edit mode), but everything else that made them work in the previous version will still be there; all the properties, defaults, and formatting, as well as the tab order. You won’t have to “re-set” them field-by-field, as described in your post. Of course, you’ll also have to add/delete fields as dictated by the revisions at hand, but it won’t be like starting over every time you make changes.

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Oh man I don’t know why I didn’t think of the replace page function - that should make things a ton easier! Thank you so much!

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