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How to flatten PDF forms with Preview in OS X

If you need to save a filled-out PDF form therefore the content is don't editable, you can do so with Preview in OS X.

Topher Kessler

August 6, 2013 2:01 PM PDT

The PDF format is handy as being a cross-platform way of preserving document layout and structure; PDFs are generally used for electronic forms with editable fields so that you can fill in data. While this is convenient, if you have a PDF form you happen to be managing, you may run into a problem if you want to save the PDF's entered data in a static form that can no longer be edited.

Doing this is what's called "flattening" a document, and it is commonly put on any file type which contains multiple elements to present a final rendered product. For example, a Photoshop image could have numerous layers with it so each layer may be edited separately from the artist. Flattening the layers combines them in a single layer, making them no longer editable independently.

PDF with editable fields in OS X's Preview

These fields are editable by simply clicking them, and also to prevent them from being edited you will need to "flatten" the PDF (click for larger view).

(Credit: Screenshot by Topher Kessler/CNET)

Similarly, an editable field in the PDF is actually another layer that the PDF format supports, and they can be flattened to generate any entered contents static. However, in case you add data with a PDF form in Apple's Preview program (the default PDF reader in OS X), you could possibly find no explicit choice to flatten the PDF. If you save the PDF or duplicate it to a different document, or utilize the "Export" option inside File menu, the fields will continue to be editable whenever you next open the document.

Despite this apparent limitation, OS X has a feature that can properly flatten a PDF in Preview. Instead of using standard file saving and exporting features supported within the program, make use of the global "Print to PDF" service in OS X. This global service will take any document within the form that is sent to the printer, and save it as a PDF instead. Since the printer cannot handle multiple layers, the service will flatten all contents to some basic PDF document.

To make this happen, simply press Command-P or choose the print option in the File menu. Then select "Save as PDF" from your PDF menu at the bottom-left from the print dialog box. When finished, the resulting document will will no longer be editable.

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