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Preview damages PDF forms?

Posted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 5:16 pm
by Jay Cline
NOLS hiring part time tech. Their website says that "Apple's preview function is known to damage PDF forms"

Attention Apple users: If you are filling out this form using a Macintosh computer or iOS device, please use only Adobe Reader or Acrobat to do this. Apple's preview function is known to damage PDF forms. It may look to you like the form has been successfully completed, but when viewed on another computer the form will be blank.

Re: Preview damages PDF forms?

Posted: Sat Jan 07, 2017 9:16 pm
by Stephen Hart
Maybe this came from here, a 2013 blog post: ... pdf-files/

I do remember reading that some pdf forms use features unique to Adobe Acrobat and Reader.

This 2014 blog post appears to repeat the above, from khkonsulting, while adding criticism for Preview not supporting some PDF features. ... -for-work/

Just for fun, I downloaded the form, opened it in Preview, filled in a couple of data fields and saved it. I then opened it in Acrobat Pro 2015 (the latest). The fields were filled in and viewable. Though Acrobat hides all fields with colored overlays until you click, the data I filled in was there. I then downloaded the form again, opened it in Acrobat and filled in some fields. Preview saw those as well.

I'd guess this is similar to the fact that nearly every pdf online says it requires Adobe Reader for viewing (not true). When I've asked some senders and web owners about this, they often were clueless.

Maybe this admonition is out of date.

Furthermore, I've found that fillable forms are often badly designed, some with tiny fonts, some with the fillable field overlapping text on the form. Nonetheless, I've filled in dozens of pdf forms in Preview and never had a complaint.

Re: Preview damages PDF forms?

Posted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 11:31 am
by Stephen Hart
We just ran into a similar issue today with an official Washington State Retirement form.

Trying to view or just download the pdf resulted in a pdf with the following (false) statement:
Please wait...
If this message is not eventually replaced by the proper contents of the document, your PDF viewer may not be able to display this type of document.
You can upgrade to the latest version of Adobe Reader for Windows®, Mac, or Linux® by visiting
I tried both Safari and Firefox with the same results. The downloaded pdf looks the same (with just the message above) in Adobe Reader or Acrobat CC.
It appears that the site may be detecting that the requesting computer is a Mac and serving the error message pdf only.