Editing a PDF (sorta) on Ubuntu

I have more than once had to fill in a paper form for people in America. Obviously, doing such things is a huge pain, because actual paper mail — with stamps — isn’t just so last century, it’s the century before that. You know, the one with robber barons and Lord Kelvin and workhouses. Put a stop to it. Email. Email, I tell you. It’s gonna catch on, just you wait. Anyway, a fair few American corporations (and, wouldjabelieveit, the American government too) provide PDF versions of their forms so you can download them and print them out at your leisure. They’re still designed to be printed and written on, though — they’re not officially PDF “forms” in the sense that the PDF reader can give you textboxes and an FDF file to fill them in, they’re just PDF documents. Nonetheless, I find myself wanting to be able to open them up in OpenOffice.org and edit them. Now, you can’t do that. (Well, you might be able to, but it’s hard.) All I actually need to do is overtype them. So what I do is:

  1. Convert the PDF to an EPS file with pdftops: pdftops -eps AmericanGovernmentForm.pdf (the pdftops program is in the poppler-utils package)
  2. Create a new empty document in OpenOffice.org and drag the new .eps file onto it, which will embed it as an image
  3. Use Insert | Frame to draw a text frame on top of the new image (set it to have no border; set the background colour to anything other than No Fill and transparency to 100%)
  4. Overtype onto the form in the text frame
  5. Export as PDF to get a PDF version with your text in
  6. Email it to the government

No stamps. Their evil must be stopped.

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