Making fillable PDF character sheet with LaTeX

This is more a collection of notes than a real tutorial, but I’ve recently learned how to make fillable PDFs with LaTeX and, since making fillable PDFs often requires an expensive license, thought some of you might find it useful.

(This is also a rough translation of my Italian blogpost on the same topic, without the swearing)

Just a word of advice before going on: LaTeX is hard and can be pretty painful to master. If you are already familiar with it, go on, otherwise, this is not a beginner’s guide (and I cannot, in good conscience, suggest to somebody to learn LaTeX).

The package

This is pretty straightforward: all the functionalities are provided by the ubiquitous hyperref package, so you just need to use that. In fact, you’d better keep the documentation at hand, while not exactly exhaustive on the topic it’s still usefull.


There are three fields (I’ve only used two, so far):

  • TextField: “free” text
  • ChoiceMenu: drop-down menu or radio buttons
  • CheckBox : a simple on/off checkbox

They have to be included in a Form environment, of which you can only have one per document (my dirty hack is to wrap the whole document in the form). An MWE is something like this:





It just draws a fillable textbox, which is, by default, as high as the line and long 4 inches. You can adjust the size using the width and height optional parameters, such as:

\TextField[height=1.25cm, width=8cm]{1}

The argument is written as text (you can even format it with other LaTeX commands) on the left of the box (I have no idea about how to change the positioning, though, it’s probably hidden somewhere in the package doc).


Again, you can set height and width, and even have it checked by default with checked:


Technically you should be able to change the checkmark to other symbols (such as a WoD-style dot), but be aware that some PDF viewers will not abide (Preview on Mac is one of those). If you wanna try anyway the syntax is this \CheckBox[checkboxsymbol=\ding{108}]{Check } and the numeric values can be found in the pifont package documentation.


This is a dropdown menu, but, as for the checkbox, how it is displayed is really up to the user’s software (and Preview is not nice). The syntax is pretty straightforward:


While default is optional, I’ve found out that some PDF viewers make it really hard to find an empty dropdown menu, so putting even a . as a default value is going to make it easier on the users. The first argument is label to be displayed, the second is a comma-separated list of possible values.

For some weird reason, Preview also injects a bunch of actions such as “Copy” or “Convert to LaTeX” in the options…


This is not something I’ve experimented with (in fact, I’m afraid to do it), but in theory you should be able to use JavaScript to validate or calculate field values, and even react on user events such as onclick. You can find (little) more info on this in hyperref docs.


Is this using pdflatex or lualatex? I’m guessing pdflatex as I don’t think inputenc is needed for lualatex. I’ve fallen out of LaTeX since working in a company that treats PDFs as a second class citizen to Word docs, but I wondered whether changing might generate a more-compliant pdf? Looks like there’s some more options for unicode in hyperref you can turn on.

I usually use pdflatex, because I try to keep my documents simple enough to be converted to other formats via pandoc.

Depending on the complexity of the typesetting you can even replace LaTeX with markdown and pandoc (which is easier to use and has more output options, for example I use it for generating epubs).

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Yeah pandoc is nice :smiley:

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