document automation

PDF Templates

Updated: September 22, 2021

Afterpattern apps can auto-populate any PDF, whether or not it is "fillable."

Create template

Create a PDF template

Upload a PDF to an Afterpattern app to begin making it into a fillable template. To upload a PDF, navigate to the Templates tab in the app builder, then click "Upload" under the PDF section:

As soon as you upload a PDF, you will be brought into the PDF template editor. This is where you will add variables and conditional logic to your new template.

Add variables

Add variables to your template

Adding variables to your PDF template is a two-step process:

Step 1. Draw fields

You can draw several different types of fields onto your PDF. The most common are Text and Checkbox fields: 

Step 2. Assign variable

After you draw a field, you need to assign a variable to it (i.e. what variable do you want to populate this field?). You can assign a variable to a field by either double-clicking on the field itself or clicking on the field once and using the 'Choose a value' dropdown:

Add variables

Add conditional logic

After you insert a variable onto your template, you can click on that variable to add conditional logic to it:

Clicking the 'Conditionally insert' toggle gives you access to an Expression Editor (learn more about creating conditional logic).

What is unique about creating conditional logic on PDF template variables is that you can define what's known as an "else statement": an alternate definition for the variable to be used if the conditional logic expression is not satisfied.

Typically, you will leave the else statement empty, which amounts to telling your app "insert this variable if the following conditional expression is true, else insert nothing."

Add variables

Auto map variables to PDF fields

Manually drawing fields and assigning variables can be a time-consuming process. With some preparation, you can use the 'auto map' feature to speed up this process.

Step 1. Prepare the PDF

Before you upload your PDF to the App Builder, (1) draw fields on it using a PDF editor (e.g. Adobe Acrobat's "Prepare Form" tool), and (2) give each field a name that is equal to a variable in your App.

For example, here is a field that was drawn with Adobe Acrobat and given a name of client_name

Step 2. Upload the PDF

After you prepare the PDF by drawing fields with variable names, simply upload the PDF to the App Builder. This will automatically map your PDF fields with the associated variable inside your App.

Notes about this feature

  • In order for auto mapping to work, the variables you wish to link to your PDF must already be defined in the app BEFORE you upload the PDF.
  • If you want to map variables that have a colon in them in your app (i.e. shortcut variables defined by data sources or loops), you must use a special format. For example, if you have shortcut variables like client: name and client: address in your app, you must name the fields in Adobe Acrobat without including the colons but still including the space -- i.e. client name and client address. Including the colon or failing to include the space will prevent the variable from being automatically mapped to those fields in your PDF.

What do to with your PDF

You must determine what to do with the PDF document your template produces, i.e. the final document is not automatically given to the end-user.

Your options are:

  • Give the PDF to the end-user to download, either as fillable or "flattened" (not editable)
  • Email the PDF
  • Send the PDF to your Afterpattern database

Give PDF to the end-user to download

To give the PDF to the end-user to download, you must attach it to a page block. To do this, on your page block, click the "Document" button and select your template:

By default, the PDF you give the end-user is "flattened" (no longer editable), but you can choose to leave it as editable. Learn how.

Email the PDF

To email the PDF, either to the end-user and/or a 3rd party, you must first create an email template and then fire that email template from a page block (learn how). Once you've done that, you can include your PDF as an attachment to the email:

Send the PDF to your Afterpattern database

To send the PDF to your Afterpattern database, you must first build a database schema with a file-type column. Once you've done that, use a send data function to send your PDF to that file-type column.


Leave the PDF editable after it's auto-populated

By default, after the PDF is auto-populated by your Afterpattern app it is "flattened", meaning it is no longer editable. However, you can choose to leave the PDF as editable.

How it works

  • Add variables to your PDF as normal
  • Recompile your app (simply click "Preview" from within the app builder. You do not need to click through your entire app; simply landing on the first page is enough to "recompile", essentially rebuild, your app).
  • Now, if you select the PDF template on the Page Block where you're giving it to the end-user, you can click the "PDF is editable" toggle:

That's it! Now when the end-user auto-populates this PDF with your app, they will download an editable instead of "flattened" PDF.

Why do I need to recompile the app? 

This is required for the Afterpattern app to "draw" the fillable fields on your PDF template.

How to download the PDF template with your fillable fields

After you recompile the app, you can download a version of your PDF template that includes the fillable fields you drew in Afterpattern:

Then, in a product like Adobe Acrobat, you can view your fillable fields. You may notice that the fillable fields label's are the same name as the variable you assigned in the Afterpattern PDF template editor:

On this page

Create template
Add variables

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