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Gravity PDF 4.0. Allowing anyone to automate PDFs with Gravity Forms

First, a Bit of History…

Don’t want the history? Jump straight to the good stuff.

When I started planning Gravity PDF 4.0 back in February 2015 I was acutely aware of the major pain point of the software: the lack of a user interface (UI) to configure the software.

Let’s rewind a minute. You see, when this plugin was first released back in September 2012 I had a very specific target market in mind. I wanted the software to help speed up the time it took fellow developers to generate PDFs with Gravity Forms – I had just been through this painstaking process for one of my clients and it wasn’t fun. Since it was for developers I didn’t feel the need to build out a UI. Devs had to dive into the code to build a custom PDF template anyway so what did it matter if they had to edit a configuration file along the way? Oh, how wrong I was…

Gravity PDF 1.0 on WordPress.org

Gravity PDF 1.0 on WordPress.org. Back then we used dompdf to generate PDFs. Version 3.0 saw this swapped for mPDF.

Since it was for developers I didn’t feel the need to build out a UI. Devs had to dive into the code to build a custom PDF template anyway so what did it matter if they had to edit a configuration file along the way? Oh, how wrong I was…

The software showed its potential early. It wasn’t long after releasing the plugin on WordPress.org that I had business owners contacting me and asking if I could create and install custom PDF templates for them – in hindsight releasing it on GitHub would have been better, but then 4.0 would never have happened. They were happy to pay for the work and I found it was a nice way to make a bit of extra money on the side. The trouble came when site owners with very limited coding experience wanted to do it all themselves. They struggled immensely and leaned heavily on my support. I quickly expanded the documentation, added video tutorials and kept refining the software, but it was always an uphill battle – the plugin was simply never designed with these types of users in mind.

In the first two years I always thought of Gravity PDF as a side project. I would dedicate a few hours a week on maintenance and support and do a handful of PDF integrations every month. It always appeared like the software was growing (I didn’t keep good track of things in the early days), but it wasn’t until the beginning of 2015 – year 3 of the project – that I started thinking of Gravity PDF as a viable business. The volume of customers asking for custom templates was growing and I struggled to find the time to complete these jobs, maintain and support the software, AND handle my freelance projects – which at the time was my main source of revenue. To keep up with the PDF projects I hired an inexperienced, albeit enthusiastic, local dev named Julian Tapping to help – he’s since become a valuable asset to the business and continues to grow his skills daily.

Up until 2015 the software was called Gravity Forms PDF Extended. This is a snapshot of the website at the time.

Up until 2015 the software was called Gravity Forms PDF Extended. This is a snapshot of the website at the time.

During January 2015 I had a long, hard think about the direction I wanted to take the business, and the viability of Gravity PDF as a plugin. In its current state the software was already fulfilling a niche in the market, but the question was whether I could build a viable long-term business.

In its current state the software was already fulfilling a niche in the market, but the question was whether I could build a viable long-term business.

After reviewing the sales figures, the feedback from the existing users and my long-term plan for the software I decided to go for it. Not all at once, mind you. It was a slow, methodical process of pulling back from my freelance business and dedicating more and more hours to Gravity PDF. The first line of code for Gravity PDF 4.0 was written in February 2015. Development was slow at first – an hour here and there – and it wasn’t until the last quarter of 2015 (after I had ceased all my freelance activities) that I was finally able to focus 100% of my time to the software.

Looking back on 4.0’s development, it flowed much like a crescendo. It started gradually, and took 15 months to complete, but right now as 4.0 is publicly released I feel a great momentum pushing the business and software forward. This release allows anyone to easily setup and automate PDFs for Gravity Forms. It puts us side-by-side with other feature-rich software like GravityView and Gravity Flow and cements Gravity PDF’s position in the flourishing third-party Gravity Forms ecosystem.

To all our existing users and customers:
enjoy the revolution that is Gravity PDF 4.0!


What’s new in Gravity PDF 4.0

Bringing Config Settings into WordPress

The new PDF configuration UI.

The new PDF configuration UI.

In Gravity PDF 4.0 we’ve done away with the need to edit PHP files to configure Gravity PDF. You’ll have a familiar and seamless experience controlling PDF settings direct from your WordPress Admin area. If you’ve ever configured a Gravity Form add-on you’ll feel right at home setting up PDFs. We’ve also done away with the cumbersome Initialise Plugin step that was required to setup the PDF working directory. You’ll be able to install and configure the software in 5 minutes flat!

3.0 to 4.0 Migration

To help you bring your 3.0 configuration into 4.0 we’ve included a migration process that handles it all for you. Please keep in mind this is a major release and there are backwards compatible issues you should be aware of. Before upgrading we strongly recommend you review our migration guide.

All-New Templates with CSS Ready Class Support

Zadani is a minimalist business-style template that will generate a well-spaced document great for printing.

Zadani is a minimalist business-style template that will generate a well-spaced.

We created two brand new PDF designs and refined two of the existing 3.0 templates for this release. The new default template, Zadani, is a minimalist business-style design that generates a well-spaced document and is easy on the eyes. While Rubix has a container-style layout that’s highly customisable and aesthetically pleasing. The 3.0 default template that had the classic Gravity Forms Print Preview layout makes its return and is called Focus Gravity, while our styleless template from 3.0 also gets an update and is called Blank Slate.

All 4.0 templates are highly customisable. You can change fonts, sizes and colours, toggle HTML and Section fields in the PDF and even change the colour scheme of the designs. Header and Footer support is also included by default. Another surprise included is support for Gravity Forms CSS Ready Classes. When the halves and thirds classes are used in your form the PDF will automatically create two and three column layouts to match.

Easy PDF Download Links

No more messing around building PDF links so users can download their document after filling in your form. We’ve created a [gravitypdf] shortcode that allows you to easily place a PDF download link on any of the Gravity Forms confirmation types. Each PDF you create has a unique shortcode that you can copy and paste and there’s little to no configuration needed to make this work (depending on which confirmation method you use).

Font Manager

Our JavaScript-powered font manager will make using custom fonts a breeze.

Our JavaScript-powered font manager will make using custom fonts a breeze.

Remember having to upload fonts via FTP, intialise them and manually edit your templates to use them? Not any more. We built a font manager into the UI so you can easily use your favourite fonts in your PDFs with no hassles.

Security Overhaul

In 3.0 the PDFs had adequate security protocols in place to prevent unauthorised access, but this wasn’t extensible or flexible. The PDF security in 4.0 got a major overhaul and power users have a sleuth of settings they can tweak to further restrict or open up PDF access. Developers will also rejoice in the fact that the security can easily be enhanced or modified with filters.

One key improvement to the security was the inclusion of a timeout on logged out users viewing their PDF(s). Previously, any logged out user with an IP that matched the one stored with the entry could access the document from your website indefinitely (provided their IP didn’t change). Now they will only have a 20 minute window to download it (this limit can easily be changed). This limit only effects a logged out user’s ability to download the PDF. Once the document is downloaded they can access it when ever they want.

Documentation Overhaul

We’ve expanded our 32-page documentation for 3.0 to 112 pages and roughly 46,500 words. Along with more detailed information for users, we’ve thoroughly documented most of the important actions and filters. We expect to continue expanding the docs as we get more feedback from users.

Conditional PDFs

We’ve introduced a very powerful way to control your documents with conditional PDFs. This is a brand new feature that allows you to disable a PDF from being viewed if your conditions aren’t met, or stop it being attached to an email notification. There was no support for this in 3.0 but you could fake the behaviour by applying conditional logic on notifications themselves.

Default PDFs

A snapshot of your form's PDF setup.

A snapshot of your form’s PDF setup.

In 3.0 we had the concept of a default PDF configuration that would be applied to all forms that didn’t have any PDFs assigned to them. That meant you could go into any of your Gravity Forms and view a PDF without setting up any configuration for it. In 4.0 we’ve changed this behaviour. You’ve now got to create a PDF for each form manually. Until you do this you won’t be able to view a PDF.

Custom PDF Templates

For developers who want to create their own unique PDFs we’ve simplified the PDF template file greatly. This should help you get your next project started quicker and make it easier to maintain. We’ve also added optional advanced tools so you can create template-specific settings in our UI with relative ease. Couple that with our enhanced documentation and you’ve got a recipe for success.

Support

Previously, all support has been handled using a forum. To help us better manage our user’s questions, now and into the future, we’ve decided to move to a ticket-based support system instead and have archived the forum at support.gravitypdf.com. It will remain read-only until we drop support for Gravity PDF 3.0 in 12 months time, and will then be taken offline. All support requests should be submitted using our new ticket system.

Our Mascot

Our new mascot, Captain Paws

Our new mascot, Captain Paws

We introduced her to our newsletter subscribers a few months back, but Captain Paws can be seen floating around both the plugin and the website. She will play an integral part of our branding and marketing moving forward.

Wrapping Up

That covers the major aspects of Gravity PDF 4.0. There’s still a number of little gems we haven’t discussed but you’ll just have to give Gravity PDF a whirl and discover them for yourself! Enjoy.


Gravity PDF is an open source plugin for Gravity Forms that’s available for download from WordPress.org. Development of the software is handled on GitHub – PRs are welcome!

Published by Jake Jackson

Jake Jackson is the head developer at Gravity PDF. Along with developing the plugin, he uses his expertise to provide support and technical information to Gravity PDF users.

4 Comments

  1. How do I get a price on you programming an online form for me?

  2. i want to really delete the default fields datas displaying in the blank slate pdf template. Can you help me please

Comments are closed.

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