1530.0 - ABS Forms Design Standards Manual, 2010  
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 25/01/2010  First Issue
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Contents >> Paper Form Design Standards >> Construction and Colour


While aspects of these standards will be of interest to those outside the ABS, they were developed for internal use. As such, some information contained in these standards will not be applicable to an external audience. ABS staff should refer to the Corporate Manuals database for the most recent version of these documents, as some details (names, phone numbers etc.) have been removed from the online version.



Most of the information form designers need to know about physically constructing forms should be obtained from the Collection Management Unit and the Despatch and Collection Unit in the Integrated Collection Branch (ICB). The construction related information that concerns Data Collection Methodology is that which may affect the respondent's comprehension of the form and their attitudes towards the form and the ABS in general.
Number of pages

Use as many pages as you need to achieve a clear layout. The costs of repairing errors due to poor layout are always more than the printing costs for an extra page. A longer form with a good layout will also obtain equivalent or better response rates compared to a shorter, cramped form. For example, one study by Champion and Sear (1969) used the same content on three forms, of 3, 6 and 9 pages. The 9 page form, with the most spread out format, got the statistically significant highest response rate. The length issue is quite complex, and requires consideration of number and range of data items, perceived versus actual effort to complete, question order as well as layout and so on.

When using a standard booklet made from a folded A3 sheet, pages can only be added or deleted in multiples of 4. Blank pages must be added at the end of forms that do not add up to the right number of pages. Any empty pages remaining after the questions finish should still be coloured with the appropriate shading. Blank pages also need to have page numbers to aid the printers, and these are placed on the top and bottom of the page.
Shading and contrast

This standard uses the Pantone® Matching System (PMS), which is a common method of specifying colours to printers. This is shown by the letters 'PMS' followed by a three or four digit number (for example, PMS 405, PMS 2735).

The general background of a form is shaded in 20% of the background colour. Notes boxes, Including/excluding boxes and similar are shaded in 10% background colour. Only the spaces where respondents put their answers and contact details should be left white. Text, eyeguides, answer boxes and other form elements, are printed either in solid colour or black.

The black ink which should be used is PMS 405U, which is actually a dark charcoal rather than true black. All of the main text on ABS forms should be this black. This is required because when forms are scanned, the colours drop-out of the image. The text needs to remain visible in the image to identify which question the respondent's answer refers to etc. The black also assists with the system recognition of each page.

All other black elements on the form, such as patch codes, registration marks and Form IDs, should be done in PMS 405U as well so that overall only two colours are used to print the form.

Small amounts of text close to answer boxes, such as dollar signs, may be done in solid (100%) background colour. For OCR forms anything within 3mm of each answer box should be in colour so recognition of the respondent's writing is not affected. The background colours specified below have been chosen in part to ensure a good contrast between text (black or solid) and background to maintain good legibility.
Background colours

The following colours have also been chosen because they are produced by a simple mix of one or two basic ink colours. This will make quality control more reliable.

Acceptable background colours for OCR forms
  • Orange (PMS 123)
  • Yellowish Orange (PMS 142)
  • Orange (PMS 137)
  • Orange Brown (PMS 150)
  • Brownish Orange (PMS 157)
  • Peach/Orange (PMS 1565)
  • Reddish Brown (PMS 158)
  • Reddish Pink (PMS 197)
  • Reddish Pink (PMS 486)
  • Pink (PMS 700)
  • Pink (PMS 177)
  • Purple (PMS 252)
  • Purple (PMS 246)

Additional background colours for non-OCR forms
  • none
  • Blue (PMS 286)
  • Green (PMS 333)
  • Green (PMS 347)
  • Green (PMS 352)
  • Pink (PMS 700)
  • Pink (PMS 177)
  • Purple (PMS 252)
  • Purple (PMS 253)
  • Purple (PMS 246)
  • Aqua (PMS 320)
  • Mauve (PMS 2735)

Note that the pdf of the survey form should be sent to the printers in the appropriate colour as above. The previous procedure of always sending the pdf in cyan has been discontinued due to a change in printing services supplier.

If a survey area has several form types, especially if some go into the field at the same time, then for ease of processing they should be distinctly different colours.Coloured vs black and white forms

Printing in colour is preferred because this allows greater design flexibility in terms of distinguishing note boxes from answer boxes and so on. A coloured form also looks more professional and attractive, and may assist the respondent in finding their form amongst other paper work. Printing in colour is therefore usually recommended even when OCR is not being used.

Some surveys may have only small print runs for particular form types and printing in colour can be more expensive than printing black and white forms. However, the manual data entry required for black and white forms (as well as coloured forms which are not set up to be OCRd) can be more expensive than scanning OCR forms. For these reasons and those mentioned in the above paragraph, the cut-off for black and white is 200 forms. Once this number of forms are required for one form type they should be printed in colour.

Black and white forms have different standards for some formatting compared to coloured forms, and should not contain any shading. See the section on Lines and Boxes and Typography for more details. Forms adapted to be "fax friendly" should be similar to a black and white standard form.

Note that the phrase "black and white forms" refers to the final product that the respondent receives. A form designed to the standards for black and white forms should not be printed onto coloured paper. This creates an unprofessional appearance and does not allow for the requirement that answer boxes always be white. Coloured forms should always be created by printing coloured ink onto white paper.
Distinguishing between forms

It should be noted that there are techniques other than colour for distinguishing between different forms during processing, using a variety of graphical designs. Acceptable methods include the following:
  • incorporating a solid bar printed along the spine of the form,
  • a solid triangle printed at the bottom left corner of the front page and wrapping around to the bottom right corner of the back page.

Either of these features would be visible in a stack of forms, as well as being obvious from the front or the back of a single form. The graphic element should be printed in the same ink colour as the background or the text to avoid any increase in
printing costs for the form.

  • Champion, D.J. & Sear, A.M. (1969), "Questionnaire response rate: A methodological analysis" Social Forces, Vol. 47, 335-339.

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