Forms & Reports:
Create Form Manually

Title: Jan's Illustrated Computer Literacy 101
Did you want: Working with Databases: Access 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016

It is often useful to create a form manually. You can add and position the controls yourself, instead of using an automatic method. You decide in what order the fields will appear. You can adjust the controls' sizes to match the data that you expect.

In this lesson, you will create a form from scratch yourself.

It is easy to add controls by dragging from the Field List and dropping onto the form. Then you can position and resize as you wish.

Creating a form manually

Default form
includes only the Detail section

Where you are:
JegsWorks > Lessons > Databases

Before you start...

Project 1: Intro

Project 2: Access Basics

Project 3: Tables & Queries

Project 4: Forms & Reports Arrow: subtopic open
    Import/Export/LinkTo subtopics
    Designing Forms Arrow: subtopic open
    Icon: StepForm Wizard
    Icon: StepControls
    Icon: StepCreate Form Manually
    Icon: StepFormat Form
    Icon: StepTab Control
    Icon: StepForm View
        Images in Forms & Reports
    Icon: StepForm Images
    Icon: StepRecord Images
    Icon: StepPrintable Form
    Designing ReportsTo subtopics
    Special Forms & ReportsTo subtopics
    ExercisesTo subtopics


Selecting Multiple Controls

Once you have your controls onto the form, you will want to format, move,  and align them. It speeds things up when you can do this for multiple controls at once.

Even while multiple objects are selected, you can move an individual object with the Move handle at the object's upper left corner without losing the selection. So flexible!

You must select both the control and its label if you want your formatting changes to apply to both. Both will move even if only one is selected.

Select multiple objects by clicking:
Hold the SHIFT key down and click on each object separately.

Selection areaSelect multiple objects by dragging:
Drag across the objects that you want to select. A rectangle outline shows the selection area.

Partially enclosed: By default, Access will select any object that your selection rectangle touches, partially enclosing it. In the illustration at the right, five controls will be selected, including Called and Class, which are are only partially inside the selection area.

Fully enclosed: If you find that your dragging often selects objects that you did not mean to select, you can require that a control must be fully enclosed in the selection area:
 Tools | Options | Forms and Reports | Selection Behavior  

Examples: The illustrations below show what happens when you must fully enclose objects for them to be selected by dragging.

Dragging to select controls: When only objects
fully enclosed by the selection box are selected.

Dragging to select some controls and labels, but not selecting others Selected by dragging - labels and controls

The selection box fully enclosed all of the labels but only some of the matching controls.
A control or label gets at least a Move handle if its match is selected.

Dragging to select controls but not labels Dragged to select controls but did not select some those that were not completely inside the selection box

The selection area missed all of the labels and fully enclosed only some of the controls.

Select multiple controls from either ruler:
When you move your mouse over a ruler, the pointer changes to a black arrow Select shape, Pointer: Select row shape or Pointer: Select column shape. Click the left mouse button and hold it down and you see a line across your form. (This is useful when you are not sure if controls are correctly lined up.) When you release the mouse button, any control that this line touched is selected. This works even if Fully Enclosed is chosen in the Options dialog!

Select from the ruler Selected from ruler

If you drag the selection arrow on the ruler, all controls that the selection line touches as it sweeps across are selected when you release the mouse button.

Aligning Controls

Menu: Format | Align | LeftIt can be hard to drop controls in exactly the right place. It can be hard to move a control to exactly the right spot. Access allows you to align selected objects to another object in one of four directions: Left, Right, Top, Bottom.

You can also align objects to the grid points. This happens automatically if you have Snap to Grid turned on. (See the Format menu choices.) Other Office programs allow you to align to the objects Center or Middle, but Access does not!

The Align commands are available from the Format menu and from the right-click menu.

Access looks at the selected objects and finds the one that is farthest away in the direction that you chose. All objects are lined up to that one. If you do not select carefully, objects can wind up on top of each other or even completely hidden.

TipCan you align labels to labels and controls to controls at the same time? Unfortunately, there is not a command to align a column of controls to each other and at the same line align their labels to each other. It is usually better to manage controls separately from labels. Otherwise, they may get shoved right next to each other or get completely out of alignment.


Form Design View: controls not aligned with each otherSuppose that in the Students form in the Language Arts database, the fields are not lined up neatly, as shown in the illustration. The Class and Note controls are in the correct positions. I have drawn a vertical red line in the illustration to show where the left edge of each control should be. The Line control is too far to the left. Birth Date and Bus are too far to the right. You can use an Align command to correct this but you have to think first!

Aligning Selected Controls, Left or Right:

  • Form Design View: Selected controls aligned left, but with the wrong objectSelect the controls Line and Class, and not the labels

  • Align Left

  • What happens: Class moved left because the Line control is further to the left. That's the opposite of what we meant to do!

  • Form Design View: Selected controls aligned RightSelect the controls Line and Class, and not the labels 

  • Align Right

  • What happens: Line moved to line up with the right end of the Class control, which is not what you want.
    This would have worked if the Class control had been the same width as the Line control.

  • Form Design View: Selected controls aligned Left to correct objectBetter approach - First move the Line control so that it is out of alignment to the right.

  • Select Class, Line , Birth Date, and Bus

  • Align Left.

  • What happens: All selected controls lined up to Class at the left. The labels remained in the same positions. You must align them separately.

Why you don't want to Align selection containing controls AND labels, Left or Right:
When aligning, Access treats controls and labels as separate objects. It is usually better to align controls separately from labels.

  • Form Design View: Controls and labels selected. Not aligned with each other.Select the controls Line and Class AND their labels.

  • Align Left.

  • Form Design View: Align Left shoved labels and controls to the left. No space between them.What happens:  All selected objects moved left to try and align with the Line label, which was the furthest left object. Happily the controls did not wind up on top of the labels, but they did move as far left as possible. Not what we meant to do!
    This is why you should normally align controls and labels separately.

Be careful when aligning selection containing controls AND labels, Top or Bottom

Form Design View: Selected controls which were aligned, Align Top removes all the vertical spacing between themIf your labels and controls are neatly lined up horizontally, applying Align Top or Align Bottom, just removes all the vertical spaces between them.

If your labels and controls are NOT neatly lined up horizontally and you try to align Top or Bottom, you can create a large mess!

  • Form Design View: Labels and Controls selected but not alignedSelect several controls AND their labels which are NOT aligned left or right.

  • Align Top.

  • Form Design View: Selected labels and controls which were not aligne, Align Top overlaps and puts labels out of alignment with controlsWhat happens: A mess, for sure! The Class control and its label were the furthest objects toward the top and are lined up on the same row of grid dots. The controls and labels moved up, trying to line up with the top edge of these objects.
    Unexpectedly, the controls overlapped, but none are completely hidden. The Line and BirthDate labels wound up neatly lined up next to each other. Why? As the labels moved up, the Birth Date label didn't bump into anything until it hit the bottom of the Class label. So now some labels are not lined up with their own controls. That would be confusing!

Icon: Step-by-Step 

Step-by-Step: Create Form Manually

 Icon: Step-by-Step

What you will learn:

to add fields manually
to format control
to select multiple controls
to format multiple controls
to move multiple controls
to align controls

Start with:  Class diskresource files, worldtravel.mdb from the previous lesson

Create Blank Form

  1. Button: New Object - FormClick on the New Objects button and select Form.

  2. Dialog: New FormSelect Design View and Clients as the source table.

  3. Click on OK.
    A blank form opens.

  4. Blank form with Field ListIn the Form Design View, if necessary, click on the Field List button Button: Field List to display the list of fields.

Add Fields: Column 1 (Name fields)

To manually add a field to a form is a drag-and-drop action. The Field List shows all of the fields that are in the source for this form. The New Form dialog allowed you to chose only one table or query as the source. You can, however, change that in the form's Properties dialog.

  1. Field List with selected fieldsSelect fields:
    on the first field in the Field List, ClientID. Hold the SHIFT key down and click on the field Title. All fields between these two are also selected.
    These are the fields having to do with the client's name.

  2. Fields dropped too near the edge of the formDragging fields to blank form.Drag the fields to the blank form. The pointer changes to the Drag Fields shape Pointer: Drag fields. Drop at the left, below the word Detail.
    Whoops. The labels and controls are overlapping!
    TipDrop point: Access puts the top left corner of the control at the point where you dropped, and puts the label to the left. The mouse pointer shape makes it a bit difficult to drop exactly in the spot you wanted.
    When there is not enough room for the whole label on the form at this location, the label starts at the form's edge and extends underneath the control. You need to move the controls and leave the labels alone but dragging a Move control will only move that particular control. You cannot move just the controls. Instead, let's back up and try to drop again in a better location.

  3. Fields dropped at 1" markUndo.

  4. Select the fields again in the Field List.

  5. Drag and drop the fields below the 1" mark on the horizontal ruler.
    Ah! Better.
    Access is trying to be smart and helpful. It has lined up all of the labels and controls. It has left some space between the end of the widest label (MiddleName) and its control. There is just a little bit of vertical space between the controls.

    However, Access used the default width for all of the controls, one inch. Some of the other fields will need more space and some of these do not really need this much width. Too much space is probably better than not enough!

  6. Form View: Title control not wide enough for dataSwitch to Form View and navigate through all of the records. Are any of the controls too narrow for the data? Yes, the Title control is.
    TipHow to see data that is out of view: Even when the control is too small to show all of the data, the data is NOT lost. It's still there. Memo fields will get scroll bars but other field types do not. You can see the hidden data in Form View by putting your cursor in the field and using the arrow keys. You can also drag inside the field and the data will scroll into view as you drag.

    Icon: QuestionEvaluate: Which is more important: a neat agreement of control sizes and alignments or being able to see all of the data in a control? Sometimes you will choose neatness but most of the time you will want to choose being able to see the data!
    Icon: QuestionEvaluate: Do you like to see controls that are just the right size for their maximum data? Would you rather have most of the controls the same size even if many of them are much wider than necessary?
    For example, you could make the Prefix field just wide enough for 5 characters because that is the maximum size allowed for that field in the underlying table Clients. ClientID could be that narrow, too, since you probably won't have more than 99,999 clients (5 characters). But the fields for parts of a name must be much wider than 5 characters.

Resize Controls Wider - Together

You can resize your selected controls together. The labels will not resize unless they, too, are selected.

  1. Icon: Design Switch back to Form Design View.
    The controls are still selected.

  2. Form Design View: Selected controls, pointer as Resize Horizontal Move your mouse pointer over a handle on the right edge of any control until it changes to the Resize Horizontal shape Pointer: Resize horizontal .

  3. Drag to the right to the vertical grid line and drop.
    All of the selected controls resize together but their labels stay the same.

  4. Form View: Title control wide enough for data.Switch to Form View and check the Title field again for all the records.
    If it is still not wide enough, repeat steps 1, 2, and 3 above until the control is just wide enough.

  5. Icon: Save Save the form as Clients.
    It can be a good idea to same your work along the way with different names. Access only remembers the last 20 actions for the Undo list. It can be hard to get back to a previous arrangement if you change your mind. You just have to remember which version is the one you want to use!

Add Fields: Column 2 (Address Info)

  1. Icon: Design Switch to Form Design View.

  2. Select the next 7 fields in the Field List, from OrganizationName through Country. These are the parts of a complete address.

  3. Form Design View: pointer below 3.125" mark on rulerDrag the selected fields and drop below the 3.125" point on the ruler and level with the top of the first column of controls.
    A second column of controls and labels appears, neatly lined up to the grid.

    Form Design View: Dropped second column of fields

    Note: In the illustration, the second column is one grid row too low to line up with the top of the first column. You will fix this later.

  4. Switch to Form View and navigate through the records to see if controls are wide enough for the data.
    The Address and OrganizationName fields need more space. Instead of wider, let's make Address taller. Street addresses can be quite long and we will want the space to the right for another column of controls.

Resize Controls in Column 2

  1. Icon: Design Switch to Form Design View.
  2. Select the controls from City through Country.
  3. Form Design View: pointer in Resize Vertical shape on Address controlMove them down to align with the bottom of the first column.
    Now you have space for a taller Address control.
  4. Move your mouse pointer over the handle in the middle of the bottom edge of the Address field.
  5. Drag down until the control is twice as tall and nearly touches the City control and drop.
  6. Form Design View: Resizing OrganizationName controlResize the control OrganizationName wider by dragging its handle to the right to the 4.5" mark on the ruler.

    Form Design View: after resizing controls

  7. Switch back to Form View and check how the records display now.

    Form View: after resizing organization Form View: after resizing organization

  8. Icon: Save Save the form.  (Clients)

Add Fields: Column 3 (Phone/Email Info)

  1. Icon: Design Switch to Form Design View.
  2. Form Design View: dragging phone and email fields to formSelect the phone number fields and the email field from the Field List.

  3. Drag and drop the fields onto the form at ruler mark 5.5".
    Yes, this is outside the form. It's OK!
    Access enlarges the form to hold the fields that you dropped. So helpful!

    Form Design View: third column dropped, automatically enlarging form

  4. Switch to Form View and navigate the records again to check the display of data in the new controls. Some phone numbers fit in the controls but some international phone numbers are too long to fit. The EmailAddress control is not large enough for most of the addresses. 

Adjust & Align Fields (Column 3)

The phone number fields are going to be fine for most numbers, so for now you will leave these controls as they are.

Several email addresses, however, are far too wide for this control. You must enlarge the control. You will have to rearrange the control and its label so that the form itself will not get any wider.

  1. Icon: Design Switch to Form Design View.
  2. Form Design View: Select control EmailAddressClick on the EmailAddress control to select it.
  3. Drag with the Move handle at the upper left of the control.
  4. Form Design View: EmailAddress moved down and overDrop the control below its label but not lined up with it.
  5. Form Design View: Email with both control and label selectedHold the SHIFT key down and click on the label EmailAddress.
    Both the label and its control are now selected.
  6. Form Design View: Email movedMenu: Format | Align | LeftFrom the menu select  Format | Align | Left
    The control is lined up with the label at the left edge.

     TipUnlike in other Office programs, there is no choice to align the centers or middles of the selected objects.

    Icon: TroubleProblem: Control and label overlap after aligning.
    The control was not moved far enough down to clear the label when Access lined them up.
    Solution: Use Undo right away in such a situation! Then move the control to a better location and align again.
    WarningSelect objects carefully to align:
    Access looks for the object that is farthest out of line in the direction you picked - Left, Right, Top, Bottom. If you select objects which are side-by-side and then choose Left or Right, they will wind up right next to each other! Similarly, for Top and Bottom if one object is above another. Be especially careful with a control and its label to be sure which you meant to select. Labels can get out of alignment with their controls.
  7. Resize the control EmailAddress so that it is as wide as the whole column of labels and controls, but do not enlarge the form itself.
    Icon: TroubleProblem: Form enlarged when you resized object
    If you drag a control past the form's edge, Access will automatically enlarge the form.
    Solution 1: Use Undo immediately.
    Solution 2: You can drag the edges of the form to resize it. If any objects are in the space you are trying to remove, you will have to move or resize them before you can resize the form. Access will not automatically resize them for you.
  8. Form View: Email addressSwitch back to Form View and navigate through the records to see if the email addresses now fit in the control.
    Hurrah! They do.
    It is still possible to have an email address that is too wide to fit this control, but it is not as likely now.
  9. Icon: Save Save the form.  (Clients)

Add Fields: Remaining Fields

You have several fields left in the Field List that are not on the form yet. You need to add these one at a time and position them carefully to keep the form from getting too wide.

  1. Icon: Design Switch to Form Design View.
  2. Field List: non-adjacent fields selectedHold the CTRL key down and click on the fields Birthdate, Nationality, and Hobbies in the Field List to select these non-adjacent fields.
  3. Fields dropped at bottom of first columnDrag the fields and drop them at the bottom of the first column.
  4. Resize the controls to match the other controls in the column.
    Controls resized to match rest of column If necessary, move or align the controls so that they line up with the rest of the column.

  5. Drop two memo fields onto formDrag the fields HealthIssues and Notes and drop them at the bottom of the second column. These are both Memo type fields.
  6. Form Design View: memo fields enlargedResize the controls wider since some records will likely have a lot of text in them eventually.
  7. Form Design View: Photograph dropped; dragging from cornerDrag the field Photograph and drop it at the bottom of the third column. This is an OLE Object type of field. The default size is much too large. The form automatically enlarged.
  8. Form Design View: Photograph resizedResize the control by dragging the bottom right handle upwards and to the left, until the control is about 1" square.
  9. Drag the field DateUpdated from the Field List and drop it at the bottom of the form below the Notes and Photograph controls.

    Now that all of the fields are on the form, you can see that you do not need the extra width and height that Access added when you put the Photograph field on. You can resize the form yourself.
  10. Move your mouse pointer over the bottom right corner of the form.
    The pointer changes to a new Resize shape Pointer: Resize Horizontal and Vertical together, for both horizontal and vertical at the same time.

     Form Design View: control DateUpdated in place; pointer in shape Resize Horizontal and Vertical

  11. Drag upwards and to the left until the form is just wide enough and tall enough to hold its controls. 
    TipControls block resizing of form: You cannot drag a form's edge over any control, even if it is just a decorative line. The controls will not resize or move when the form's edge bumps into them. You have to move or resize yourself any controls that are in the way and then resize the form again. This is especially a problem with lines, which are hard to see in Design View.

    Form Design View: Form resized

  12. Switch to Form View and verify that your data is showing nicely. You do not have any photos yet.
  13. Icon: Save Save the form.  (Clients)

Final Layout Corrections

Now that all of the fields are on the form, it may be that your columns, like the illustrations, are not lined up on the same grid row. I added the red line to the illustration to show where the columns should line up.

  1. Inspect the form, looking especially at how the columns line up with each other.

  2. If necessary, move controls and align again so that:

    1. The first controls in each column are lined up on the same row of grid dots.

    2. Labels and controls in each column are aligned at the left with each other.

    3. The vertical spacing between controls is the same throughout the form.

    4. The form is just large enough to hold the controls.

Form Design View: Clients - with three columns of controls aligned