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Ten steps to creating form overlays for the iSeries-AS/400

It's possible to produce professional-looking forms from the iSeries without spending money on third-party software.

There are many software packages to create and use forms while printing from the iSeries-AS/400. I'm sure these...

packages bring value, but sometimes there is no budget available to purchase software and pay the continuing software maintenance. Other times, people just do not know how easy it is to use form overlays on the iSeries with tools already available, so they assume a software purchase is necessary to create professional-looking documents.

The forms overlay process is not hard. The process is only mildly time-consuming and assumes you have the ability and authority to change print programs to conform to the new forms.

The 10 steps to creating form overlays are documented and detailed in IBM's Redbook "IBM AS/400 Printing V." This particular Redbook is old. There are probably many other newer ways to perform the same functions, but this process is easy and straightforward, works well and does not require additional software or expense.

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I have used form overlays at two companies. One had an AS/400 and migrated to an iSeries. At the second company, I only had access to an AS/400. I am assuming this process will also work for the i5, but I have not tested it on that machine.

Steps 1 through 4 are one-time setup processes. I will explain my experiences with each step and give any "hard-knocks" lessons learned.

Step 1 -- Download the Redbook SG24-2160-00
Log on to IBM's Web site and search for SG24-2160-01.

Step 2 -- Read pages 117 – 126 of Chapter 5
This section of Chapter 5 outlines the steps and gives very detailed information on how to create overlays on the AS/400, iSeries and i5 machines. I recommend reading it through two or three times to digest what is being said.

Step 3 -- Install an AFP driver on your PC
There are detailed instructions in the chapter explaining how to install the correct AFP driver. The instructions begin on page 118. I used the IBM AFP 300 driver. Since the document was published in 2000, the instructions may be a little different than your current version of software. Your networking staff should be able to help you install the driver if you cannot. Be sure to say that the print output will write to a file.

Step 4 -- Create a physical file to contain the PC overlay file
Use the command


to create the AS/400 physical file to contain the overlays. (Later on we will be copying the AFP overlay from an AS/400 folder. When that step occurs, I recommend adding a member for each overlay.)

Step 5 -- Create the form
I have used Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel, Adobe PhotoShop and the imaging product with Windows to create various forms. Several times I scanned existing preprinted forms and used image-editing software to clean up the document. Sometimes I started from scratch using Word or Excel. Some of the form types I have created include invoices, credit memos, POs, quotes and letterhead.

Note: When laying out your form, knowing what fonts, CPI, lines per inch and other features of the spool file will save time and energy. If you are printing 8 lines per inch, design boxes to be the correct height for the lines per inch. Width of boxes and underlines are also critical if the spool file is using 12, 15 or 16.6 CPI.

Step 6 – Print the document to a file on the iSeries
When you print the document from the PC software, you will have to make changes to the defaults, so do not just hit the print button. Click the menu item File, choose Print, choose the IBM AFP 300 printer, click on the Properties button, change the document type to Overlay, change the clip limits (top and left need to be changed to 0.00), click OK and start the print. A dialogue box will be displayed asking where to place the file.

The clip limits and document type will affect the end overlay, so it's important you do this step.

I typically add extra steps to the process by writing the overlay print output to my local PC. I then use Windows Explorer to move the overlay file to the QDLS/OVERLAYS folder on the AS/400. Again, there are ways to write this data in different locations on the AS/400, but QDLS/OVERLAYS has worked for me and that is what I stick with. You will have to add the OVERLAYS folder to the QDLS folder prior to using it. (This is another step where my old age and refusal to learn new tricks causes extra work.)

Step 7 -- Copy the overlay to our OVERLAYS physical file
Use the AS/400 command to copy the PC overlay file into the AS/400 physical file:


This command differs a bit from the IBM Redbook. These parameters have worked for me, so that is what I use. I copy to a member that matches the overlay name. This way I have each of the PC overlays on file if I ever have to recreate the overlay.

Step 8 -- Create the AS/400 overlay
Use the AS/400 command to create the overlay:


Step 9 -- Attach the overlay to the printer file
This is where you must be somewhat creative. I like to use the OVRPRTF command in the CL program that is printing the document. Others may use printer files and use the CHGPRTF command to add the overlay to the printer file. There is no right or wrong way. Below is a sample OVRPRTF command.


When using the FRONTOVL, pay attention to the offset parameters. Different printer definitions deliver different output. When using a "true" IBM AFPDS printer, I had to use offsets. When using PJL-configured printers, I did not need the offsets. When you have many different laser printer configurations, it will cause issues. We also noticed differences when using utilities such as Quadrant Software's faxing software or Gumbo's SpoolMail product. Some experimentation will be needed.

Step 10 -- Print the AFP document
Run your process to produce the AFP document.

There will usually be several iterations of steps 5 – 10. On several occasions, I changed my AS/400 program to move the print a little to conform to my form rather than change the form to conform to my print. This process is definitely a trial-and-error process and is the most time-consuming part. (This is where a purchased package that allows you to lay your print on the form has an advantage.)

I am sure that there are more than 101 ways to accomplish the same results. My intent was to spur your thought processes on how you could produce professional-looking forms from the iSeries without spending money on third-party software.

To illustrate how effective this method was, changes using forms overlays allowed one of my previous employers to reduce 70,000 four-part invoices to fewer than 20,000 invoices single copy regular copy paper. (We also stored copies of the invoices in a COLD product.)

The forms overlay works very well with Gumbo's Spoolmail and Quadrant's faxing product. I used the overlay process with SpoolMail to allow users to e-mail copies of invoices, credit memos, purchase orders, bill of ladings, etc. anywhere in the world.

About the author: Bill Cressy is Manager of Information Technology at Prince Agri Products Inc. He has been programming on S/38, AS/400 and iSeries machines since 1986.

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