The best apps to build a form, for free
You need to gather data, then do something with it. Here’s how.
You may find yourself needing an easy way to gather data. A quick way to build a form, let people add their info and perhaps attach a picture or file, and then use that data somewhere productive.
You need a form app.
If you already have a go-to app to build forms—Wufoo or Typeform or JotForm or one of the dozens of other form builders—odds are it’ll be fine. Just open it, make a form, and go on with your day.
But perhaps you don’t need to make forms all the time and so don’t keep a form subscription active, now that most start at around $20/month thanks to software inflation. You just occasionally need to gather data, and need something quick and free—and the typical 5 forms and 10-100 submissions and 100MB of file uploads for free aren’t enough.
I needed something a bit more specific: A form builder that lets you upload files,
POST entries from your website’s existing HTML forms, then view the form data together in a nice interface.
Turns out, the best options for that are a spreadsheet or a database app:
The best way to build a form for free and analyze data in a spreadsheet
It’s hard not to recommend Google Forms. It’s free, and saves your form entries to a Google Sheets spreadsheet. You could literally have a million people fill out a 4-question form, for free, in Google Forms. And that data’s in a spreadsheet, where you can sort and filter it however you want.
Odds are, you’ll export your form data as a
.csv file, clean it up first, then import it into another app. With Google Sheets, the first two steps are included out-of-the-box.
Google Form supports file uploads now, too—and stores them in Google Drive, for 15GB of files, give or take depending on how much you’ve already stored in Drive.
Though that’s where Google Forms starts to fall apart a bit. Google Forms already look a bit stiff; they’re fine, but not going to win any design awards, and might not fit in if you embed them in your site. Embeds also only work if you don’t have a file upload field.
There is a Google Forms API, and you can even build Google Forms programmatically if you want—and Google Forms/Google Sheets integrations are so common, odds are there’s an easy way to connect your form results with other apps you use (at least using Zapier). There’s just no default way to
POST new form results from your hand-coded form, without a workaround.
Google Forms is still what I reach for first when I need a quick form, especially if the end goal is to put the data in a spreadsheet.
The best way to to build a form, including file uploads, and turn the data into something usable
But what if you need a bit more? Airtable—a database app, essentially a modern take on Microsoft Access—might be your best option.
Airtable’s not promoted as a form app. Yet it includes a form tool as a way to get data into your database. And it supports file uploads, and has a robust API, and gives you more ways to visualize your data than you’ll likely need.
Basically, open Airtable, make a new database, then click the Create … Form option in the lower left corner. There, rename the existing fields to fit what your form needs, or tap Add a field to this table to add new form fields (remember, technically you’re building out a database, not just a form). There’s a bit of everything here: You can personalize the form, have fields validate data to make sure, say, the email field actually gets emails, and can even lookup data from other tables in your database (say, to build out an order form where people can pick products from a list, if you wanted).
You can then embed the form anywhere, or use Airtable’s API to create new records (you’ll need to store files people upload on your site first, and push the file’s URL to Airtable instead of directly uploading). Airtable even makes a customized API page specifically for your database, to make integrating even easier.
Once the data comes in, Airtable will show it in a spreadsheet-style table by default, but also includes kanban-style card and gallery views that will automatically show attached images as an easy way to preview your data, a calendar to visualize results by date, and timelines and more on pro plans.
Airtable’s free for 1.2k records per database (so folks can fill out your form 1,200 times for free, if you’re using it as a form app) with 2GB of file storage, then paid plans start at $12/mo. Odds are you end up using Airtable for far more than forms—but it’s a great form app, too.
Other great options:
It’s not like free options are everything, either—great software is always worth paying for, especially if it fits a need in your work. Here are a few other form apps I regularly recommend that are each great options if you need a bit more:
- Typeform is beautiful, makes forms feel conversational inspired by the original WarGames film. It’s also pricy (from $29/mo. for 100 form entries to $99/mo. for 10k responses), so is a best fit if you’re building a lot of surveys. If so, it’s the prettiest way to do so and might make people more likely to keep filling out longer forms. It comes with a robust API, too: You can create forms programmatically, or build Typeforms into your app with its React library.
- Paperform is another take at making forms prettier, this time with a more document editor-style form builder where you can make forms that look a bit more like a landing page. $24/mo. for 1k responses.
- Wufoo’s a classic, one of the earlier form builder web apps, the friendly dino counterpart to MailChimp’s chimp. It’s been through a lot; Wufoo was acquired by SurveyMonkey which was then acquired by Zendesk. But it’s still a great way to make standard, straightforward forms—and with middle-of-the-road pricing at $19/mo. for 1k responses.
- Formium is what got me digging into form apps again in the first place. It’s a developer-focused form app, from the team behind the Formik React form library. Call it a headless CMS for your developer-built forms—one that comes with a drag-and-drop form builder for everyone else. Only, it doesn’t support file uploads yet; that’s coming soon. $20/mo. for 1k responses. Also worth checking FormKeep, one of the few other developer-focused form apps.
- Gravity Forms is another developer-focused option, this time as a WordPress plugin to build forms inside your blog. It’s a great way to build a low-code app out of WordPress, especially when paired with other WordPress add-ons (I once built a WordPress + Gravity Forms + Zapier site to gather data and showcase it on a map, among other things). $59/year per site.
- PandaDoc is a unique form builder, one a bit closer to paper forms you’d typically associate with the IRS and the doctor’s office. Or, Formstack’s document tool (what was formerly WebMerge) can turn normal form entries into documents much the same.
Or: You might not need a form app.
The goal of a form isn’t just gather all the data, unless you’ve built a Pokémon form, in which case, carry on. Typically you need to gather data, and do something with it.
If you need to get people to sign up for your email newsletter, or send your team a support email, or buy your product, you likely don’t need a form builder.
Most email newsletter tools—including MailChimp, Substack, Campaign Monitor, Buttondown, and more—include a simple form builder to people signup to your email newsletter. A Webflow site or Ghost blog comes with built-in signup forms, too. Customer support tools like Help Scout, Front, Zendesk, and more similarly include contact form embeds, that turn form entries into new support tickets automatically. And if you want to sell stuff with a simple checkout form, your best bet is likely a Gumroad or Shopify embed for a checkout form and a way to manage orders together.
You could get similar results by exporting any form’s results as a
.csv spreadsheet then importing them into your newsletter, help desk, or eCommerce software. Or you could automate it by linking any other form to your app via Zapier.
But using the built-in embed is your easiest option to gather data and put it to work. When that’s the goal, a form built into the tool where you’ll put the data to work is best.
Now, back to work.
In the end, it shouldn’t really matter which form app you use. What matters most is gathering the data you need, and getting what you need out of the data once it’s gathered. I've tested dozens of form builders at Zapier, and most get the job done. But when you need something specific, and especially when the budget matters, the options get a bit more scarce.
I'm struck by the parallels to Steve Jobs calling Dropbox a feature, not a product, now that the form builders I'd recommend most are essentially features in a larger product—and the best standalone form builders like Typeform or developer-focused tools like Formium went in entirely different directions to standard form apps to make a higher-end niche of their own. It's not enough to be just a plain form app anymore.
Google Forms + Sheets and Airtable are pretty great tools to do all that in one place. And don't forget to check the app where you'll be using the data—there's a chance it'll have a form builder, and if so that's almost always the best option since it saves you a step. Then, the other form builders are great if you need something more specific from your forms (which, if you can’t find one with exactly what you need, let me know on Twitter).
Happy data gathering!
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