How to Create an Interactive PDF
Multimedia engages readers on the web, turning web pages into far more than static text and a couple of pictures. Videos and music are used not only to enhance content, but also as part of adverts. YouTube videos include hyperlinks to other sites and videos, highlighting the interactive aspect of the web.
And then we have documents.
Stories, reports, perhaps newsletters and e-magazines, sitting on desktops, static, perhaps enhanced with strong design but ultimately rather basic and nothing more than a digital version of the printed page. Sure, it might be possible to add some hyperlinks and images into documents (for instance, Microsoft Office apps support the addition of video content) but on the whole, these features are ignored.
But what about PDF? The de facto standard for portable documents has plenty of tricks up its sleeve, and with Adobe Indesign it is possible to create a PDF that includes a wealth of multimedia elements. Once added, the file can be packaged and distributed as with any standard PDF document.
What Is Adobe InDesign?
Probably the number one desktop publishing package currently in use, Adobe Indesign is the complete solution, capable of handling everything from newspapers to flyers, posters to books, and all of the expected projects in between. Published content can be packaged for tablet devices, and it also exports in SWF and EPUB formats for digital publications and ebooks.
Adobe InDesign CC is available as a standalone app, or as a full app, with an Adobe Creative Cloud subscription for $19.99 a month for individuals, or as part of a wider package, all of which can be more precisely discerned from visiting the Adobe Creative Cloud Website.
If you’re just getting started with Adobe InDesign for the first time, however, we recommend using the free 30 day trial version and registering an Adobe username if you have not already done so. Don’t worry, they’ve improved security since 2013’s massive leak of user data .
Creating an Interactive PDF
To create an interactive document that will be distributed as a PDF , you can start with an existing project (Adobe InDesign and QuarkExpress files are supported). Alternatively, start a new document from scratch.
You might even want to start with a PDF file, though InDesign doesn’t natively open them. Fortunately, you can convert a PDF to InDesign format using Recosoft’s PDF2ID which is available for Windows and Mac OS X. (Conversions with the trial version of PDF2ID are limited to 6 pages and are rendered at 96 DPI.)
With your PDF file open, you’ll need to make it ready to be enhanced with multimedia, interactive elements. Do this by switching the dropdown menu next to the search box from the default setting to Interactive for PDF. This will introduce a new collection of tools, which you will see in the lower-right corner of the InDesign window.
Make sure you save your file before proceeding. Go to File > Save as and give the document a name, then move on to start adding the interactive elements.
Adding Hyperlinks to an Interactive PDF
We’ll start with something simple. While you can easily set text links in standard PDF editors, InDesign allows you to link virtually any element. Titles and header images are a good option. Text can be linked by highlighting, but note that URLs in the text (anything beginning http:// or www.) will be converted automatically.
In the InDesign window, select the title graphic, or accompanying image, and click the Hyperlinks button in the right-hand column. Click New Hyperlink (the second button from the right at the bottom of the window) and input the desired Destination URL. If you don’t want the link to go to a URL (rather, you prefer a file or email address) then change the Link to box at the top of the window.
Other options include linking to a page within the document (useful for making the contents page interactive!) or a text anchor or shared destination. This Shared Hyperlink Destination box should only be checked if you are going to reuse the URL elsewhere in the document; it’s a nice time-saving shortcut that you can use by selecting Shared Destination in the Destination box when creating subsequent links.
URLs can be listed in the Hyperlinks window, where you can add a relevant name to the link by opening the Rename Hyperlink box, setting the name (which should be meaningful) and click OK to save.
Note the Appearance section at the bottom of the box. This features settings that determine how the links appears. For the best results with images, keep Type set as an Invisible Rectangle and the Highlight option to None.
Navigate Your Publication with Buttons
To help your readers flip back and forth through the pages of your interactive PDF, rather than scroll, you can add interactive buttons. These should be first imported as a graphics into the project, preferably at the template level, which can be done using the Pages panel.
Once added, select the graphic and open Buttons and Forms and click Convert Button, in the bottom corner of the window. Ensure the Type is set to Button, and name the button (such as “previous” or “next”).
Click Action to set an action that corresponds to your button type (so that when clicked the electronic magazine moves to the previous or next page) and then click the Event drop-down to set an appropriate action (such as On Release or Tap, On Click, etc.)
Happy with your buttons? They can be copied to other pages, thereby saving a lot of time. Note that you may want to remove the previous and next buttons from the first and last pages of your document; do this by holding Shift + CTRL (Shift + CMD on Mac OS X) and clicking to highlight, then pressing Delete.
Displaying Videos & Media
Videos and other media make interactive PDFs stand out as memorable reading experiences, and adding these is surprisingly easy. InDesign supports FLV and h.264 encoded MP4 files as well as MP3s.
The reader of the finished exported interactive PDF will need to have Adobe Flash Player installed in order for these multimedia elements to work.
The easiest way to do this is to click Media > Place a video or audio file and browse for the file you plan to include. With this selected, drop the file into the page where you want it to appear, resizing if necessary. If you find that the content of a video has been cropped, right-click and use the Fitting > Fit content to frame menu option.
Next, decide if you want the media to play when the page loads. This works best for audio-free video clips, although clips that address the reader directly can also benefit from this. Click Play on Page Load to play the clip automatically, otherwise leave the option clear.
To set the Poster image – that is, the image from the video that will display on the page – move the playback progress arrow into position and select From Current Frame, then the circular Refresh button. You can also click on the video options button in the bottom-left corner to set options such as the size of the video and whether it should appear in a floating window.
Note that media clips from the Internet can also be included in your interactive PDF, but these require the reader to be online when they read the finished document. To add these, open the Place media from URL button in the top-right corner of the Media window, and input the URL. This must be a Flash Player-friendly video, which rules out YouTube content.
For the best results, only include clips stored on your computer.
Saving Your Interactive PDF File
When you have your interactive magazine, brochure, or even book as you want it, it’s time to package it as an interactive PDF. Do this by opening File > Export and selecting Adobe PDF (Interactive) in the Format: drop-down menu.
This will open the Export to Interactive PDF options box. This offers the ability to set page transitions and presentation options – you can play with these and other options to see which results you like the most. Just ensure that you have set the Forms and Media option to Include All to include each interactive element that you have setup.
Spend a moment on the decision between Spreads and Pages too; the former will output the file as an interactive magazine with double-page spreads, the latter with single pages.
When you’re happy with the options, click OK to export the interactive PDF. You’ll see a warning advising you of the conversion from CMYK to RGB if you haven’t set the Document RGB option in the Edit > Transparency Blend Space menu. If the output e-magazine has color issues, simply repeat the export with this option enabled.
Your exported file is ready. Spend some time checking that the elements work on your computer, and perhaps on any smartphones or tablets you have access to before distributing.
Has InDesign helped you to build a stunning interactive PDF? Have you found an alternative solution for building attractive interactive e-magazines? Tell us about it in the comments.
Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.