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Bring Ideas to Life Through Rich, Interactive PDFs

If you find yourself working with PDFs often, you can discover many things you can (and can’t) do to them to make them more interesting, and at the same time more user-friendly and useful. Adobe expert Brian Wood explores some of the most widely used interactive features that you can add to a PDF.
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I love working with PDFs. Always have. There are just so many things you can (and can’t, actually) do to them to make them more interesting and at the same time more user-friendly and useful. I’m talking about adding interactivity to a PDF. Interactivity can come in the form of adding simple links between pages for easier navigation, to adding multimedia like Flash video to the document or manipulating layers in the file.

In this article, I explore some of the most widely used interactive features that you can add to a PDF. One thing to keep in mind as you read this article and implement some or all of these things is that I’ll be using Acrobat Professional 10. Also, if you work in a program such as Adobe InDesign, lots of what I will show you can be accomplished in there, before the PDF ever gets to Acrobat.

Here’s a list of topics we’ll cover:

  • Adding links (page, web, email)
  • Adding bookmarks (extra things we can use bookmarks for)
  • Adding buttons and actions
  • Opening the PDF in full-screen mode and page transitions
  • Setting Open Options, so it opens the way you want it

So, assuming you have a PDF created and have it open in Acrobat, we should get started, but there is one thing to note first. If your PDF has security on it, you may be prevented from adding anything to it. How can you tell if security is on your file? Choose File > Properties and click the Security tab. If “No Security” is showing in the Security Method menu, you are set. Otherwise, you will need to remove it!

Adding Links

The first interactive feature is adding links to a PDF file. Links can be used for many things, including adding web links, email links, links between pages, links to other PDF files, and much more.

We’ll start by adding a link, then I’ll add a few tips for speeding up the creation process:

  1. With the PDF open in Acrobat, select the Link tool by choosing Tools > Content > the Link in the Task Panes on the right side of the workspace.
  2. Add the link. There are two main ways to add a link: either click and drag with the Link tool to draw a link area or simply double-click on your page to add a default link area (see Figure 1).
  3. Figure 1 Create a new link area

    After creating the link area using one of these two methods, the Link Properties dialog box will appear. This is where you can change the appearance of the link and the action (what it does).

  4. In the Create Link dialog box, choose Invisible Rectangle from the Link Type menu. This will make the link area invisible.
  5. Choose Open a Web Page from the Link Action options and click Next (see Figure 2).
  6. Figure 2 Set the link options

  7. Enter a web page in the next dialog box, starting with, “http://www” (see Figure 3). Click OK.
  8. Figure 3 Enter a website address

  9. To test out the link, make sure that the Hand tool is selected in the Toolbars. When you click the link, a dialog box most likely will appear asking if you want to allow the link to open in the browser.

There are many types of links you can create, including links to other pages, links to other PDF files, and many other type of actions you can explore later. Next, I’d like to show you a few quick tips for creating and editing multiple links:

  1. With the previous link selected, using either the Link tool or Select Object tool, to copy the link, hold down the Ctrl (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) key and click and drag the field to another part of the page (see Figure 4).
  2. Figure 4 Copy a link

  3. To edit the appearance or action for the link, either double-click the link with the Link tool or Select Object tool or right-click (Windows) Ctrl-click (Mac OS) the link area and choose Properties (see Figure 5).
  4. Figure 5 Edit the link actions

If you wind up creating a series of links and need to ensure that they line up, are the same size, or distribute evenly, you can do so easily in Acrobat. For the next few steps, you will need to have at least two links on your page:

  1. Using either the Link tool or Select Object tool, Shift-click multiple links to select them all.
  2. Position the pointer over the link that you want to align the other links to or the link that the other links should be sized like and right-click (Windows) or Ctrl-click (Mac OS). That link will be outlined in blue and is the “key” link (the link that other links will align to or match their size to).
  3. Choose from any of the menu items such as Align, Center, Distribute, or Size (see Figure 6).
  4. Figure 6 Align, Size, or Distribute fields

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