Adding Interactivity to PDF Files from InDesign

I was working on a client project the other day that involved converting a large scale print exhibition (40 panels, each 700mm x 1000mm) for on-screen presentation. The project was further complicated by a very short deadline. It would have taken too long (and been too expensive) to reformat all 40 panels into a Flash-based slide show. PowerPoint wouldn’t have worked either as the panels were too text heavy to fit onto a single slide. So after a few trials at different ideas, I quit and gave up.

Just kidding.

I turned to the wonderful tool that is Google and did some research. And what I discovered not only made the project possible within the time constraints but also added a level of functionality and grace to the resulting PDF that I would never have imagined possible before Adobe InDesign. The process involved setting up an InDesign file to export to PDF. (I should mention here that I knew adding interactivity in Adobe Acrobat was possible, but for a 40 page document, I expected it to be cumbersome.)

I started with the original InDesign file (which was set up for the 700mm x 1000mm panels) and then added a series of navigational links that would allow the viewer (scrolling through the resulting PDF) to navigate to the previous page, the subsequent page or the starting page. I also added a couple of buttons that would allow the viewer to zoom in and out on the PDF. (This worked best in Adobe Reader 8; in Adobe Reader 7 or earlier, the zoom features still worked but scrolled off the page when zooming. In Reader 8, the document ‘zoomed in’ with the buttons as the anchors, if you will, such that they were always on screen, unless the viewer then scrolled down the page to read the panel text.)

Once the InDesign file was properly set up, I exported to PDF, making sure to remember to export the hyperlinks and interactive elements on the ‘General’ tab on the Export dialogue box. Failure to do this renders the buttons and navigation useless in Acrobat.

After the file had been successfully exported to Adobe Acrobat, another nice touch (I thought!) was to change the opening settings so that the PDF file opened in full screen. This makes the navigation that was added in InDesign the only available navigation (unless the viewer hits the Esc or Ctrl-L on the PC) and therefore makes the PDF document the complete focus on the screen.

An important to aspect to remember about PDF documents, and what makes this process work so well, is that there was no need to resize the document dimensions in InDesign as Acrobat will scale the file to fit the screen. Yes, this does make for a larger file (the total exhibition file was about 10mb), but as this project called for the PDF to be distributed via a DVD-ROM, this was not a concern. (I could have re-sized the images in the InDesign file before exporting but, again, the distribution was via DVD-ROM, I decided against that option.)

I have uploaded the first few pages of the exhibition, so you can see the lot for yourself: Interactive PDF available for download.