The Power of Interactive PDF

One of the best things about Adobe InDesign is the ability to save your files as Interactive PDFs.

Imagine designing an online brochure with a photo for each of your products. When someone clicks a product image, it turns into a video showing off the cool features.

If they have a question? They can fill in an enquiry form.

What’s an Interactive PDF?

This is no bog standard portable document format (PDF) file. You can add active hyperlinks, for example, and fillable forms. You can design a Submit button and have the data in that form sent to an email address. You can also add bookmarks and movies. Sometimes.

Some people ask why not just have a website. The answer is that an interactive PDF can be more like a magazine, does not require an active internet connection, and can be emailed or supplied on a branded USB stick.

What can you do with it?

The sky is the limit with what you could do with an interactive PDF. Here are a few ideas.

  • Make an Annual Report for your company. Leave out the financial tables and use the general company info for your organisation all year round.
  • Make a Product Catalogue to Email to prospective customers/clients.
  • Make a membership brochure with a fillable application form. You can also link to a payment gateway like Paypal if you want.
  • Show off a Portfolio of your work and have an enquiry form.
  • Create a Conference booklet that includes a Gallery of Abstract Posters with links to findings, research presentations, and links to related sessions during the event.

Current Challenges with Interactive PDF

One of the challenges around interactive PDFs is the lack of consistency between PDF viewers over the internet.

As Bob Levine says, “Most users think that a PDF is a PDF is a PDF. This is simply not true.” In that sense, PDF is a victim of its own success by the fact that it is now everywhere.

The PDF file was created by Adobe, as well as InDesign and Acrobat, and interactive PDFs are best viewed using Adobe software–whether that is the free Adobe Reader of a sufficiently up-to-date standard (although it doesn’t need to be the latest. Version 7 is fine), or the paid Acrobat Pro or Acrobat DC.

Some browsers have developed their own in-browser PDF viewing capability (Chrome and Firefox), but unfortunately, these don’t support all of the interactive features of the PDF. It’s a real pain and I wish they would get their software in order as Adobe should have the first and last word on what is a universal standard of PDF.

If there are still issues with the user experience of interactive PDF, why not just create an App?

Well, sure. But an App is often well beyond of many.

How do you get around the issues?

If a link is to be sent by email or embedded in a web page, it is best to mention that the PDF is interactive and best viewed in Adobe Acrobat or the free Adobe Reader (e.g. version 7 or later).

If the document is extremely complex, I would suggest considering an alternative such as Fixed Layout ePub. This will create a magazine-style experience with navigation buttons and hyperlinks.

How does it look in ISSUU?

Issuu is a fantastic platform for online magazines I’ve been using for nearly a decade. I tested an interactive PDF in issuu and the results were better than I expected. The hyperlinks worked, including my link over to Paypal, and so did the fillable form. The video, however, didn’t play. No surprises there. Video seems to be the main bugbear when it comes to compatibility.

Want Help?

If you are interested in turning an existing document into an interactive PDF, or Fixed Layout ePub, please get in touch.

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