InDesign CS5 to Acrobat 9 multimedia and interactive workflows

By June 16, 2010


The last few versions of Adobe InDesign have moved further and further into multimedia and interactive features, and the demand for exporting content in various types of media continues to increase. Some InDesign CS5 features are tailor-made for export to interactive PDF files, others are geared toward SWF export, and some features can be used regardless of your intended output.

Acrobat automatically converts multimedia files to FLV files for easy playback by anyone using Acrobat or Adobe Reader. One way to use an FLV file in Acrobat is to simply wrap it in a PDF shell. Many times, however, an FLV or other media file becomes part of a larger project, placed on a particular page location or within a portfolio. You’ll often see multiple pieces of rich media (video, SWF and sound) incorporated into an interactive presentation.

There are many ways to add interactivity to a PDF file, whether or not it originated in InDesign. It’s important to keep in mind that not all the multimedia and interactive features work together. For example, you can’t export only active document layers from an InDesign publication along with operational buttons.

Let’s look at some issues you may encounter in your design projects. Knowing which features work together will save time in developing your next multimedia extravaganza.

The project file

The sample project for this article began in InDesign and contains multiple features and layout options:

  • The document contains four pages—page 1 as a table of contents, and pages 2-4 designed to display a movie file
  • Page 1 includes a hyperlinked Table of Contents
  • Page 2 includes a SWF file
  • Bookmarks correspond to the labels at the top of the movie pages and the Table of Contents page
  • Pages 2-4 include a three-stage button that triggers an action to return to the Table of Contents page
  • The document includes four layers, corresponding to the four pages (Figure 1). Each layer includes all content for a page, as opposed to using shared Master pages, separate layers for artwork and graphics and so on.

Figure 1: Components for each page are separated on layers.

Download a copy of the PDF with attached INDD source file.
Download [PDF, 14.3MB]

Movies and sound clips

You can add a SWF or an FLV movie in InDesign, preview and manage the file and then export it in a PDF document. However, Acrobat offers more options for configuring the movie and lets you embed more types of media.

Placing media files in InDesign

Figure 2 shows features of a sample SWF file placed in an InDesign document. The media file uses basic settings, including playing on page load. You’ll see the open PDF Options dialog box, where you can specify limited playback specifications, and add a description for the object.

Figure 2: Specify the basic movie settings.

Placing the file in InDesign allows me to ensure the page and its contents are appropriately sized and spaced (Figure 3).

Figure 3: Configure the page layout.

Exporting an interactive PDF file

I can add the files in InDesign, or export the document at this stage and easily add more movies in Acrobat. Choose features for the PDF from the Export to Interactive PDF dialog box (Figure 4). I’ve chosen to export layers as Acrobat layers, add tags, and include all buttons and media.

Figure 4: Choose settings for interactive content.

Tip: If you’re experimenting with the provided INDD file, don’t be surprised by the message regarding clipping that displays before the export starts. I have a set of buttons and images on the pasteboard for page 1 that can’t export to PDF.

How to handle animation and motion

If you’re an InDesign aficionado, and are enjoying the new Animation and Motion Presets included in InDesign CS5, you’ll be tempted to include an animation or two in your content for export to PDF. Don’t bother—unless it’s critical to your message, working with animations in InDesign intended for PDF use are tricky.

The SWF below is a case in point:

Video 1: The animated question mark—is it worth the trouble? (NOTE: click on image to see animation)

In this version of the sample project I’ve animated a large question mark over the Table of Contents page. It’s cute, but I wouldn’t use the animation as an imported SWF for the project because it doesn’t serve any purpose. On the other hand, if the project were designed for export from InDesign as a single SWF, there’d be no issue keeping the animation.

As shown in several figures and the example project, I’ve used a static version of the question mark with a text wrap applied on the Table of Contents page. It’s not as flashy as the animation, but offers the same visual emphasis.

Working in Acrobat

Once the document opens in Acrobat, I can make changes to the existing SWF file and add another movie file. First modify the settings for the SWF on Page 2 since it’s designed to start when the page loads.

Adjusting the existing SWF movie

Double-click the SWF frame with the Selection tool to open the Edit Flash dialog box. Make changes as required; I imported a static poster image and changed the trigger to start the playback (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Modify the Flash movie playback.

Inserting another movie

Page 3 of the sample project includes an AVI movie file. In order to use the AVI format, you need to transcode the file using Adobe Media Encoder, or work in Acrobat 9 Pro Extended (Windows). Draw a frame on the page with the Video Tool on the Multimedia Task Button’s dropdown menu. Release the mouse to open the Insert Video dialog box (Figure 6).

Figure 6: Specify settings for the video file.

Click Show Advanced Options to extend the dialog box and display additional tabs, Select appropriate settings in the tabs according to your project output requirements. Click OK to close the dialog box. Windows processes the file and encodes it as a FLV for inclusion in the PDF file.

The finished page now starts when the page is clicked, and shows the playback controls as specified (Figure 7).

Figure 7: Click the page to trigger the movie.

Checking out other interactive features

Many times you work with other interactive content in addition to inserting multimedia. I’ve experimented with a few features, with some interesting results.


In the InDesign document, I added hyperlinks from selected text on the Table of Contents page to the video pages (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Hyperlinks were added in InDesign.

Note: I could have used cross-references and text anchors rather than hyperlinks. I didn’t follow that method as I simply wanted to jump to full-page displays.

The hyperlinks work as expected in the PDF document. However, rather than linking to pages, InDesign created Destinations, and the links are made using those destinations rather than simple page references (Figure 9).

Figure 9: The PDF file shows named destinations used as hyperlinks.


The bookmarks added and configured in InDesign were reproduced precisely in the exported PDF file (Figure 10). No surprises there!

Figure 10: Bookmarks were exported to Acrobat.


I made a three-stage push button in InDesign for the sample project. Examining the button properties in the PDF shows the converted information and functionality (Figure 11).

Figure 11: Bookmarks were exported to Acrobat.

Note: You can build an object in InDesign with unlimited states and attach triggers to the object. If you intend to produce PDF output from your project, don’t bother with multi-state objects as only the active state exports in the PDF output. Multi-state buttons are the exception, and handled via a separate panel in InDesign.

Acrobat Layers

The final item on my experiment list was evaluating layers. The original InDesign document included one layer for each page, with copies of all content on each page (as shown in Figure 1).
After converting the file to PDF, the four layers appeared and worked as expected. But—the Grids and Guides layer exported as well (Figure 12).

Figure 12: An extra artwork layer exports to Acrobat.

The Export-to-Interactive-PDF process in InDesign doesn’t let you pick and choose different layers for export, unlike the default Export-to-PDF dialog box (Figure 13). However, you can’t export interactive content like buttons, too. Even exporting with the Normal button states means you’d have to recreate your buttons in Acrobat.

Figure 13: The Export to PDF dialog box allows layer selection.

Fortunately, there’s a workaround. In Acrobat, open the Layers panel and then choose Merge Layers from the panel’s dropdown menu (Figure 14). Specify the layer to merge and click OK. Voilà! The blank layer merges and the project is finished.

Figure 14: Merge the blank layer.

Was this tutorial helpful?

Please Log in to provide feedback on this tutorial.

Rate this tutorial

Please Log in to rate this tutorial.


Did you know?

  • You can ask a question and get an answer from one of our experts.
  • You can search our database of over 800 tutorials by product and/or topic.
  • You can leave a comment below for the author of this tutorial.

Products covered:

Acrobat 9

Related topics:

Combine Files

Top Searches:

Create PDF, combine files into one PDF


Jeffrey Isbell

10, 2013-12-12 12, 2013

I can’t believe there are no comments. Yes! Yes this WAS helpful. Very rich content. Thank you!

Leave a reply:

Have an urgent question? Post your question to our Ask an Expert forum for a faster response.

Fields marked with * are required.

Try the next version of

Free trial

Learn how to
edit PDF.

Get started