Make PDFs Interactive to Impress Clients

Create opportunities with customers by making their PDFs interactive

May 24th marked the demise of the Victoria Secret catalogue. Whether one supports the brand or not, the discontinuation of the 300 million-copy catalogue marks the end of a 39-year era, confirming the pervasiveness with which digital marketing has taken over. The transition to digital channels is not a new one. The iconic Sears Wish Book, which I fondly remember obsessively dog-earring every holiday, is now almost exclusively online or downloadable as an interactive document.

While some see the emergence of digital channels as a threat to our industry, I perceive an exploitable opportunity. The best example of a product one can capitalize on is the portable document format or PDF.  It’s a universal file format used for digital information distribution which looks like a printed document. With multiple PDF readers available in the market, it is easy for anyone to download compact, shareable files without the hassle of missing images or typefaces.

The standardization of the PDF format means that almost every document is a PDF at some point. Whether the customer supplies a print-ready PDF file, or a soft copy proof is sent for sign-off, the PDF is the cornerstone of any workflow. Since average customers have neither the access to Adobe Creative Suite software nor the expert editing skills of a graphic artist or prepress operator, it is usually an easy upsell to offer them the additional service of making the PDF interactive, along with all future editing services associated with that document.

An interactive PDF is essentially the transformation of a static PDF to a dynamic document where a user can interact with specific elements. Like a regular PDF, the document can be shared internally or uploaded externally to the Internet. These documents can contain movies, page transitions, hyperlinks, buttons, form fields, bookmarks, etc, completely changing the end user’s engagement and experience with the document and creating a digital marketing tool for the client.

The two most common ways to create an interactive PDF is either using Adobe InDesign or Acrobat Pro. To add interactivity to an InDesign document, it is a good idea to reset the workspace to Interactive for PDF, which customizes and displays the pertinent panels for document editing. The most valuable panels are hyperlinks, bookmarks, buttons and forms, and media. (To learn more about these panels’ features, one should consult the Adobe Support user manuals). When textboxes, shapes, and photos are selected in the document, the panels become active, allowing the editor to assign “new” properties to these pieces. For example, each picture in a magazine could employ a hyperlink to open the product’s web page. Each panel indexes every interactive instance and these elements have a dashed bounding box when selected. One caveat to this process, however, is when exporting this document, the Adobe PDF (Interactive) option should be chosen.

Adobe Acrobat Pro is tailored to create PDF forms. There is a specific Forms toolbar that allows editors to add textboxes, radio buttons, checkboxes, drop-down lists, buttons, and signature fields (to name but a few elements), to a PDF document. Creating each field opens a dialog box to customize appearance, list options, and assign actions or javascripts when one interacts with a field. It is quick and easy to build a complete, useable form for a customer that can be filled out, printed or effortlessly returned by email from Adobe Reader. A fantastic functional use for form-based PDFs is employing them internally to create paperless workflows where fillable forms are shared amongst staff as non-editable PDFs, thereby protecting the integrity of employee reporting. Many companies print forms but a paperless option is an attractive selling opportunity.

In the age of digital consumption, the PDF is an incredibly versatile file format.  The beauty of the graphic communications industry is that it encompasses so many skillsets and resources imperative to both print and digital media. Leveraging the Adobe Creative Suite is a great way to excite customers and upsell interactive PDFs which can be used to engage with clientele in new ways. Offering to create interactive PDFs not only generates more revenue but also creates a complete product package, and helps close the loop between physical and digital media.