The term “interactive PDF” refers to a PDF file designed to be viewed on screen. Interactive PDF features are the parts of a PDF that provide your audience with additional functions that are more commonly found in websites. Some of these features include buttons, hyperlinks, rollover states, embedded sound, and video, among others.
Designing an interactive PDF might be advantageous when you want to create an interactive experience for your reader but don’t necessarily want to place this content on a website. Using Adobe InDesign also allows for total creative control of your design, unlike most blog or webpage templates. Another advantage to creating an interactive PDF is that the file size is generally small and easily sent by email.
There are some disadvantages to this format though. To take advantage of the interactive features, your reader must view the file in Adobe Reader. If the file is opened in a web browser or other programs like Preview, the results are often unpredictable. Another drawback is that while InDesign is a powerful program, it takes some time to learn the design workflow. I have found Lynda.com tutorials to be very helpful in providing basic introductions for creating interactive PDFs.
Recently, Vassar’s Art History Department chose to use the interactive PDF format to build study guides for Art 106. Students in this course are required to identify many works of art and architecture, but making these images available to students in a clear and concise manner has been a challenge for faculty. Interactive PDFs allow students to view a thumbnail image of each work, along with the corresponding metadata. When these thumbnails are clicked, they link to the Luna database that stores high-resolution, and detail views of each work. When the viewer scrolls over each thumbnail, the caption next to the image disappears. Scrolling on and off the image functions like using a flashcard, and is useful for self-quizzing. Even though this format is designed to be viewed on screen, it can easily be printed as well.
Here are links to two interactive PDfs that demonstrate several of the features mentioned in this post. For proper functionality, remember to view these documents in Adobe Reader.