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Make It Look Like a Book in the Acrobat PDF

Sandra wrote:

With book documents, chapters usually start on a right page. If I want to make a pdf, the spread option does not work for the last page from one document and the first page from the next document. I get single pages for these two. (This is not for final print, but only to show clients what their pages look like.)

Making a PDF of a book actually look like a book isn't as straightforward as you might hope. It is tempting to turn on the Spreads checkbox (in the Export PDF dialog box) in order to show what the book will look like, but I encourage you not to. First of all, as you found out, InDesign cannot merge the two pages (last page of one chapter and the first page of the next) together into a single spread. But second, all you're really doing is telling InDesign to pretend that the whole spread is a single page -- and that the document is made up of single-sided pages. Of course, you'd also need to draw your own line in the document to show where the spine is... Blech.

Instead, give this job to Acrobat. After opening the PDF in Acrobat, you can adjust the view (View > Page Display) to show the spreads. Make sure the Show Cover Page During Two-Up is selected, too, or else page 1 will become the left-hand part of a two-page spread.

But you don't want to have to tell your client to do this. So open File > Properties (Command/Ctrl-D) and, in the Initial View tab, set the Page Layout to "Two-Up (Cover Page)."

Then click OK and save the document. That way, when you client opens it, it will open just the way you intended. (Unless they open it in some other PDF viewer, like OS X Preview, which doesn't read the Initial View tag properly. In that case, you're back to telling them to choose View > Page Display > Two-Up.

David Blatner
David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
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51 Comments on “Make It Look Like a Book in the Acrobat PDF

  1. Another *very* important reason not use Spreads when exporting from InDesign is that it completely messes up the page numbering in your PDF.

    BTW: I would also set “Magnification” to “Fit Page”. Looks much nicer when first opening the PDF.

  2. One of my #1 gripes about InDesign is precisely what you’ve described here–the fact that users need Acrobat to activate PDF features rather than using InDesign. You’ve described one such feature, another is making PDFs to which users can add comments.

    Why should we need Acrobat for those sorts of things? They’re little more than flags inside the PDF file. I can see why something as complex as form creation should be left to Acrobat. But there’s no reason why ID can’t flick on or off mere PDF flags, the more the better.

    Adobe is doing a good job of making ID the single source for many different outputs: PDF, Flash and ePub. That’s great. But with more review and publication going digital, ID users need to be able to create full-featured review and publication copies of PDFs without going through Acrobat. What they’re doing now is as absurd as automobile companies making cars without trunks, so we have to use their pickups to transport our luggage. The result is wasted time.

  3. I was gonna give the same tip Sander Pinkse gave above: the Magnification set is also important to give the look of a book.

  4. I agree with Mike Perry above, completely. Due to (insane, nonsensical) business constraints, we’re ‘publishing’ a book to the web as a PDF (don’t ask), but we want to show facing pages. So, for every chapter, I have to manually go into the created PDF and set it to Two-up (facing) and Fit Visible. Lame.

  5. This will help me in many projects in the future and is deeply appreciated. Keep up the good work. I read this site every morning after looking at several newspapers. (They don’t have good tips.)

  6. David, thankyou very much, this I could never have figured out myself. Thinking out of the InDesignbox :-)
    Thanx a lot!

  7. Just out of curiosity, how many people actually use the book feature? I work on books all the time with anywhere from 100 to 400 pages and I never use the book feature. And these are complicated books with lots of tables and figures. When Quark first came out with the feature I started to use it because it seemed safer to have smaller size files to work with. But that does not seem to be an issue anymore. Mind you, I work alone. I can see it in a collaborative environment where people may wish to work on different chapters at the same time. But other than that, I really see no reason for it.

  8. Answer to John McKercher: some publishers demand a certain way the final documents are delivered. And it can be very handy if for example you have a book where every chapter uses it’s own set of colors.
    I like using smaller documents and connect them with the book option, but I don’t use it all the time.

  9. @John: It’s true that InDesign doesn’t require you to break down long documents into smaller “chapters” (individual docs in a book panel). However, I still do it for anything over 100 pages, typically — especially if there are a lot of graphics making the file size bigger and bigger.

  10. This is just what I was looking to find out how to do, but I don’t seem to have the two-up options in my version of Acrobat Pro; what version are you’re screengrabs from? I have version 7.


  11. @Emerald

    No need to upgrade. In Acrobat 7 it’s called ‘Facing pages’. Cover page is always on, there is no option to switch it off.

  12. We have catalogs that we would like to put on CD’s to give to customers to view instead of printed copies. I have used Acrobat to do this but would like to know is there any other software that could make it look more “book like”? For example when you go to Target’s website and you can view their weekly ad.
    Thanks for your help!

  13. “No need to upgrade. In Acrobat 7 it?s called ?Facing pages?. Cover page is always on, there is no option to switch it off…”

    Not so. I’m also still on Acrobat 7, and my PDFs usually can’t start with a spread (although sometimes they do!), which makes me think it’s something to do with how I set up pages in InDesign. My viewing preference is on ‘facing pages’… I’d love to get a fix for this, as it’s been a pain for a while!


  14. When i set my booklet to spreadsheet i could also trim the first spreadsheet in half to get a PDF that looks like a book. (Tools > Advanced Editing > Trim ) With this way, the document keeps the same layout in Acrobat and in OS X Preview!

    Why does the trimmed spreadsheet moves to the center and does not stay on one side or the other ?
    Please help me out ;-)

  15. Erika: that’s because the ‘current page’ gets centered in the window.
    To not get that either don’t make your own spreads and use Acrobat’s own “Two pages plus cover page” (can’t recall the exact term), or leave your first spread as it is, without trimming off the left side.

    (In case anyone might think your document starts with two visible pages, you can put a text on the left side: “This Is Not A Page”; or put a big mid gray rectangle over it. Or tell anyone who cares that books always start on a right side page.)

  16. Thanks for your fast reply!
    In the “Two Up Continuous (Cover Face)” ,”Show Gaps…” mode the cover is on the right side but the spreads are too close together. In the “Two Up (Cover Face)”,”Show Gaps…” mode the spreads have some space to each other but the cover is in the center.

    How can i have the cover on the right side, some space between the spreadsheets (top and bottom) and a PDF clients can view not only in acrobat ? (is there absolutely no way to move a page out of the center ?!)

  17. Finally! This has bugged me for years. Keep hoping it will be solved in new versions. Just this morning I was daydreaming about this being solved in CS5, since the discs arrived yesterday and I’m now just waiting on the new computer so I can install them. Glad I found this way to do it while I’m still in CS3 (and since I’m sure it’s not going to be solved in CS5).

  18. I don’t have inDesign installed but I have got some PDF’s that I would like to set so that by default users see it in two-up view; any suggestions?

    Basically I’m an amateur so I use MS Publisher for some work and it is intended to be viewed as two-up and currently I have to tell everyone to change the view to that.

  19. How do I get the pages to actually look like paper with the shadows toward the center? Is that a function within Acrobat or InDesign?

  20. I want the pages in sequential order – 1,2,3,4, – oon my pdf, not in publisher order where they have to be printed out and put together. This is for proofing purposed for those not familiar with print specifications. How do I get a pdf in page order instead of publishing order.

  21. Carol: you have already gone the wrong way by physically altering your page order in InDesign. It should not have been necessary — it’s fully the responsibility of the printer to shuffle your document for imposition.

    There is no way to automatically undo the damage you already done; I guess you need to rebuild your document manually …

  22. This is so helpful – thank you! But, I’m enormously frustrated by the problem of OS X Preview not reading spreads as spreads. I have Acrobat 8. Does anyone know if this problem has been fixed in later versions?

  23. Short cut key for viewing pdf like a book or InDesign view = alt+v+p+v followed by alt+v+p+t = 1st page showed on the right side.

  24. Any way to do this in Adobe Reader X (10)? There is no ‘initial view’ tab within ‘properties.’ I can set mine up to view it the desired way, but, as said above, I do not want to ask my clients to do this. Is this done differently in the newer version? I was so close…

  25. Thanks David. This is the internet at it’s best!! I spent too much time searching for an a solution to this issue – firstly in Acrobat Help & next the web – then I came across your article. You’ve increased my knowledge in two areas today – two PDF pages on the one screen & then I discovered “resize window to initial page”. Talk about two birds with one stone! Cheers and thanks again!!!

  26. Thank you! Been using Acrobat Pro for a long time and didn’t know about this. Also never used the File-Properties to unify how doc opens. All good tips here. Thank you… even if initial post was almost 4 years ago!

  27. so if I print it will it print in this format? because doing it at office works on self serve and cannot have booklet printing options

  28. Came across this article while looking for this answer and thought I’d suggest an update that might not have been available when this article was originally published in 2009.

    If you export as Adobe PDF (Interactive), the dialogue gives you the option to set layout as “Two-Up (Cover Page)”. Might you save a step or two.

  29. Since many of my clients are using their phone or the built in PDF reader in the browser, is there anything I can do to make sure my book ALWAYS shows as facing pages? I notice that using Adobe Reader on my phone doesn’t obey my preference that I set in properties.

    I just had a client request I center all the text on the page because he saw only continuous pages when I had selected the properties for facing pages.

    • Bonnie: Sorry, you just can’t really control how a PDF appears on every device and every reader. There are too many PDF reader options and they all have their own rules. Frustrating, I know. Just another reason, perhaps that interactive reading is heading away from PDF and toward fixed layout EPUB.

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