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Navigation Button Tricks for Interactive PDF on an iPad

When I’ve been working on creating interactive PDFs that will be viewed on an iPad, I’ve been frustrated by the immature applications available for reading and working with PDFs. I’ve written about this in the past year before here and here.

One of the most maddening problems was just getting simple navigation buttons (Next Page, Previous Page, etc.) to work properly. If you create navigation buttons in InDesign CS6, they work fine in Acrobat Pro or Reader for Macintosh or Windows, but they do nothing when you click on them in Adobe Reader on the iPad. Another problem is that, even with PDF Expert, a paid PDF reader app I recommended in the postings above, the buttons work, but the text for the buttons doesn’t display properly.

Creating Navigation Buttons in Acrobat

An Acrobat expert, George Johnson, explained the problem with navigation buttons creating in InDesign CS6 not working in Adobe Reader, in a posting on the Adobe Reader for iOS forum:

The problem with InDesign is in using the Go To Next/Previous Page options in InDesign, it creates an Execute a Menu Item action when exported to PDF, and since Reader for iOS doesn’t have menu items or interprets such actions otherwise, they are just ignored.

When I first created some navigation buttons in InDesign CS6 like those shown below, the Go to Destination action and Go to URL actions worked in Adobe Reader for the iPad, but the First Page, Previous Page, Next Page, Last Page buttons did not.

Navigation Buttons in InDesign

Navigation Buttons in InDesign

If you examine the buttons that don’t work in the Forms Editing feature of Acrobat Pro, like the Next Page button shown below, the PDF sees the navigation command as a menu command. This is a menu which appears in Adobe Reader and Acrobat for the Macintosh and Windows, but not on an iPad.

Buttons Viewed in Acrobat Pro

Buttons Viewed in Acrobat Pro

The workaround is to create those buttons in Acrobat. This requires a different workflow. Here’s what I did that works in Adobe Reader:

1. Instead of placing the navigation buttons on a master page, I created the four buttons (First Page, Previous Page, Next Page, Last Page) only once, and I placed them at the bottom of page 1. I didn’t give the buttons an action. (The other buttons can be created with actions in InDesign.)

2. I exported to PDF (Interactive) and opened it in Acrobat Pro. In Acrobat Pro XI, I chose Tools > Forms > Edit. In the Forms Editor, I right-clicked each of the four buttons on page 1 of the PDF, to bring up a contextual menu and chose Duplicate Field, and chose to duplicate the buttons on each page of the PDF.

Duplicating Buttons Across Pages

Duplicating Buttons Across Pages

3. Then for each button, I created an action in Acrobat Pro which created the navigation to the desired page. I double-clicked on each button. On the Actions tab of the Button Properties dialog, I selected a Go to a Page View action.

Go to Page View Action

Go to Page View Action

4. After choosing the action, I was prompted to navigate to the destination page as shown below.

Creating Page View

Creating Page View

5. The resulting PDF, when transferred to Adobe Reader on the iPad, worked perfectly.

Viewing the Buttons on an iPad

Viewing the Buttons on an iPad

Be aware that Adobe Reader still does not support Show/Hide buttons, nor does it support video or audio files.

Another Workaround for PDF Expert

Readdle’s PDF Expert, which I’ve written about before, has a different kind of limitation with buttons created in InDesign CS6. It has apparently created its own workaround for the navigation buttons which doesn’t require using Acrobat Pro. While the buttons work to navigate, you can’t read the text labels on the buttons! For PDF Expert, the workaround is to outline the type which is contained in the button. The screen capture above was created in PDF Expert after using that workaround.

Steve Werner

Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
Steve Werner

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75 Comments on “Navigation Button Tricks for Interactive PDF on an iPad

  1. I created a set of interactive flashcards in pdf format for language learning. The buttons allow hints to appear or disappear and enable the user to listen to a word to learn how to pronounce it. I created it with InDesign CS2 and created the buttons in Acrobat 7.0 professional. (I now have CS6)

    It works fine on a computer running Acrobat Reader, but the interactive features do not work on an ipad or ipod. Do you have any suggestions for how to make it work on these mobile devices? Is there a tool to make an app from it, or is there an app that will make the features operational?

    You can download the demo version at this URL:

    Thanks in advance.


    Here is a script I had written few years back. And it just works.

    What it expects, it will request user to input backward and forward button locations (x, y, width & height of these graphic ICONS). Once input script will run through the document and place hyperlinked boxes on top of existing back/forward ICONS, and does it on a new layer (named this as nacButtons_1 to begin with.

    For every change in the page-layout (deletion, moving of pages), delete this layer (checking nothing else resides on actual layout, and re-run the script.

    I have tried to explain best possible way I could, but if you wish for a quick screen record, let me know and will share how it works. (sapan . giri @ me . com)

    Sapan Giri

    • Your a genius Sapan, this works brilliantly, seriously good workaround of the button problem for interactive documents, becuase lets face it most are going to view on an ipad/iphone in this day and age.

      Thank you

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