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.

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

  1. Had exactly the same problem when checking a PDF on iPad the other week.

    Ended up making ordinary links that were styled to look like bevelled buttons but that had no roll over etc..

    Many thanks for – yet again – a really helpful post answering a real world problem

  2. Steve, so you’re saying that after you dupe the fields onto each page in the PDF, you’re selecting the “next page” button on page 3, for example, and adding an action for Go to Page View, then going to page 4, then clicking Set Link, then selecting the “next page” button on page 4, adding a Go to Page View action, then going to page 5, then clicking Set Link, and so on?

  3. That’s correct. It’s a manual process, and you have to do it for each button on each page. But it works, because the other method does not.

    It’s a workaround until InDesign CS6 writes out its PDF differently, or until Adobe Reader for iOS (and presumably Android) compensates in the same way that PDF Expert does for menu items that don’t exist.

    It’s a lot like all the workarounds you teach about creating EPUB from InDesign. Necessary but hopefully most of them will go away.

  4. Hmmmm… Created buttons right in InDesign CS6, next/previous page. Exported to interactive PDF (not print of course), opened in Acrobat viewer on my iPad: they work fine!
    Also in Good Reader, but also in plain Adobe Acrobat reader on my iPad. Tap button go to next page, works like expected…

  5. I just retested, creating a new InDesign CS6 document with Next Page and Previous Page. Works in Acrobat Pro on Mac. Doesn’t in ADOBE READER on iPad, current version. That results matches the postings on the Adobe Reader for iOS forum I linked to above.

    You’re referring to Adobe Acrobat reader. It’s Adobe Reader for iOS.

    Here’s a Dropbox link to my file:

    Here’s the thread on Adobe Reader for iOS forum:

  6. Sorry, yes I meant Adobe Reader for iOS. looking at it now, nice round buttons I created myself, next page/previous page. There is/was a bug when they were created on the Master Page, these buttons of mine are on the document pages, but standard page actions from within InDesign.
    Now I always used Good Reader because this supported these actions since two years, but that same PDF now works on my iPad3 with standard Adobe Reader, never tested it before in Adobe Reade but your post made me try… And it just worked…

  7. Oke, I’ve downloaded your PDF from Dropbox, and indeed, works in Gooed Reader not in Acrobat Reader! Hmmm… Let me find out what I did on my own document, will get back on you on that.

  8. You are absolutly right, Acrobat Reader fails. I’ve looked into my own document: the actions were changed in Acrobat Pro, just like you suggested. Doh! Could not remember I did that, but it seems I did. A fresh created document fails, ah well, see that is why I use Good Reader ;-)

  9. -regarding Bots and Spam. If a mouse event is added to this form, they will not get through. (perhaps old info as I last did this months ago)

    Example: dropdown menu with 2 choices: Human, SpamBot. or radio buttons with a choice.

    • I used acrobat x pro to create the document and all functions work properly on ipad using iannotate EXCEPT….the buttons I created under ‘forms’ for executing a menu item. I placed an icon and previous VIEW action on every page (not previous or next page). Works perfect in adobe but not the iPad. Doesn’t even recognize the icon etc. page is blank in that area…help. We really need previous view to go back exactly where we were after opening a supporting document via link to page etc. thanks.

  10. I’ve always used the hyperlink option in InDesign CS6 to set up all my links including sending the viewer to the previous/next page without a problem (on Mac, PC or ipad). Have you run into issues with that? It’s still manual but you don’t have to redo it every time you create the pdf.

  11. I downloaded your PDF from the dropbox as in post June 18 because I wanted to see if yours came up with the forms message at the top. It did. Does anyone know how to stop this happening. If it isn’t a form it can be confusing!

    • Hi Brenda

      You are now officially one of the thousands of frustrated people who have been pleading with those dinosaurs at Adobe for years to stop this happening. They simply WILL NOT LISTEN !!!

      However, that particular document is actually a form, in that the Feedback page provides fill-able fields.

      I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but if you know anyone who can explain why they insist on pursuing this, then please can they let me know.

      Also, with regard to forms and the apparent ‘intelligent’ features that are now being included, remember not to include words like sign in your documents ( even if it’s just that … a word in the text ) … apparently it will be seen as “Ooooh … is this a form with a digital signature required” …

      Words fail me


  12. I managed to write a little script to generate hyperlinks on each page of a document. I will share with you guys soon .. Remind me if I havent posted sooner ..

  13. Thanks Harry, very insightful. I did find out how to hide the message if it isn’t a form.

    There are two things:
    First an application preference: Preferences > Forms > Always Hide Forms Document Message Bar, but that is purely an application preference, not a general preference for the PDF.

    You can try the following as well:
    · File > Document Properties
    · Click Initial View
    · Under User Interface Options: Select Hide Window Controls.
    · Save the PDF
    · Reopen it.

    Words fail me really why we have to go around the houses to get the required result. I guess it’s another glass of red tonight after trying to explain this to the client!

  14. I’m afraid it’s based on basic JavaScript, but please note, layers are NOT viable for iOS ( or indeed any tablet / mobile scenario. These examples are doing a show / hide field ( the fields contain the text and imagery ).

    • A show/hide field would work perfectly aswell. Can i make the fields in Indesign, save them into the pdf and then program them to work in the PDF Expert app? Or is that not how it works?

      • Hi

        The normal show/ hide field action in Acrobat / InDesign I suggest will only work on desktop. The ONLY way I’ve been able to get it to work on iOS is definitely PDF Expert by Readdle. Adobes reader for tablets and mobiles does not support this level of this.getField javaScript. You can create the buttons/ fields where you wish ( InDesign / Acrobat )

    • Hi, i’m guessing the interactive_ipad_test_for_PDF_EXPERT only works if you read it in the app PDF expert?
      Because it doesn’t in adobe reader.

  15. Hi … yes … see my earlier posts


    NB It has been put together so that it will work on desktop AND iOS, provided the iOS user has PDF Expert by Readdle installed !

  16. Any work-around for form created in Acrobat X Pro to be used on iPad with buttons for:
    1. action: email form to (and actually getting the mail on iPad to auto-fill the ‘to’ address?)
    2. using a button with action to reset a form

  17. Step 1:
    Create paragraph style named “crossRef_hyperlink” (assign no fill/stroke and certain font/size)

    Step 2:
    Create object style called “pgHyperlink1″ & “pgHyperlink2″, fill none, stroke none, paragraph style as defined above.

    Step 3:
    Here is the script (once document with navButtons ready, alter the coordinates according to the location of these navButtons within the script, save and run):

    tell application “Adobe InDesign CC”
    tell document 1
    set myLayer to make new layer with properties {name:”navButtons”}
    set pageCount to count of pages
    repeat with i from 1 to pageCount

    if i > 1 then
    –dimensions according to: TOP, LEFT, BOTTOM, RIGHT
    set backFrame to make text frame at page i with properties {geometric bounds:{188, 14.5, 195.5, 22}, applied object style:object style “pgHyperlink1″, applied paragraph style:paragraph style “crossRef_hyperlink”, contents:”dest” & (i – 1)}
    set backSource to make hyperlink page item source with properties {source page item:backFrame}
    set backDest to make hyperlink page destination with properties {destination page:page (i – 1)}
    set backHyperlink to make hyperlink with properties {source:backSource, destination:backDest}
    end if
    if i < pageCount then
    set frwdFrame to make text frame at page i with properties {geometric bounds:{188, 30, 195.5, 37.5}, applied object style:object style "pgHyperlink2", applied paragraph style:paragraph style "crossRef_hyperlink", contents:"dest" & (i + 1)}
    set frwdSource to make hyperlink page item source with properties {source page item:frwdFrame}
    set frwdDest to make hyperlink page destination with properties {destination page:page (i + 1)}
    set frwdHyperlink to make hyperlink with properties {source:frwdSource, destination:frwdDest}
    end if
    end repeat
    end tell
    display dialog "All done"
    end tell

    This works irrespective of platform/tablets/devices. Thus no buttons, just creating hyperlinks via script for multi page document is a great timesaver. Use it all the time.



    • Thanks for the replies. My issue is that I want to pass an ipad around a group, have multiple people fill out the same form (it’s a scantron form). For ease of use, it seems that just adding an (email) button and a (reset form) button would make the process work. I can’t have multiple pages of the form, unless I change all of the form fields (because data entered into the field is copied on all subsequent pages)…and because it is a scantron, there are 550+ fields I would have to rename!!!

      Harry – some of the reviews for PDF Expert by Readdle suggest that when they release an ‘update’ that they charge another fee for the new update download. Is this true? Have you used this app long? Also, If I create buttons for (email) and (reset form)…..without anything special being done, will those work on PDF Expert by Readdle? I can download it an try….but it if works, I need to have a better idea of if there will continue to be charges, etc. because I would be recommending 40+ colleagues to also download it in order to use the form.


  18. Another Way:

    - in the Indesign document
    I was able to use the “Page” selection in the New Hyperlink Menu and choose the page number. The navigation links worked in Adobe Reader on the iPad.

  19. @Michelle

    I’ve sent you comments directly to Readdle. But basically, I’ve only experienced one major upgrade that required an additional / supplemental payment.

    To be honest however, since this app is so far in advance of anything that Adobe is doing, I would be happy to pay anyway.

    I’ll let you know what feedback I get

  20. My question is, I hope, a relatively simple one. Using Adobe Acrobat Pro I have added simple text (actually English translations of words in a Spanish text) throughout the document. When my cursor hovers over the blue marker indicating text when I’m using Adobe Acrobat Pro on my mac, the associated text box is perfectly revealed until my cursor no longer hovers over it. I tried many different pdf viewers on my ipad, and generally speaking I couldn’t even see the blue markers. The exception was GoodReader–with this program I could indeed now see the blue markers. But hovering did not open up a transient text box. Instead, I need to enlarge the view sufficiently to get a good cursor hit on the marker, I then end up opening up a replacement screen that reveals the text box info, and finally I have to close out that text box to get back to where I was in my reading. Is there a way the hovering feature can be implemented on an iPad?

    • My work relies heavily on the use of interactive buttons within a .pdf workflow, whether it is desktop or tablet based ( so buttons, done correctly, can work on tablets David )

      The example I posted above ( January 16th ) runs on both, provided the iOS tablet has PDF Expert by Readdle installed.

      If you want to see a quick screencast of this in action, including the showing / hiding / pop-ups of fields etc ) just follow this link (

      I think it is worth commenting that tablets are a completely different user experience, and whilst actions can be set for mouse enter / exit etc, in great part that is irrelevant for tablet since your fingers are already in contact with the screen. So maybe a bit of a re-think of the approach is required.


  21. I have been having a similar issue for a client’s interactive PDF report that needed the “Show/Hide” feature in InDesign to reveal many acronyms’ definitions in a “Pop-up” box when the acronyms were clicked on. Then the “Pop-up” boxes could be clicked on to close themselves using the same “Show/Hide” feature. While I have been going a little crazy the last FEW MONTHS scouring the forums and blogs (and just spent an hour and a half on the phone with Adobe’s tech support staff that apparently only support desktops and laptops but have NO CLUE about the delivery of Adobe content via tablets and other mobile devices), I can say that a few things have been helpful – on the expert blogs (but sadly not in any of Adobe’s support forums or call centers).

    1. Buttons in interactive PDFs are NOT supported in iBooks or Acrobat Reader on the iPad.
    2. Basic buttons, like navigational buttons (go to next or previous page) or submit, DO work in the “PDF Expert” app, which is $9.99 in the App Store.
    3. So far, no matter which workaraound I have tried from the forums and blogs, the “Show/Hide” buttons still do NOT seem to work properly in even the “PDF Expert” app. (I see a highlight field where my buttons and pop-ups should be but no content in them – no text and no background – only a translucent highlight that shows that somewhere in there it’s trying to work. The highlight fields even show and hide the way the buttons and pop-ups are supposed to, which is maddening!)
    4. The only recommendation I could get from the Adobe tech support folks was to use InDesign and the Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) instead and publish an app through the iTunes Store.
    a. Unfortunately that is NOT an option for me because my client’s report is confidential and being sent to only a small group of less than 100 people.
    b. I could bypass the iTunes Store and distribute the “Ad Hoc” method of attaching the .ipa file (the app file) to an email list of up to 100 people but my client would have to buy the DPS Enterprise Edition, which costs upwards of $20,000. (Yes, that’s $20K in American dollars.)
    c. There is NO option to distribute “Ad Hoc” with the Single Edition of DPS which comes with the Creative Cloud. I guess a lot of people ask that of the DPS forums and the experts give cranky repies that “No, it is just not possible with any DPS version less than the Enterprise Edition.”
    d. There is no middle ground on this yet but a lot of people seem to be asking for it. What’s up with that, Adobe? No support for the small to mid-sized businesses for simple interactive brochures and reports that they don’t want to release to the world, just to a select few?
    5. The only solution I have found even slightly feasible is to create buttons that control “Multi-State Objects” (or MSOs) to behave similarly to the “Show/Hide” buttons and create a DPS .folio file from the InDesign doc.
    6. I still can’t recommend that my client pays $20,000 to be able to distribute his interactive quarterly report but I think I found a way around a small distribution.
    a. You can share a .folio file with people through an email from the “Folio Builder” panel in InDesign. (See this help file: and scroll down to the “Share Folios” section.)
    b. Apparently, this link is not permanent, but I haven’t found an answer anywhere as to when it will time out. I’m thinking at least 3 months will be enough for my client for the time being until the next quarterly report comes out. Hopefully by then Adobe will have come up with a cost-effective solution for the small to medium-sized business that wants to publish interactive documents for the iPad or the PDF apps on the iPad will become mature enough to handle these slightly more robust interactive features.

    I hope this was helpful to some of you trying to do something similar. If anyone has an elegant solution for the nearly-working interactive PDF on the iPad, please let me know. Thanks in advance!

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