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How to Create Interactive PDFs in InDesign Using Hyperlinks

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There are several ways to make PDFs interactive when building them in InDesign. The easiest and probably most widely used way is to make hyperlinks that jump to pages within the current document, to pages in another document or to web pages. InDesign hyperlinks can be confusing, frustrating and even intimidating if you're just trying to figure things out intuitively, so let's take a close look at how to create hyperlinks in InDesign and export them into interactive PDFs.

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Tutorial Details

  • Program: InDesign CS3 (should also work similarly in CS2, CS4+)
  • Difficulty: Basix
  • Estimated Completion Time: 1 hour

Introduction to Hyperlinks

Most of the confusion in using hyperlinks comes from the names hyperlink and hyperlink destination. These two things are different and we need to be sure we're talking about the same things or this will be very confusing.

  • A hyperlink is the actual link on the text in your document. The InDesign Help files call this a source.

  • A hyperlink destination is where that text link is going.

It sounds simple put this way, but get to working with them and you'll probably find yourself a bit turned around!

InDesign CS3 has three types of hyperlinks (with corresponding hyperlink destinations): page, text anchor and URL.

There are two other categories of hyperlinks, unnamed and named. The unnamed hyperlink is probably the one you will use most often, so we'll start with that one. A named hyperlink should be used for links that occur multiple times.

Step 1 – Creating a New Unnamed Hyperlink

To create an unnamed hyperlink (source), select the text you want to be linked and then go to the Create New Hyperlink icon on the Hyperlinks panel (or the flyout menu on the Hyperlinks panel and choose New Hyperlink at the top). The Create New Hyperlink icon looks exactly like the new icon for everything in the Adobe Creative Suite programs.

Step 1 - New Hyperlink

Step 2 – Name the Link

By default the Name of the link will be the text you have selected (this name is only used in the Hyperlinks panel to identify the source). I usually leave that alone unless it's not very descriptive or if I have multiple links on the same word.

Name the Link

Step 3 – Choose a Hyperlink Type

In the Destination section, choose a Type. There are three options shown below.

Hyperlink Type

URL

For a web destination. In the URL field, type the URL. It must have "http://" in front of it and be sure there are no extra spaces before or after it.

Hyperlink Type - URL

Text Anchor

To use a Text Anchor, you need to have already created a Hyperlink Destination (see below), so we'll talk about this one in a bit.

Page

This is to send the text link to a specific page in the document. You can also set the Zoom with this type of hyperlink.

Step 3 - Type: Page

Step 4 – Unnamed Destination

The Name of the destination should be unnamed, unless you plan to use this link in multiple places throughout the document (if it is the company name linking to its website, for example). We will discuss named destinations below.

Step 4 - Unnamed Destination

Step 5 – Appearance Setting

Under Appearance, I always set it to Invisible Rectangle, otherwise you have an ugly black rectangle around your text and it's very distracting when reading. Doing this, however, makes it so that your link has no visual indicator that it is a link. To give readers a visual cue, we'll create and apply a Character Style (see below).

Step 5 - Appearance

Step 1 – Creating a New Named InDesign Hyperlink

To create a named hyperlink destination (so you can use it to create a named hyperlink), go to the Hyperlinks panel flyout menu and select New Hyperlink Destination. You don't need to have any text selected at this point unless you plan to create a Text Anchor destination (see Step 2 below).

Step 1 - Named Destinations

Step 2 – Select Type and Name It

Select the hyperlink Type and name it. Remember from above that there are three types of destinations: URL, Text Anchor and Page.

Step 2 - Destination Type: URL
Step 2 - Destination Type: Page

Text Anchor Destinations

You will not be able to create a new Text Anchor destination unless you have your cursor in a text box or have some text selected.

Step 2 - Destination Type: Text Anchor

When Would You Want to Use a Text Anchor?

I've used them for manuals with multiple sections on the same page. I linked the Table of Contents entry to the Text Anchor destination for its section. I could've use a Page hyperlink for this, but I wanted it to go exactly to where that section starts, not the top of the page. The down side to doing it this way is that you cannot specify a view setting like you can with a Page destination.

Once you create this named hyperlink destination, you'll be able to select it from the Hyperlink Options or New Hyperlink dialog boxes in order to put it on a hyperlink source (the linked text).

Creating a Text Anchor

Step 3 – Editing a Hyperlink Destination from the Hyperlink Destination Options Dialog

If you need to edit a named hyperlink destination you've already created, go to the Hyperlinks panel flyout menu and select Hyperlink Destination Options in the middle of the menu.

Step 3 - Editing a Hyperlink Destination

Select the hyperlink destination you want to edit and click the Edit button (why you have to click an extra button to edit it I don't know!). The Hyperlink Destination Options dialog is also where you can see all of the named Hyperlink Destinations in your document and delete Hyperlink Destinations.

Step 3 - Edit Destination Dialog

Step 3 Alternative – Editing a Hyperlink Destination from the Hyperlink Options Dialog

You can also edit the hyperlink destination from the Hyperlink Options dialog (double-click on an existing hyperlink in the Hyperlinks panel) or New Hyperlink dialog (the one you get when you click the New Hyperlink icon on the Hyperlinks panel). Remember, though, editing the destination will change it for all the text links that have this named destination!

Step 3 Alt. - Editing Destination

Step 1 – Create a Link Character Style

Now we'll create a link Character Style so that viewers have a visual cue that there is a link on the text (note that in the images above, I've already applied the character style).

Select the link text (no, you don't have to do this, but you'll see why I recommend it in a moment) and go to the Character Styles panel. If it's not visible, go to Window > Type & Tables > Character Styles (Shift + F11). Hold down Alt and click on the New Character Style icon. Holding Alt will bring up the Character Style dialog box immediately so we don't have to double-click on the default named new style.

Step 2 – Character Style Setup

On the General tab, check Apply Style to Selection (this is why we selected our text first). Also check the Preview box in the lower-left corner of the dialog box if it's not already checked.

Step 2 - Character Style Setup

Step 3 – Character Style Settings

Change the Character Style settings to reflect the look you want your links to have. I usually underline them and change the color.

There is an Underline Options tab on the Character Style Options dialog, so you can fine tune the underline; make it thicker, offset it more/less from the text, customize the line appearance (under the Type dropdown), set a tint, etc.

Step 3 - Character Style

Steps 2 & 3 Alternative

Of course, there are always multiple ways to do something in any program, so if it's easier for you, then you can create the style first visually using the Character and/or Swatches panels.

Then with the customized text selected, Alt-click on the New Character Style in the Character Styles panel. This brings up the Character Style Options dialog and applies all the settings of the currently selected text to a new Character Style. As above, check the box for Apply Style to Selection on the General tab.

Remember to apply this style to all the links in your document!

Exporting Hyperlinks to PDF

When exporting your interactive PDF you must check the Hyperlinks box on the General tab, under the Include section.

Export PDF - Select Hyperlinks

If you create many interactive PDFs, you can make a preset for exporting them so you don't always have to remember to check the Hyperlinks box.

Go to File > Adobe PDF Presets > Define.

Click on New and name it something appropriate like "Interactive PDF."

For the settings, at the very least, be sure to check the box for Hyperlinks to be exported. It might also be a good idea to go to the Compression tab and set your maximum image resolutions, probably to nothing more than 150 ppi because it will likely only be read on screen.

A Few More Tips

Hyperlinks to Other Documents

I mentioned briefly at the beginning that you can create hyperlinks to other documents.

  1. When creating a new hyperlink or hyperlink destination, under Destination choose the other InDesign document you want to link to. You will probably have to browse for it.
  2. Export both InDesign documents as PDFs (with Hyperlinks checked in the export options!)
  3. Make sure both PDFs are in the same folder

Hyperlinks on Objects

Above we only put hyperlinks on text, but you can put Page or URL hyperlinks on objects, too! How can this be useful? You could set up a kind of image map (like you can in HTML) where different parts of the image go to different pages or URLs or you could make an entire text frame a link.

Hyperlinks to Navigate InDesign

You can use the Hyperlinks panel to navigate the document in InDesign while you are building it!

  1. Select (click once) a hyperlink from the panel
  2. Use the left arrow at the bottom of the panel to go to the hyperlink source (the text or object with the link on it)
  3. Use the right arrow at bottom of panel to go to the hyperlink destination (this is really only useful for Page or Anchor Text destinations)

Hyperlink from URL

It is possible to create a new hyperlink from a URL that exists in written format in the text.

  1. Select the written URL text
  2. Go to the Hyperlink panel flyout and select New Hyperlink from URL option

With this method, you have to be careful about the actual link destination because it won't include the required "http://" prefix unless the text did. You can add this in by double-clicking on the hyperlink that was just created in the Hyperlinks panel and editing the URL destination.

Conclusion

Now that you understand how to create hyperlinks in InDesign, have fun applying these techniques to your in your next Interactive PDF project!

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