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Quick Tip: Adding Movies and Sounds to InDesign PDFs

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Did you know that you can add movie and sound files to an InDesign CS4 project letting you build an Interactive document? In this Quick Tip you'll learn how to embed files and export your final work to Adobe PDF.


This quick tip was written using the features of Adobe InDesign CS4; nevertheless you can find a section listing the principal changes and improvements made for CS5 and CS5.5 right before the conclusion.

Supported File Formats

You can work with the following movie formats:

  • AVI
  • MPEG
  • SWF
  • Quicktime (Version 6.0 or above required)

Note Quicktime in not fully compatible with all SWF Files.

You can use the following sound files:

  • WAV (only 8 or 16 bits uncompressed)
  • AIF
  • AU

Although you can't play any of these files directly from InDesign you can do it when exporting the project to Adobe PDF.

If you send your InDesign project file to another person be sure to include all the media used in it. For other users to watch the media elements in a PDF file they need Adobe 6.0 or above for playing MPEG and SWF files or Acrobat 5.0 or above to play Quicktime and AVI files.

Adding a Media File

To create a media frame select the frame then go to "Object > Interactive > Movie Options" or "Sound Options".

You can do one of the following:

  • Choose "File > Place" and select the desired file. Click where you want the movie to appear.
  • Drag a file from the explorer (Windows) or the finder (Mac).

After placing the file in the frame you can fit the content to it. Go to "Object > Fitting >Fit content to frame". To change the options double click the media file fitted to the frame.

Movie Options

To edit the options of the movie clip double click the movie reproduction area or select the media frame and go to "Object > Interactive > Movie Options".

  • Description: A text description that will be shown if the movie can't be played.
  • Choose a File: press the Browse button to select a movie clip.
  • Embed Movie in PDF: The movie clip is embedded to the PDF file avoiding the need of sending the clip separated from the document. This option increases the total file size according to the media used. This option is not available if you selected Specify a URL.
  • Specify a URL: Use this option to play a movie clip from a web site.
  • Poster: Determine the image that will be displayed in the reproduction area.
  • Mode: You can choose between playing the movie once and close, play the movie and remain open or repeated playing.
  • Play on Page Turn: Plays the movie when the reader gets to the page where the media is.
  • Show Controller During Play: Display controls letting the user pause, play and stop the movie.
  • Floating Window: Plays the movie in a different window. If this option is chosen you can select the size and position of the window in the screen.

Adding a link to an internet movie.

You can add a movie clip hosted over the internet:

  • go to "Object > Interactive > Movie Options".
  • Click "Specify a URL".
  • Click "Verify URL and Movie Size" to check if the file is available.
  • Specify the desired options and click the Ok Button.

Note: I've tried to insert a streaming video link but had no success; so only hosted video files can be used with this option.

Sound Options

To edit the sound options double click the movie reproduction area or select the media frame and go to "Object > Interactive > Sound Options".

  • Description: A text description that will be shown if the sound can't be played.
  • File: press the Browse button to select a media file.
  • Poster: Determine the image that will be displayed in the reproduction area.
  • Play on Page Turn: Plays the media sound when the reader gets to that page.
  • Do Not Print Poster: Select this option if you don't wish to print the poster in InDesign.
  • Embed Sound in PDF: As like Embed Movie in PDF, this option allows embedding the media file to the PDF avoiding the need of sending it separated from the document. This option increases the total file size according to the media used.

Poster Options

A poster is the image that represents a media clip. Each movie or sound can appear with or without a poster. If the poster is bigger than the movie, it will automatically cut to fit the exported PDF file.

You can select one of the following options:

  • None: Doesn't display any image for the movie or sound clip.
  • Standard: Displays a generic image which is not based in the content of the media files.
  • Default Poster: Shows an image which comes together with the movie file. If the movie doesn't have a frame designated as the poster, InDesign will select the first frame from the movie.
  • Frame from Movie: At first this option appears dimmed until you specify a frame using the "Choose Movie Frame As Poster" option.
  • Choose Image as Poster: Allows you to introduce your own image to be used as a poster. Click "Browse", and select the image you want to use. NOTE only bitmap graphics are usable.
  • Choose Movie Frame as Poster: Allows you to choose any frame from the video as a poster image. Supported formats include AVI, MPEG, MOV, and SWF. Drag the slider or use the arrow keys to select the desired frame, and click OK.

Tip 1: To use your own poster; save the desired image as StandardMoviePoster.jpg or StandardSoundPoster.jpg at "Presets/Images" replacing the existing file.

Tip 2: You can also use the Direct Selection tool to select the poster frame, and then use the "Place" command (Command + D) to place an image inside it.

Changing the size of movie clips, frames or posters

When inserting a movie clip into InDesign, the object and poster will appear in the frame. When it is exported to PDF the size of the movie will determine the display size of the movie, not the frame nor the poster. To achieve a good result the poster and frame must have the same size as the movie.

To change the area you can do one of the following:

  • To resize the movie object, poster, and frame, use the "Scale tool" (Hotkey S) to select and drag one of the corner (press and hold the "Shift" key to maintain proportions).
  • To resize the frame, use the "Selection tool" (Hotkey V) to click over a corner and drag it.
  • To resize the poster or media file, use the "Direct Selection tool" (Hotkey A) to select the poster. Switch to the Selection tool, and click over a corner and drag it.
  • Use the fitting options "Object > Fitting" to scale the poster inside the frame.

Exporting to PDF

To export go to "File > Export" (Command + E) then select "Adobe PDF" from the dropdown list.

When exporting to PDF be sure to have the "Interactive Elements" option checked. If you wish to send one single file select the "Embed All" option; this will add all the media content to a single PDF file avoiding the need of attaching the used media files separately for correct user visualization.

Some Considerations When Exporting Media Files to Adobe PDF

When exporting documents to PDF format one can choose which version of PDF it shall be. Please have into account the following limitations:

Exporting to PDF 1.3 / 1.4

  • Posters which aren't RGB won't be visible.
  • SWF and MPEG movies won't play correctly or won't play at all.
  • Can't embed Movies
  • Can't link sounds
  • Posters should have the same display size as the movie.

Exporting to PDF 1.5 and some versions above

  • Media frames which aren't rectangular won't be shown in PDF.
  • Links won't be attached to Movies, Sounds or Buttons. To add links to any of these you can use Adobe Acrobat Pro.
  • Movies which are rotated or distorted may not play correctly.
  • Masks are not admitted for frames or posters.

What's new with Adding Movies and Sounds in Adobe InDesign CS5 and CS5.5

Some of the new features / improvements are:

  • FLV and MP3 support.
  • Media panel: This panel lets you preview SWF, FLV, F4V, MP4, and MP3 files directly in InDesign.
  • Motion presets: Now you can assign a motion preset to any page item as a way to quickly create an animation; just like presets found in Adobe Flash.
  • Animation panel: Allows to create or edit animation effects.
  • Timing panel: Manage the order of when animated objects play.
  • Object States panel: Create multiple versions of an object.
  • Preview panel: now you can preview interactivity and / or animation of the current selection, spread or the entire document.
  • Convert URLs to hyperlinks.
  • Overall improved exporting options.


Using movies and sounds can really add to your documents and presentations, I hope this quick tip was helpful.

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