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This article is from September 28, 2011, and is no longer current.

Create an Interactive PDF with Animations in 1 Step


When you export an InDesign layout with animation, InDesign does not transfer those animations into an interactive PDF automatically. One way to do this is to export an animation to a SWF, then place it back into InDesign before exporting to a PDF. In two pervious posts (post 1post 2) I wrote about a few workarounds for this problem.

Up until a few weeks ago this double export method (I like to call it double baking your potato) was the only way I knew how to create a PDF with animation. However, I was lucky enough to be at a conference with Chris Converse where he demoed a way to create an interactive PDF with animations from InDesign that I had never thought of before.

Convert to a PDF with Acrobat

  1. Export your entire InDesign layout as a SWF file (File > Export> SWF)
  2. Open up Acrobat Pro and go to file > Create PDF

Acrobat 9 or Acrobat X

The last two versions Acrobat Pro are able to create a PDF from a SWF file, but the newest version may work better. I did a few tests myself and I wasn’t able to notice a difference, however you will get probably a better conversion with Acrobat X since it uses Flash player 10.1 vs. Acrobat 9 which uses Flash player 9.

The PDF is only 1 page

When you are converting a SWF into a PDF, the entire PDF will end up being only 1 page even if your InDesign document has multiple pages. This means that you won’t be able to use the acrobat interface to move in-between pages. Therefore it is important to build in a navigation system inside InDesign to let your users move between the pages of your document. Even though this may seem like an inconvenience, this SWF to PDF conversion is a lot smoother than previous methods.

James Fritz is a Principal Program Manager: Content Tools and Workflows at LinkedIn.
  • Wow! What a cool idea. Thank you James (and Chris C!). That would be very strange to open a PDF and see just one page but have it actually be lots of pages… but it might just work.

    But no, this will not work if you put your PDF on an iPad. ;)

  • Nice tip!
    I once did a test and packaged whole InDesign/eDocker SWF project to one PDF page… it works suprisingly well…=)

  • Carlos says:

    Thanks for the tip! I have just one problem – after opening the PDF, first of all i had to click on an arrow to run the animations. Is it possible to make the animations run automaticaly?

  • James Fritz says:


    Good point! I should mention that when you create the PDF, be sure to cheek “show advanced options” and then under “enable when” change to when the page containing the content is opened. This will auto play the SWF.

    • Heather says:

      I’m trying to do the same but I can’t find ‘show advanced options’ when I export the interactive pdf. I’m working in indesign cs5

  • Tom says:

    I love your blog! I always learn something new. James, you´re a excellent writer. Thx for the good tips. Although the comments are very very helpful.

  • dottyj says:

    Great streamline solution!!!! but still need help with a related situation….

    I’m running into a problem getting a movie to play when pdf is opened, and don’t know if it’s related to the swf.

    Movie (flv/f4v) is part of a multi-state object that is triggered to play on page load after the click of a “next state” button command.

    Works fine in preview, but when exported as swf, movie won’t play when Next button is clicked to next state. Only the selected frame shows up. Then when Next button is clicked again, the next image in sequence shows up…everything else works normallly.

    Is there a solution for this? What am I missing?


  • James Fritz says:


    Try exporting the ID file out to a swf with HTML and see if it works in a browser. Are you running the latest version of flash (version 11)?

  • dottyj says:


    Did this and everything works in the html version as well as playing the swf file in Flash. Although I notice that I do have to click on the frame to start the movie…it doesn’t start automatically when triggered by the “next state” button.

    But movie doesn’t play at all in the pdf.

    I’m running flash version 11.0.2.

  • James Fritz says:

    Try converting your video into a .f4v format with the Adobe Media encoder. Another issue could be the version of Acrobat that you are using. If you use Acrobat 9, it uses Flash 9, but Acrobat X used Flash 10. If you are able to use Acrobat X, you might get better results.

  • dottyj says:

    Thanks James! Will give it a try.

  • Lori says:

    Good stuff, all the way around. Thanks!
    Petteri, one question for you though… which InDesign/eDocker files did you include in the pdf to make it work?

  • James Fritz says:


    I just used a SWF that I exported out of inDesign., but it hold work with any SWF that you have.

  • Klair says:

    Thanks James, this has all made interesting reading. I have been playing with your script swf.presenter which is brilliant!!!, but would be better if I could get it to work on spreads for my booklet! I could export the whole doc as a swf but I’d like to keep individual pages and allow text searching along with playing my swf animations and videos. Any advice? I’ve spent hours trying to work it out :(

  • Jesca says:

    I’m having a problem in my exported swf file, the flv files doesn’t load with flash. And…I tried to export it in PDF format, the flv files load (seems ok now…), but some of the functions I made doesn’t work in PDF… :( I put multiple images to be able to view by hitting the buttons I made (convert all the images into object states and make interactive buttons—-> go to next state and go to previous state) but, this only works with flash not in PDF… So, when I exported my work into PDF it can no longer be click. :( what do I have to do to make the images move by clicking the buttons in PDF format? *on tears*

  • oddesigner says:

    Hey, I have made a large multi page animated presentation in indesign. The animation looks very well. I need to make a movie from the individual pages of the document which I have exported as individual .swf animations. I would love to know is there any software out there that can play a series of swf files as a movie with no need for page click activating. By which I mean it is self running. If this is possible it would really improve the presentation capabilities of indesign. Anybody have any suggestions?

  • Andrew says:

    I’m not sure if DOTTYJ was ever able to get her video to play in a PDF after she ran the script but I am running into the same issue. The only way I can get my video to play is if I open the html file. It does not play through the swf file or the interactive pdf. All of the other button and animations work fine. I really need the movie to play in the pdf that I am creating for my sales team. I am opening the PDF in Acrobat X and the movie I placed in InDesign is an an F4V. The video plays fine in the preview panel. Is there any way to get the video to play in the PDF? Any help would be appreciated. I guess I’ll to try placing the video straight through Acrobat if there is no workaround. Thanks in advance.

  • Andrew says:

    I actually did a little experiment and made an InDesign document without any animation or buttons and placed a video and exported an interactive PDF. The video played fine in the PDF. I then took the same exact InDesign file, placed a simple animation and ran the SWF Presenter script and the video only shows up as the still screen so I know that it is happening when I run the script. I thought I would be able to add the video straight through Acrobat X if needed but I now realize since my I have a multi-page document where you can only get to the next pages through buttons that I can not add the video correctly because my PDF only shows up as a 1-page document. Again, any tips would be greatly appreciated.

  • roxanne says:

    Great idea,

    Can I ask a hopefully easy question, which someone can answer straight away :)
    The problem you mentioned at the end of the post, where the SWF is one page and so it won’t navigate to different pages like you’d organised in Indesign…
    I’m not sure I understand the work around… ie right now I’ve got a button, where you ‘roll over’ it, activating an animation (little blurb shows up) But when you click on the button, it takes you to another page with more detail etc.
    Now I’ve used the action ‘Go to Page’ and put in page 3 etc etc – which works fine in the preview, however as soon as I export to SWF it stops working…so how do I get it to work? I’ve tried creating a hyperlink, but that seems to negate the ability to get the ‘roll over’ effect… Am I able to achieve both animations, ie the roll over and then click on to go to another page?
    Hopefully this is something very simple, I just haven’t worked out because I’m still new. Would love any help.
    Thanks in advance

  • Lucy says:

    Hey James,

    I need to create 300+ PDF forms with editable fields (which I currently do using the automatic form fields in acrobat), however I would also like to incorporate the interactivity of an SWF, primarily the interactive page curl.

    Is there any way to have the best of both worlds? I tried adding form fields but its laborious and low res – any ideas would be greatfully received!


  • Scott says:

    Got everything to work except when it comes to printing a pdf. It only prints page 1 since you convert it to one pdf page. Does anyone know how to print each page?


  • Stacy says:

    Thanks for the tip! Any advice on getting the file size smaller?

  • Jennie says:

    Can you explain how to build in a navigation system inside InDesign to let your users move between the pages of your document?

  • Tashita says:

    So I’m playing with the interactive PDF with animations that I created in ID, and everything looks wonderful EXCEPT! the music doesn’t play :~(

    How do I fix this? I tried to go to Tools/multi-media/sounds in Acrobat but a dialog box does not pop up for me to select a file and choose music. Instead it just shows the background with missing animation and images.???

    Any suggestions on how to import the animation AND music from indesign from a swf?

  • liam davey says:

    please help!!!

    when I convert my inDesign doc to swf (I have interactive buttons with page turn) and then to a pdf through Acrobat the page is cropped (the user recipient would need to know to zoom out to see the whole spread).

    is it possible to have the whole spread visible when the document is opened?

  • Anthony Hancock says:

    I’m hoping someone can help me with a problem. I’m trying to display my cv on a ipad… The problem is that I want to show animations I have created. PDF will play movies in acrobat but once placed onto ipad movies no longer play… Tried swf but ipad does not support flash files. Tried linking to website but again ipad does not like flash files… Am I just a bit ahead of my time and this idea of having a animated cv which you have on a ipad can not currently possible…. Had a idea of creating a app from in design … Any ideas please help

    Many thanks

    Anthony Hancock

    • @Anthony: you are ahead of your time; there is just no good way to do animations in PDFs on an iPad at this time. Very frustrating, I know.

      • Anthony says:

        Thank you for replying… I think I have found a way around. Started looking at creating a app from indesign the process seems complex but the finished item offers me more than I was hoping ie animations imbedded side swiping, slide shows, can you help in offering any sites that I can find good tutorials, watched a few on you tube, once again thank you for replying.

  • Vlad says:

    This is not a good idea. Use HTML for all online content and interactive documents/presentations.

    If you use PDF, use it for static documents meant for print or annotation. Make them paged and simple so people can use familiar Acrobat navigation, so people using screen readers can read your document, and so your document opens quickly and without issues on mobile devices.

  • Monika says:

    Hi, That is very good idea! I was looking for a simple solution to this problem. I have just one questions: is there a way to reduce the end pdf file size down so it’s easy to be emailed to a client? It’s a brochure and at the moment it’s 7MB so would prefer a bit smaller size for emailing. Is there a way or would I need to upload the swf file and html file on the web server and just send a link to the clients?? I’m new to all this, please help. many thanks!!

  • Supreme Geek says:

    Here is the process that I used to create an interactive PDF with a page curl for navigation from a multi-page InDesign document:
    1. Export from InDesign the SWF file and be sure to select the interactive page curl option. (When exporting from CS6, there is an option for a SWF file).
    2. Open up Acrobat Pro (I’m using version XI).
    3. The splash screen has a Create button, select it.
    4. Select the exported SWF file.
    5. A dialog box will appear with a box in the middle of it to select “Advanced Option,” select the box.
    6. Another dialog box will appear with three tabs (Launch Settings, SWF and Resources). Select the “Enable when” drop down and change it to “The page containing the content is opened.”
    7. Go to the SWF tab and check the box “Pass context menu click to SWF.”
    8. Select “OK.”
    Your PDF will be created with an interactive page curl. For those who want to reduce the file size, just go to “File”, “SaveAs” and select “Reduced size PDF…” I hope that it works for you as well as it works for me.

    • Supreme Geek says:

      I forgot to add the reason that you add the “Pass context menu click to SWF, is so that the end user has an additional method of navigating the document. If they click on the page, it will go to the next one…

      • AA says:

        Hi SG-

        Do you mean that the “Pass context menu click to SWF” option will actually separate page into multi-pages PDF doc instead of just one SWF file on one PDF page ? Hope I’m making this question clear…

  • Mary Boland says:

    I have been placing my Indesign exported swf file back into Indesign and than exporting to an interactive PDF. Mostly to bring the file size down. The interactive PDF I had to do for work was over 50 pages and was taking too long to download. It is on a Canadian Government website. I ended up having to also link the videos not embed them. Works great but only problem is any Flash animations I put in won’t work when it is pdfed after placing the swf back into the Indesign file. You can’t reswf a swf! But I will try skipping the placing back into Indesgn and just pdfing the swf file with Acrobat and see if it solves that problem. My way will accept Indesign animations but not original Flash animations. I did not know that Acrobat will pdf a swf file. Looking forward to trying it.

  • Kat says:

    Can the page-turn .pdf be then embedded and viewed online in a web page?

    I have tried exporting the .pdf using both the .swf in Indesign and the direct .swf to .pdf in Acrobat. However, both versions do not display the page-turn function in the browser window and only display the first page of the document.

    Both version work fine as stand-alone .pdfs with page-turn.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  • Janet says:

    Can someone send me an example of what this looks like in practice. I think it is what I want, but I am not sure. Thanks.

  • JC says:

    This worked perfectly, thank you SO much for sharing the tip!

    For those who may have the same question that I once had — if your SWF file looks pixelated or low-res, go to the “advanced” tab on your SWF export window and change the ppi setting to a higher number. I changed from the default 72 to 300, and everything looks great.

  • Dianne says:

    How does one “build in a navigation system inside InDesign”?

  • Dario Failla says:

    So i have a presentation in InDesign that includes some animated objects and a video, I’ve tried to export the file to SWF and then open it on Acrobat, the animations are there but not the video. Does anyone knows a workaround to this?

    • Are you open the SWF file in Acrobat? I strongly recommend people not use SWF type animations in PDF files anymore, because: They do not work on mobile devices at all, and many people (like me) do not have Flash on their computers anymore. (So Acrobat cannot play them.)

  • Evans Joey says:

    I have two interactive PDF’s created for use on an iPad. I’ve put a box across the top of the page to be able to double tap and it will zoom to the top of the page. Only on one of the PDF’s it doesn’t work. Every other document I have created it works just fine. You can zoom in on pictures and text or any box that has a color in it, even if that color is transparent. But, I think it’s a setting on the one I’m having a problem with as the picture don’t seem to want to zoom either, but I can get it to zoom in on text. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks

  • If you export the pages individually as SWF format and use acrobat to ‘create PDF from file’ save the PDF’s individually i.e. Page 1, Page 2… Then, open acrobat again and click the function ‘create PDF from multiple files’ – attach the files and click ‘combine’ / This way you have a PDF that shows more than one page, with thumbnails and the animations embedded. I would only suggest using this for short documents as it takes awhile to setup. I hope this helps…


  • Tom Mapes says:


    Just wanted to say thank you for the post.

    I’ve been trying to find a way of doing this for the last week or so for a large corporate presentation.

    Following these steps worked and I’ve ended up with exactly what I wanted!

    Thank you!

  • Octavia Coutts says:


    I’ve been having a problem for weeks now with an interactive pdf. Everything is great right until I activate the animation and the whole page goes blurry, non-animated text included. Do you have any idea why or how I could solve this? I’ve tried everything I can think of…

    Many thanks in advance!


    • Blurry?! Wow, that’s strange. Remember that the animations in PDF currently require Flash to be on the computer, so they don’t always work the way you’d expect. I keep hoping that Acrobat will build Flash Player in, or allow these to be played on non-Flash Player devices.

      • Octavia Coutts says:

        Thank you very much for the response! I realise Flash is needed but if it’s installed then shouldn’t it be okay? If there anything you can think of that would cause that? I just don’t understand why the text goes blurry as well…

      • Octavia: I honestly don’t know… never seen it do that before! If you figure it out, please let us know what it was.

  • zafdaddy says:

    Great post. Works really well. Is there a way to set up the SWF file or work with it in AA so that when the final pdf is opened it opens in full screen mose

  • elizabeth graham says:

    Is it possible to do this with facing pages, but keep the front and back pages single, so it interacts like flipping though a book. This is almost perfect for what i need!

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