Interactive Layers in Acrobat

When you hear about Adobe products in the design world, you might talk about Photoshop, Illustrator, Bridge, or even Lightroom. Yet, in an office setting, you often only have access to Adobe Acrobat. Acrobat is not the best tool to create designs with, however it does have some useful properties that you can make use of to enhance your digital media. In the following tutorial I will show how to make use of the layers panel and prepare forms function to change the visibility of different elements on a pdf. This can be used for variable text or images. The following tutorial items were created only with the use of Microsoft Word and Adobe Acrobat.

The basic documents that I used for this were 4 Word documents with three base circles on the first and the three colored circles in the other three pages, all of which were converted to pdf documents. These could be created much more simply with the layers option in Adobe Illustrator if you wanted to have a similar effect. Note that when adding PowerPoint slides that have been converted to PDFs as layers the background does not come through as transparent while it does in a Word document.

I started out with my background layer open in acrobat (in my case three light blue circles). Then I opened the layers panel in the left side menu and imported each of the other pdf documents as layers. When importing the layer, you have the option to change the layer name, its opacity, and even transform the content. If you wanted to layer the content but then condense everything into one layer you can use the “Merge Layers” or “Flatten Layers” command to accomplish your desired effect. Once the layer was added, I changed the default state to off so that when you open the document you just see the background layer. (Again, if you use illustrator or some other editor that supports layers you would be able to open the document with the layers already in place.)

Next navigate to the purple “Prepare Forms” field on the right menu. You may have to click more tools if this is not visible in the menu. When you choose to prepare the form, it will search automatically for text fields and check boxes to integrate into its logic. In this case it should come up with nothing. Next choose the button from the top menu and add one for each circle covering the selection area. I started out by setting the layer visibility of the layers to invisible and then coming back to turn them on were appropriate.

 Next set the properties of each button. The general tab will allow you to change the button name and add a tool tip which will appear after a second of the mouse resting on the item. The appearance tab lets you set the color of the border and fill along with text. In our case, set fill color to “No Color” so we can see our shapes. You can explore position and options as you wish, but the actions menu is the next one needed here. First make sure that the visibility is set so all the layers are invisible (if not you will need to exit, change the visibility, and then navigate back). Then select the trigger as “Mouse Exit” and the action to “Set Layer Visibility” then hit Add. This will have the effect of setting the background to be the only visible layer when you leave the button. Next, close the menu and set the layer under the button to visible and then go back to the action menu. Now select “Mouse Enter” as the trigger and “Set layer visibility” as the action. This will make the circle visible when you enter the region. As you can see the action menu has other options which give you some flexibility in how visibility is set. Just remember to set things back to the default if you don’t want to open your document to unexpected layer visibility!

            Adobe Acrobat is good not only for viewing PDFs but making them more engaging for your audience. This would not be my go-to if I had to only use one Adobe product to design a print item. However, it does have some unique properties which make interacting with the PDF more interesting. I can see using this for a presentation or to show data about graphs. You can also use it for the equivalent of an online popup book. I hope this helps for the next time you design an interactive graphic. Also, if you are interested in the document I used for this tutorial, you can access it here.