InDesign CS5.5 Buttons to Open other PDFs with Relative Path in New Windows—FAIL

Every year I produce a number of projects that consist of a CD containing a PDF with hundreds of buttons linking to other PDFs. Every year it’s a real headache, because InDesign doesn’t work as well as it’s supposed to. Now I’m testing these projects in CS5.5 for the first time, and I’m happy to report that InDesign’s ability to create buttons that open files is improving! Unfortunately it’s not there yet, so for now, it’s back to Acrobat I go.

I’m basically concerned with 3 things here:

  1. Buttons must be as easy to create as possible, in source InDesign file if possible so that they need not be recreated in Acrobat every year the file is updated.
  2. Buttons must continue to work after files are burned to CD or moved to another computer.
  3. Buttons must be easy to use for readers, and should not cause confusion. If a button causes a document to replace the current document in the window with no way to return to the original document, this is bad! Files should open in new windows, the same way a file opens when a user goes to “File: Open.”

In previous versions of InDesign it was not possible to create buttons that met these requirements; it was therefore necessary to go into the PDF in Acrobat Pro and make extensive edits after export to make the final file. I was hoping that CS5.5 might fix this; while there are improvements, unfortunately we’re not there yet.

Creating the buttons in InDesign 5.5

Creating the button is easy; just right-click the object (or select the object and go to the object menu), choose “Interactive: Convert to button.” The object turns into a button, and the Button Panel will reveal itself (if for some reason it does not, you can find the panel in the Window menu under Interactive). You can make your button open a file by clicking the ‘+’ next to “actions” and choosing “Open a file.” Browse to the desired file, and your done.

Screenshot of a selected button, the Button Panel, and the button’s PDF Options dialog, which can be opened via the panel menu button.

The Button Panel allows you to change a buttons name, assign additional actions, and add appearance state changes. You can also go to the panel menu and edit its PDF Options. Unfortunately, the only PDF Option you can currently edit is whether or not the button prints and its description; there are other options available in Acrobat X that unfortunately are not here (most importantly, whether or not the document opens in a new window, as discussed below). Still, making non-printing buttons comes in handy.

Relative File Destinations in CS5.5!

Previous versions of InDesign stored the full path to the file in the button’s file destination link, so that if you moved the folder structure to a new location, computer, or burned it to a CD, the button(s) no longer worked. This was a serious problem, making it impossible to create buttons to files in InDesign.

I am very happy to announce that in my CS5.5 testing, I found that this issue seems to be fixed!

It is essential that you export your PDF to the proper location relative to the files to which you are linking, as this is what establishes the relative file destinations.

Buttons Created in InDesign CS5.5 Open Documents in Same Acrobat Window

So far the biggest problem I’ve encountered that remains in CS5.5 is that there is no way in InDesign to specify that the button should open the document in a new Acrobat window. When a button is clicked, the new document replaces the current document in the current Acrobat window. Furthermore, Acrobat X seems to have done away with the preference setting to force all cross document links to open in new windows.

When creating button actions, Acrobat X lets you choose whether files will open in the current window or a new window. Unfortunately InDesign does not give you this option. So it looks like it will be necessary to still edit every button in Acrobat to choose this option so that it behaves properly. Even more than that, Acrobat X doesn’t give you access to this option without first forcing you to again select the file to open; so even if you’ve chosen the file in InDesign, you’ll have to choose it all over again in Acrobat, just so you can set the option to properly open in a new window.

Acrobat’s dialog for choosing how the file should open when button is clicked. The dialog only appears after (re)selecting filename.

Interactive PDF Export always exports facing pages as spreads

I’ve already written a post on this topic; just know that if you have a facing pages document that has buttons, you either must give up your buttons or make a separate version of the document that does not have facing pages.

Final Verdict: InDesign CS5.5 “File Open” Buttons Fail to Deliver

While I welcome the relative path improvement, it’s useless without the ability to force the buttons to open their documents in new Acrobat windows, or without a simplified UI in Acrobat to set change file open options without having to reselect the file.

Workflow to Create Buttons to Properly Open Files

So this is my workflow for this year’s projects:

  1. Create a non-printing button with a dummy file path in InDesign and copy/paste it where-ever I need it, as it is easier to align in InDesign than in Acrobat. Do NOT bother setting proper file designation in InDesign, though, as I will have to redo it in Acrobat anyway.
  2. Convert my print document into a non-facing pages interactive version file (an additional step necessitated by CS5’s clumsy new PDF export).
  3. Export as an Interactive PDF.
  4. Edit every button in Acrobat and add an open file action, setting the option to open in a new window.

And then when the file gets updated next year, I get to recreate all the buttons’ links in Acrobat! That is, unless this gets fixed in CS6 before then.

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7 Responses to InDesign CS5.5 Buttons to Open other PDFs with Relative Path in New Windows—FAIL

  1. Matt December 16, 2011 at 10:05 am #

    This is a huge problem.

  2. Grace January 22, 2013 at 4:24 am #

    I know this was posted a long time ago, but this is the only article on the net i can seem to find which someone has come across the same problem as me.

    I am using CS6 indesign to create a interactive PDF. In the PDF it has roll over pop ups and on click it opens a new file.

    These documents opened in the PDFs open in the same window. I know how to change the settings on my Acrobat to rectify this issue, but it will be sent to clients.

    I see the section on ‘Buttons Created in InDesign CS5.5 Open Documents in Same Acrobat Window’ how do I do this? I cant seem to get myself to the option of open in new page.

    Many thanks

    • Paul Erdman January 22, 2013 at 8:45 am #

      Grace, as I explain in my article, CS5.5 could not do what you’re trying to do; I had to use Acrobat Pro to fix all my buttons after exporting to PDF. I have not tested this in CS6, but it sounds like the same sort of thing is still happening.

      In Acrobat Pro, Select a button using the select object tool. right-click and choose properties. In the properties panel, click the Actions tab. If there is already an action to open a file there, delete it. Then make a new action with “Mouse Up” trigger to “open a file.” After you select the PDF file to be opened, Acrobat will ask you if you if the file should be opened in a new window or the existing window.

      Note that if you intend these files to be used on other computers then the same location relationship between the linked files should be maintained. For example, if you have links to open one PDF from another PDF in the same folder, and then those PDFs do not remain in the same folder when sent somewhere else, then the links will be broken.

  3. Kristy April 17, 2013 at 3:43 pm #

    I also realize this was posted quite a while ago, but thought I would say thanks for saving me a bunch of time. I am working in CS5.5 and having the same issues as you. Upon seeing the path name for the “Open File” link, I incorrectly assumed that the paths weren’t relative, so thank you for pointing that out.
    The way we have gotten around the problem of files not opening in new windows it to put a nonprinting Back button on the PDF target documents. That at least allows the user to back up to the menu system and means that we don’t have to touch all the buttons again if we have to re-export the menu PDFs from InDesign.
    Thanks again for your help.

    • Paul Erdman May 1, 2013 at 8:38 am #

      Using back buttons is certainly a good solution in some situations.

  4. Buddy April 28, 2013 at 11:00 am #

    Does anyone know if there is a new feature in InDesign CS6 that will make a button open a URL in a new window? This is a huge bummer if it wasn’t added. Really not looking forward to having to re-set all of my URLs in Acrobat.

    • Paul Erdman May 1, 2013 at 7:59 am #

      I’m not aware of any new improvements to the interface in CS6 that address this issue,either for URLs or for opening other PDF documents. Good luck with Acrobat :-/

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