Slick Trick: Creating PDF Bookmarks

“All PDF is not created equal.”

I tell folks this all the time because it’s true. One nice touch that can make a PDF much easier to use for on-screen viewing is an intuitive and comprehensive collection of bookmarks. The best way to create PDF bookmarks in an automated way is to export PDF directly from InDesign with the Bookmarks option enabled.

However, I realize that sometimes that part of the process is outside of your control. If the PDF was exported from InDesign with the “Create Tagged PDF” option enabled then you still have a trick up your sleeve. Here’s how it goes….

  1. Open the PDF in Acrobat and open the Bookmarks Panel.

  2. Click the Options menu in the Bookmarks panel and choose "New Bookmarks from Structure."

  3. Acrobat shows a list of all the XML structure available in the document. Scroll down and choose the tag that matches an appropriate Paragraph Style such as "Head 1" or "Story Headline." Click OK.

  4. Acrobat maps all text with the selected element to a new PDF bookmark. Now you can rename and organize your bookmarks as needed.

Remember that this trick isn’t necessary if the PDF is exported from InDesign with the Bookmarks option enabled.Thanks to Rick Borstein for this Slick Trick.Addition:The original Adobe engineer for the Create Bookmarks from Structure feature in Acrobat just informed me of one more cool trick. Even if the PDF was created via a PostScript/Distiller output path (which loses the document structure) you still have one last option to try.

  1. Open the PDF in Acrobat and choose Advanced > Accessibility > Add Tags to Document. This will infer what it can from the document and create tags as best as it knows how.
  2. The structure inference may not be perfect, but you can choose View > Navigation tabs > Tags and tweak the tags in the Tags panel.
  3. Now follow steps 2-4 above. Voila!

5 Responses to Slick Trick: Creating PDF Bookmarks

  1. Mark Czajka says:

    I was playing with InDesign CS last night. Is there an automated way to generate bookmarks within InDesign from heading styles, similar to Word? Are there enhancements in CS 2?

  2. Adam Pratt says:

    The way I do this is to create a TOC (Table of Contents, under the Layout menu) based on the styles I want to use as bookmarks. This automatically creates all the bookmarks you need which can be included in the PDF you export from InDesign. If you need the bookmarks but not the TOC, then place the TOC on a hidden layer. You won’t see the TOC in the PDF but you will have the bookmarks you need and it all takes less than 60 seconds!

  3. Jason says:

    The automatic bookmarks function in InDesign CS is great, but when most of your headings used in the bookmarks have hanging indents, and therefore a tab character between text items (e.g. 10.2Heading), then that tab character turns up as a square in the bookmarks window in both InDesign and Acrobat (when the PDF is created).Any ideas how to replace it with a space, without having to do it manually? I have a huuuuuge amount of fields in my bookmarks, and don’t want to do this manually even once, let alone everytime that TOC is updated.Any advice greatly appreciated.Thanks.

  4. chen mawwn says:

    this only took me a minute to set up. thanks for the advice, have a great day.sincerely,chen mawwn

  5. Lana says:

    Does anyone know the following?… When creating a pdf from multiple pdf’s, acrobat automatically creates bookmarks based on the file name and has a default zoom level of fitW. Where is the settings file to change this default? Have a javascript workaround to change but this is a pain. Would prefer to just change this default somehow?[Sorry, but I don’t think that behavior is customizable. Sounds your JS trick is a good one -Adam]