Update PDFs Without Losing Links

June 29, 2004 - 2:00am ||| 2 Comments | Add new
The problem with interactive PDFs — ones with bookmarks, hyperlinks, and/or form fields — is that usually, the "interactive" part of them resides in Acrobat, not in the program you used to design the document.

You spend 80% of your time creating the file in an authoring program like QuarkXPress, InDesign, Word, etc.; then export it to PDF and spend 20% of your time in Acrobat adding links to other documents, tweaking bookmarks and creating buttons and form fields.

So if you find a tiny error in the finished PDF, you feel compelled to tweak what you can right in Acrobat. Change a letter here, nudge an image there, that kind of thing. That way you don't have to redo any links.

The problem is that at some point, you will need to open the original file to make a larger modification, and re-export it to PDF. Will you remember all those little fixes you did in Acrobat? Didn't think so.

Thus the preferred way to update a PDF is to always update the original file, even to fix a little typo, and re-export.

Is it possible to re-export a PDF and *not* lose any custom links, bookmarks and fields you made in Acrobat?

Why, yes it is. The key is to never write over the old PDF. Just replace its pages with new ones.

Here's how. When you need to update a PDF, open your original authoring file (which you should never toss out for this reason) and make your changes. Re-export it to PDF using the same compression/embedding settings you used for the first one, if you can remember, but with a different name for the PDF (e.g., "new pages.pdf").

Tiplet: When you're creating a document destined for PDF export, jot down somewhere in the file — the pasteboard, or in a non-printing note or layer, someplace like that — what settings you used for the PDF conversion. Or create a Preset with the document name, if the authoring program has that feature, like InDesign; or create a Distiller setting with the doc name. That way you can be sure your new PDF pages will match the old ones.

Now open the original PDF in Acrobat. If you updated every page of the file in your authoring program, stay at page 1. If you just fixed a typo on page 16, jump to page 16 in Acrobat.

To replace pages in the current, open PDF with pages from your "new pages.pdf" file, in Acrobat Pro v6, the command is found in Document->Pages->Replace. Earlier versions of Acrobat also have the Replace Pages command, though it might be in a different location in the menus.

You'll be prompted to select the file containing the replacement pages. Navigate to and double-click "new pages.pdf." Now you'll get a dialog asking which pages in 'new pages.pdf" should replace which pages in your current document. Tell it which pages, then click OK.

You'll find that your old PDF now contains the updated content, but all custom interactivity is still there. It's like bookmarks, links and fields live in a permanent top-most layer within Acrobat that is unaffected by anything happening "below" them in the messy world of text and images.

Select the Link, Button or a Field tool in Acrobat to make sure these elements are still aligned correctly with their underlying content, nudge or delete if necessary, and Save your document. You can toss out "new pages.pdf" at this point, but hang on to that originating file for the next time you need to update the file.

Another Tiplet: If you only need to update one or two pages of a large document, there's no need to re-export the whole thing to PDF. Just export the changed pages, and replace the old ones with these as described above.


Comments (Subscribe to Comments RSS)

1 December 8, 2010 - 4:57pm by marilk:

Does anyone have an answer for this question:
Is it possible to add several links within one PDF file, each link going to one Excel file, but each PDF link opens a different tab or table within the same Excel file?

2 February 7, 2013 - 11:50am by Hallie (not verified):

Thank you so much for this post. You saved me a ton of work!

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