How to Create an Interactive PDF: The Ultimate Guide (2023)

How to Create an Interactive PDF: The Ultimate Guide (1)

By nature, interactive PDFs are pretty much like the good ol’ PDFs — ones that we commonly download as files for eBooks, sales collateral, white papers, brochures, portfolios and so on.

The difference, however, lies in the interactivity they offer their readers, making them much more engaging than regular PDFs.

Not sure how you can create an interactive PDF?

We'll show you how in this post. We also have ten interactive PDF templates so you can get started today.

On we go.

Table of Contents

  • What Is an Interactive PDF?
  • Why Should You Create an Interactive PDF?
  • How to Create an Interactive PDF
  • Bonus: Create an Interactive Online Document
  • 10 Must-Use Interactive PDF Templates

What Is an Interactive PDF?

An interactive PDF is a Portable Document Format (PDF) that incorporates interaction-encouraging elements such as clickable links, embedded videos, quizzes, popups and GIFs to name a few.

The aim? To engage readers.

Typically, regular PDFs allow for nothing more than consuming the text-based content that it contains. Naturally, this can easily make for a poor reading experience—especially if there's little to offer in the way of good design. Plus there’s no guarantee readers are actually reading the document from cover to cover or ditching it mid-way.

With interactive PDFs, you can go beyond text and static images.

Its rich media elements make sure your reader is having a wonderful content experience — a must for getting people to read through till the end or even take the action you want them to.

All this makes interactive PDFs a useful and much-needed upgrade to regular PDFs.

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Why Should You Create an Interactive PDF?

You should create interactive PDFs for one simple reason: to amaze, engage and convert users better (depending on the use case).

If you’re using it for internal purposes, say onboarding new recruits, an interactive PDF furthers learning by engaging readers better.

Take clickable links — an important element of interactive PDFs — for example. By linking to relevant content, you can offer readers a valuable, knowledge-expanding experience.

This makes interactive PDFs an invaluable resource not just for internal use but also for educating your audience and capturing leads in your marketing and sales funnels.

In fact, an interactive PDF is a useful addition to the content types you create throughout the buyer’s journey.

Let’s give you more reasons why you should be creating interactive PDFs:

It’s an easy way to stand out from your competitors.

There’s a lot of content noise out there.

Bloggers alone publish 7.5 million posts a day. To add to that, lead magnets, case studies, videos and branded social media graphics are all abundant.

That doesn’t mean you give up creating content altogether.

Instead, you need to start looking for ways to stand out from the crowd. Creating interactive content is one good way to differentiate yourself — something that 88% of marketers agree with.

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It drives more engagement.

Research says interactive content is two times more engaging than static content.

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Put another way, you’re likely to drive more engagement with your interactive PDFs than regular ones.

This makes sense as readers can’t interact with the document — learning more (as needed) and practicing more of what they’ve learned (for example with a quiz).

Your buyers expect you to create interactive content.

Considering how engaging interactive content is, your audience expects you to create it.

Numbers prove this: 45% of the consumers say interactive content is among their top three preferred content types. What’s more, 51% of B2B buyers say it’s helpful for handling business challenges.

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The takeaway? Interactive PDFs are a simple yet effective interactive content type to surprise and win your target buyers.

Interactive content also makes your brand memorable.

Naturally, brands that walk the extra mile to engage their audience are brands that they’re likely to remember.

Think of it like this: two brands provide the same quality content on the same topic. One, however, packages it in an interactive PDF while the other creates a traditional PDF. Who do you think wins? The former, isn’t it?

Reason: they’ve taken the steps to engage their reader, which makes them likely to read more of their content.

Once deep into the content marketing funnel, these readers become familiar with your brand. Ultimately, buying from you when they’re ready.

As for the stats, Content Marketing Institute’s research confirms:

  • 81% of marketers say interactive content holds audience attention better than static content.
  • 79% say it enhances their brand message’s retention (people remember you better) when paired with traditional marketing tactics.

How to Create an Interactive PDF: The Ultimate Guide (6)

Convinced you need to be creating interactive PDFs? Let’s show you how.

How to Create an Interactive PDF

There’s no rocket science to creating interactive PDFs.

Particularly, if you’re using a DIY professional document creator such as Visme.

Two things help speed up the process though:

  • Having a prior plan for how you want to make your PDF interactive
  • Using ready to use templates that you need to customize only

You’ll learn more about both these pointers as you follow the steps below:

Step 1: Start with a plan.

Once you’ve decided you’ll create an interactive PDF, work out how you’d like to make it interactive.

Best to have your content ready at this point so you can visualize animating it.

As you become familiar with the process, you’ll find yourself adding notes to your content on how to make it interactive in PDF format.

For now, it’s best to draft a list of ways to make your content engaging.

Interactive elements you can explore are:

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It’s important to keep in mind that although Visme allows you to add all of these rich elements into your document, some of them such as videos and popups won’t play in your PDF file. Why? Because of the technical limitations of the PDF file format.

This gives you two solutions moving forward. Stick with the PDF format but replace popups and embedded videos with links to videos and more info (as contained in the popup).

Alternatively, create an online document that you can share using private and public links. Visme makes this easy by hosting your published projects for you. And all the interactive elements including animations play in such documents.

You can also track the performance of online Visme documents — who read it and how much they did, for example. We’ll talk about this in a bit.

Step 2: Create your interactive PDF file.

With your content ready and your plan made, log in to Visme to get to work.

You have two options here:

  • Start from the scratch
  • Start with a template

Either way, in your dashboard, select Create New, followed by New Project. Now, pick Documents.

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When in the document’s corner, call your shots. Choose Edit on the blank template or select a document template of your choice.

The horizontal slide bar below the blue header is a library of template categories to pick from. Select from a wide variety — from case studies, catalogs, training manuals to eBooks, magazines, proposals and resumes.

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Keep in mind that all documents are customizable. This means you can change their font colors, types, animation style, add or remove pages and much more.

Step 3: Get to work.

Let’s discuss steps for starting from scratch, followed by using a template.

From Scratch

Starting from a blank canvas? Create a rough sketch of the PDF’s layout on a piece of paper. This will save you from wasting time on the document.

Now, start executing the sketch on the canvas — beginning with the title page or the header, whatever that’s in your plan.

Everything that you need to add to your PDF document is on the left side of the dashboard in Visme. From pre-baked heading, subheadings and statistics styles to diagrams and graphics.

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Create the layout by taking elements from the sidebar.

For adding pages to your PDF, look to your dashboard’s right side and you’ll see the option + New Page.

Here, either choose a blank page or insert a page from the template gallery.

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When done, tap Download, choose Document (PDF) and download.

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Using a Template

With a template, you already have a skeletal layout ready.

Begin with changing its headline. Simply click on it and press Edit.

This will give you the option to change the headline’s alignment and font type and size — choose your brand font here.

By clicking More, you can also tweak spacing, fill and border, text direction and more.

For animating your headline, click the Actions button on the right side. Add Effects here or select Actions yet again to add a link to your site and/or turn on the Hover Effect.

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Once done, go on to edit the rest of the PDF elements such as the subheadings and paragraph text by clicking Edit on the sections.

Make sure you copy and paste your content here.

As for how to make the PDF body interactive, here are two things to try:

  • Add links to the other related content, resource pages, worksheets, videos and so on.
  • Add popups to icons. To do so, click on it, press Edit and choose Actions on the right.

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Want to add more pages to the table? Follow the same steps as above starting by clicking the + New Page.

Here you can choose from a blank page or either of the available template pages. Choosing the latter means you can have consistent pages in the PDF — tweak them as needed though; adding or removing sections.

You can also opt for More Templates to insert a page from another PDF template. Then, customize it as needed.

Done? Download your file as HTML5.

Bonus: Create an Interactive Online Document

The thing about PDFs — interactive or not — is that no one can access them without downloading them. This limits its accessibility as people may hesitate adding to their downloads.

Often, even having downloaded the PDF, readers leave them in their downloaded folder, sometimes for days at end — never reading them.

You, on the other hand, might be celebrating that X number of people downloaded your resource.

Online documents help beat these challenges.

Let’s explain how by looking at the benefits of creating an online document from your PDF:

More Interactive Features

A PDF’s interactive features are limited to clickable links, menus and buttons mostly.

But you can take the same document to the next level by getting a shareable link for it and turning it into an online document.

In contrast with an interactive PDF, an online document isn’t technically limited in terms of displaying rich media elements such as videos, forms and animated illustrations.

In the simplest words: your animated logo will play in an online document — not in an interactive PDF.

Improve Content Accessibility

People can view your documents online, without having to download them.

For those who want to read after downloading or those who want to download after reading (people usually want to save quality content!), the option to download the online document is also available.

All this means one thing: more eyeballs to the content you create.

More Sharing Options

With Visme, you can share the link to your document both privately and publicly — even give people different access. For instance, some can only view it while others can comment or edit the doc.

This makes online documents an interactive resource for teachers, teams, course creators and more.

How to Create an Interactive Online Document

To get a sharable link to the interactive PDF you create, select Share instead of the Download option from the top right of your dashboard.

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Now choose Share Privately.

From here:

  • Send private invites to specific people (best for teams and course creators who offer their content in tiers)
  • Give these people different authorities to access: view, comment and edit (for team members)
  • Grab a shareable link from the bottom. Simply Copy it and you’re done.

You can also choose to Publish for Web and grab an embed code to place your interactive document on a webpage on your site.

Want to create documents that serve as lead magnets?

Continue capturing lead information by asking for their contact details to get your online document.

For this, click on Advanced Settings under the Share option. Select Privacy.

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Toggle on the Requires Registration button. This way, anyone who wants to access your content can do so by sharing their email address but doesn’t need to download the file.

This increases their odds of reading your content while getting you their information. It’s a win-win.

But what about those users who want to download the document? They absolutely can!

Simply toggle on the Download option and registrants have the liberty to either read online or download your content — whatever their preference.

The best part? Track how much of your content readers are reading to improve its performance using Analytics in the document creator.

To this end, head over to your dashboard and click on the Menu option of the document project.

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Now select Analytics from the drop-down menu to get an overview of your document’s performance.

Here you can learn:

  • How many people viewed your online document
  • How far along did each viewer read the content
  • Where the viewers are coming from (country based on their IP address)

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Here’s more on analytics with Visme including tips you’ll want to learn:

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10 Must-Use Interactive PDF Templates

And, finally, the templates we promised:

1. Creative Annual Report Template

This seven-page document is perfect if you’re creating a report in PDF form.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Make it interactive by turning the Table of Contents (TOC) into a clickable menu so readers can easily navigate between sections.

By turning it into an online document, you can also make the chart on the third page interactive.

2. Weekly Report Template

This one’s an excellent choice for teachers, planners from all walks of life and course creators sharing weekly lessons with their students.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Add a popup explaining more about each day on the template. Or add links to more resources.

3. Interior Design Proposal Template

This proposal is perfect for not just interior designers but other branding service providers and art students.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Guide people to visit your site by adding a link to your website on the cover page. Make the TOC interactive as well — the faster the viewer can review your proposal, the better, isn’t it?

Plus, add links to videos of the work you’ve done. Or, include a link to a Loom recorded video that explains your work process.

4. Bit.ly Case Study Template

This two-page case study template is great for convincing leads to buy from you.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Make sure you add links to your site and more case studies to engage readers. By creating an online document, you can also animate the statistics-showing circles.

5. Weebly Case Study Template

This is another handy case study template to try.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Like above, make it interactive by adding links to more case studies — maybe even video case studies if you have them — and your site.

You can also step up your game further by using an interactive GIF on the cover page where there’s a static image. To do that though, you’ll need to switch from downloading this document as HTML5 to getting a shareable link for an online interactive document.

6. Logo Design Brief Template

This one-page template is best not just for design briefs but also briefs for writers.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Add links to other important resources that the brief receiver may need. If you create Loom videos to share your ideas, link them to this brief document too.

And, in the design style section, add your branding guide by slipping in a link to it in the section.

7. Project Management White Paper Template

This one’s a simplistic white paper template.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Make your PDF version of the template interactive by turning your TOC into a clickable table. Also, add your logo and social channels to the cover page with respective links.

If you’re prepping this one as an online document, you can animate statistics and bullet lists in the template.

8. Content Marketing Plan Template

This is another simple template but for plan-based PDFs.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Make sure you add links to your site in the interactive PDF. You can also link to example pages on page number 5 to give your readers an idea of what you’re planning to create.

9. Nutrition Ebook Template

This eBook template balances visuals and text perfectly, making it a readable PDF file.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Animate the map and results charts in the document version. You can also add region-specific popups sharing more information on the map.

10. Social Media Manager Training Manual Template

Lastly, here’s a training manual template that you can turn into an interactive PDF.

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Customize this template and make it your own!Edit and Download

Make sure you add a link to your company culture video in the PDF or let users play it on the spot by sharing the file as an online document.

Throughout the pages, instead of a static web address, add a link to your site so new recruits can learn more about you.

Finally, on the instructions page, make sure you add a link to the platform that readers need to create an account for.

Create Engaging Interactive PDFs Today

And that’s a wrap. Remember interactive PDFs stand a better chance at engaging readers — providing them better context with links to videos, forms and quizzes, and making navigation easy with a clickable menu.

Every time you create an interactive PDF though, make sure your content is ready and you’ve a plan to make it engaging.

Want to start creating already? Sign up for Visme today and design your PDF right away.

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