Navigable PDF Files

This guide will help you assemble a set of different documents into a single, navigable PDF.  Examples of this might include professional portfolios or custom reading packets for students.  This page walks you through the basics, with various navigation options included.  Choose the option or options which best suit you and your readers' purposes.

For this project you will need Adobe Acrobat, that's part of the Creative Cloud suite available to Canisius College faculty and staff.  Acrobat is not a creator toolset, but rather software that allows you to compile, organize, and publish a PDF file that is itself a collection of content created in other file types.  Even Adobe does not suggest that you create content in Adobe Acrobat

So you're adding content that you create into your PDF you also need a word processor, such as Microsoft Word, or Google Docs.  The files you wish to compile into a single PDF might be generated with various apps, such as AutoCAD, Excel, Google Drawings, or Canva, and they might be in formats such as .xlsx, .jpg, or Google Slides.  And you may include files that are in PDF format already, within your bigger PDF.  These may be files that were always digital, having been saved as PDFs in creation software (such as Word or Google Docs.)  Or they can be scans of paper documents, that are essentially images saved in PDF format.  Adobe Acrobat can combine all of these into a single, navigable PDF document readable by anyone with a PDF reader application.  

PDF Files: the Basics

A PDF ("Portable Document Format") file offers a consistent format across PC or mobile devices that have a PDF reader.  There are many free PDF readers, including but not limited to Acrobat Reader, Adobe's free version of Acrobat.  A PDF file is not designed to be easily or extensively edited; it's a published product, rather than a draft.  Create your content in tools like Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, or Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, or Drawings.  Then, within Adobe Acrobat, you can add these together into a PDF file, and do final arrangement and organization, together with some minor edits, if needed. You can also scan in paper copies of documents, but born-digital documents are always best when working within Acrobat and PDFs. Major editing, reformatting, or adding additional content is best done in the original document files, such as .docx, or Google Docs, rather than in Acrobat.  Since it isn't built for extensive content creation, Acrobat's tools can be awkward and inefficient for major changes to the content within a PDF.  

Some PDF files are text, images, and graphics that are so indexed within the file that they can be extensively, albeit slowly, edited in Adobe Acrobat.  Others are crude scans that consist of a single image - like a photocopy or photograph - of something that happens to be saved within a PDF file.  With the latter, Adobe's tools may be able to do little or no editing, besides perhaps crude text overlay or annotations.  What Acrobat can do with a scanned document depends on the quality and condition of the paper original, and the circumstances of it's scanning.  

PDF files can be a combination of other files, that have either been amalgamated into a single PDF file, or simply stored and displayed together within a single PDF container.  For simplicity's sake, this guide shows you how to create the former, and that's what is meant here by "portfolio."

Why Not User the PDF Portfolio Tool in Adobe Acrobat?

Adobe Acrobat's "PDF Portfolio" tool allows you to create a PDF file using a combination of other files.  However, when you use the PDF Portfolio tool, your various files - .docx, .jpg,, .pptx, and other file types - keep those identities and remain independently editable.  While practical for some uses, this creates a complicated file for your readers, who must take special steps even in Acrobat Reader to view the included contents.  Plus, some PDF readers may not be able to read the contents of this kind of PDF.  So for many projects, Adobe's PDF Portfolio is not the best choice, and it's better to simply combine the files into a single PDF, without preserving the individual file identities or formats within it.

Google Drive is one example of a PDF-capable display tool that cannot display PDFs created using Acrobat's Portfolio tool.  

Combining PDF Files 

Here's a video tutorial of the process  Below is a text/screenshot tutorial as well.

(Full Screen)

Using Adobe Acrobat, assembling files into a PDF file is fairly easy.  For many common file types, such as .docx, you may not even need to save or export the file in .pdf format since Acrobat can read various file types when compiling them into a PDF file.   

In Acrobat, to add files to a new PDF file, click Tools and choose "Combine Files.  If you then click "Add Files," you'll see an Explorer or Finder window, but you can also just drag and drop files into this webpage to upload them.

It may take several seconds or even minutes for Adobe to generate thumbnail images of your files on the following page.  Once this is done, you can quickly rearrange the order of the files by dragging and dropping.  You can also do this later on, but it's quicker to do it now.

Once you are satisfied with their order, click "Combine," and Adobe will generate a single PDF file using these documents.  

Once you have files assembled into a PDF file, you can rearrange them in several ways.  Click the "Organize Pages" icon on the right toolbar.  (Or, click Tools → Organize Pages.)

If you forgot to add a file, you can still do so after having created the PDF file.  Recognize, however, that if you have many additions, and you have already created a Table of Contents within one of the pages in the file, there are many more steps involved and you may be better off simply creating a new Table of Contents page, and recompiling a new PDF file.

To add a file to a PDF, on the Organize Pages screen, click Insert at the top, and choose "From File..."

You can then find and add the file or files from your Hard Drive.  

On the Organize Pages screen, you can drag and drop pages into a different order.  If you hold down the SHIFT key, you can click/select multiple pages, which can make moving them easier.

Rotate pages by clicking on the page to highlight it.  A small menu appears; click the circle-arrow icons to rotate the page image in either direction.  

Organization via Bookmarks and Thumbnails

You may stop at the above step, if you're happy with what you have: a set of various documents combined into one PDF File.  Plus, Adobe's bookmarks feature may be all that you wish to use in adding navigation to your PDF file. 

PDFs can contain a table of contents or organization that exists separate of any page within the document.  In Acrobat or Acrobat reader, this typically appears on the lefthand side when the Bookmarks tool is made visible.  These bookmarks are often also visible in other PDF readers. 

By default, Adobe creates a bookmarks list based on information that came in with the files.  The separate file names appear as top-level or leftmost entries.  With .docx files, headings will appear in their proper order and levels, but pages are not recognized.  With .pptx files, slides are listed.  The links to file names, headings, and slides in the Bookmarks list are rearrangeable, but this does not change their order, or any other content, within the files.  It can save time to just rely on this bookmark list, and dispense with the Table of Contents above, but this list may not be available if your readers elect to print out your PDF.  

If you right-click on a bookmark, you get a variety of different options, including to delete or change it's destination (where it goes when a reader clicks it.)  Probably most useful is "rename," since you may want more descriptive headings than your file names.  

You can also manually add bookmarks:

Within your text, Put your cursor on the line to which you want the bookmark to go.

Then click the "New Bookmark" button at the top of the Bookmarks list.

Acrobat will create the Bookmark with the name "Untitled."  Rename it accordingly.

You can then drag it up or down the list, to put it where it properly belongs, in case it didn't install exactly where it should be.

PDFs can contain a set of small "thumbnail" images of each page that together form a quick-navigation tool.  In Acrobat or Acrobat reader, this typically appears on the lefthand side when the Page Thumbnails tool is made visible.  This tool is probably less valuable for the reader, since the author can better recognize pages represented by the thumbnails, and only pages, rather than headings, are navigation choices here.

You can add page numbers to your combined PDF file, and although they will not neatly replace page numbers visible in the original documents added to the PDF file, they still can be helpful for readers to navigate the whole.  Click the Edit Icon (or click Tools → Edit).  In the toolset at the top, click "Header & Footer," and from the dropdown menu, click "Add."  You can add all sorts of information on the header, using the various text boxes for "Left Header Text, Center Header Text," and so on.  Place your cursor in "Right Header Text," and click the "Insert Page Number" button to simply add a page number set to the PDF file. 

There's a link to the right, where you can edit "Page Number and Date Format..." if you like.  

If you plan to add front matter to your document that is not paginated, you may wish to wait until that's done before creating page numbers.

Table of Contents

You may wish to go a step further, and create a Table of Contents as featured on a page or pages, presumably at the beginning of your PDF file.  Although not a toolset built into Acrobat, you can create a dedicated Table of Contents that includes just page numbers, or are actively linked to your content.  Unlike Bookmarks, the Table of Contents is a page within your portfolio, wherein the items in the Table list are hyperlinked to pages within the PDF.  When your readers click on items in the table of contents, they are taken to the corresponding page.  This presents a professional-looking product, and offers the option to create a document that is easily navigated if printed out, too. 

Before you create a Table of Contents, however, you'll want to be certain that every file you wish to include is within the PDF file, and that you've arranged them the way you want them.  Adding or rearranging the order of the files after you've built a Table of Contents is complicated and time-consuming.

After you've arranged your PDF file the way you want it, if you'd like to add a Table of Contents, there's several possible ways to do this. Two are:

Table of Contents: Method One

Create the Table of Contents page or pages in MS Word, install it into Acrobat, and then use Acrobat's tools to create the links between Table entries and the actual pages of content.  

Table of Contents: Method Two

Create a set of pages in an MS Word file that are section headings or starters.  Then, use MS Word's Table of Contents feature to auto-build the Table of Contents, which are links to each of the section pages.  Add this file to your PDF file.  Lastly, move the section pages to their appropriate places in the document, so that the Table of Contents created in Word helps readers navigate to the different parts of your PDF file.  This second option is best when you need to compose opening remarks for each section of your file.  

Compress Your File

Large PDF files, especially if they contain various kinds of data - images, graphs, charts, scanned documents, and so on - can be very large.  A page of text can be 100 - 120 kb in a PDF, and many people's default smartphone camera settings can produce images in the 1.5 - 4 mb range.  You should take steps to reduce the sizes of these documents or images before incorporating them into a PDF.  But even after you've done that and compiled the PDF, Adobe Acrobat Pro has a compression tool that can reduce the final file size still further.  Importantly, Acrobat's success in compressing a file depends on its contents; some PDFs may reduce in size dramatically, others less so.  

Video Tutorial: Compress a PDF in Acrobat Pro

With the PDF open in Acrobat Pro, on the lefthand side tool menu, choose Compress a PDF.  Choose Single File.

In follow-on dialogs, Acrobat asks you to choose a folder, and create a file name.  Then click Save, and you should have a compressed copy of your PDF.  

If you are importing lots of potential text and images directly via a .docx (MS Word) file, you can perform compression on the images using Word's tool, before bringing the Word file into your PDF.