The self-modifying PDF ready for prime time


When uploading PDFs of publications on their web sites, publishers have several dilemmas:

  • Do they embed vivid, RGB images, best for online use, or CMYK, which are optimized for printing?
  • What if a user has a black and white printer? Does the publisher provide a crisp “line-art” version of the PDF for the best monochrome output?
  • Should links be a second colour (best for online use) or pure black (best for print)?

The answer is either a compromise, i.e. to upload one PDF that is reasonably good for all uses, or to create two or more PDFs, one for online reading, one for colour printing, etc. To address this problem, our Ideas Lab came up with a suggestion of a PDF for all uses, namely one with a menu “baked” into every page, which can transform the PDF as required. Well, our talented team came up with the goods!

The technologies we used were JavaScript (which is built into Acrobat Reader) and a rarely used feature of the PDF file, namely layers, or “Optional Content Groups” (OCGs). Needless to say, our self-modifying PDFs are created fully automatically from the source XML. Here is a screenshot of the “baked-in” menu in use.

Self Modifying