Animation can add a dynamic and engaging element to your designs, but can animation be used in PDFs? Unfortunately, the short answer is no. While it may seem like a convenient option, using animation in PDFs can be problematic due to inconsistent support across different applications, the death of the Flash Player, and the fact that PDF was never built to support animation (e.g., animation from InDesign, or formats like animated GIFs)…all of which can cause playback issues and visual holes in your documents.

In the past, PDFs were primarily opened with Adobe software, which included the Flash Player bundled right inside it. This allowed for some use of animation in PDFs through the use of Flash Player content (though only by embedding SWFs, not using InDesign’s native Animation panel). However, with the demise of Flash, this option is no longer available. So, what are the alternatives?

The answer is HTML5. This browser-native format is capable of replicating the capabilities of Flash and it does not require coding to create content visually in InDesign and export it to multiple HTML-based formats. In this article, we will explore three formats that support animation: fixed layout ePub, Publish Online, and in5 (InDesign to HTML5). All three formats support animation that you can easily create with InDesign’s native Animation panel.

Fixed Layout ePub

Fixed Layout (FXL) ePub is a great alternative to PDFs as it is easy to export and sell in a marketplace. It comes as a single file package, and it supports animation and interactivity. However, it is important to note that ePub reader apps are not as common as PDF readers, and the format may look different depending on the reader app used.

Publish Online

Publish Online is another easy option that allows you to export your document with a push of a button. It is easy to share and automatically gets put onto an Adobe server. It then gives you a URL to share with others. However, it can only live on Adobe servers and cannot be password protected. Additionally, it is not exposed to search engines.

in5 (InDesign to HTML5)

In5 (InDesign to HTML5) is a tool that allows you to export your InDesign document to an interactive HTML5 format. This format allows you to create a webpage that can be accessed by anyone with a web browser and internet connection, making it much more accessible than a PDF. With in5, you can export your InDesign document including interactive elements like animations, slideshows, pop-ups, video, and more. Additionally, in5 allows you to customize the look and feel of your webpage (e.g., you can make it look like a flipbook or a scrolling website) and add custom interactions that are not possible with a PDF.

Unlike Publish Online, the content that you export with in5 can be hosted on any web server of your choice.

For a more detailed comparisons with visual examples, check out the video below.

In conclusion, while it may seem like a good idea to include animation in a PDF, it will absolutely fail—either due to inconsistent support across different applications and the potential for playback issues—or the fact that it was never designed to really support animated content in the first place.

Instead, using FXL ePub, Publish Online, or a tool like in5 (InDesign to HTML5) is a much more reliable and user-friendly option for displaying animations in your documents.

Both FXL ePub and Publish Online are built into InDesign, and in5 can be purchased separately and installed as an add-on to InDesign (a free demo version is also available).

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