Interactive Documents for the non-coder

Being an Adobe instructor at Academy Class I have received a lot of questions recently about Digital Publications, ePubs and interactive PDFs, as well as the changes about the new Adobe Animate CC.

It seems that once more Adobe managed to create a lot of confusion on this front.  So here it is, the truth and nothing but the truth about all this.


Animate CC and Edge Animate

Although it will not be “actively developed” as Adobe has stated, Edge Animate is still the most useful product to create interactive HTML5 animations.  Adobe Animate CC is essentially Flash… re-branded.

The main difference between the two is of course that Animate CC is very strong on the vector drawing front. You can create gorgeous illustrations with this application, while with Edge Animate you really can not go beyond a fancy rounded rectangle. You can of course import image and vector assets in both cases if your weapon of choice is Photoshop or illustrator for creating artwork.

Even with its last release, Flash was able to export HTML5 and WebGL animations but its export was really unreliable. The new version addressed some of these issues and generates more reliable HTML content, however, there is still a lot that it can not do that Edge does by default. Most notably it takes a lot of tweaking for your projects to become responsive. While in Edge Animate it is as simple as flicking a switch in Flash… in Animate CC you would need to add extra bits of code to achieve similar results.

Therefore, I would still recommend anyone who wants to create HTML banner animations or extended interactivity to look into Edge Animate, if they have not done so already.  Although it is merely speculation at this point, I feel that all what Edge Animate can do now will be added to Animate CC as “new features” later on in the future.

For those of you to whom creating responsive web content is really important I would recommend looking into Muse… I like Muse. 🙂  It’s like InDesign but for websites…

Animations and rich media created in Edge Animate can be exported into .html, .oam and .wdt formats.
The .oam format can be placed into InDesign documents and from there be exported into ePubs or Digital Publications.
The .wdgt format can be used on iPads and iPhones as a rich media iBook in the iBook reader and is the default format for the iBooks author application as well.


So what is the difference between Digital Publications and ePubs you might wonder


In an earlier post I explained the difference in great detail…

From a design and content creation point of view the main difference is that Digital Publications created with InDesign are distributed using Adobe’s infrastructure in Adobe’s format, which is a rather closed approach, while the ePub is a standard format and the creator can distribute it any way they want… or can.  In return Adobe gives tools to enhance the interactivity of Digital Publications while the interactivity of ePubs is limited by the standards.

Adobe has recently revamped the whole DPS workflow. The service is now called Digital Publishing Solution and it uses the Preflight app instead of the Content Viewer to test and deliver the content. We can still use InDesign for content creation and we can still include content overlays with the help of the DPS Desktop Tools, but it is now also possible to package HTML content as DPS articles. The new DPS also includes a web viewer by default, previously only available for Enterprise customers, but Adobe is still asking for a rather high price… or at least that is what the fact that they do not put the price on their website suggests…

In case the interactivity available through the Overlay panel in InDesign convinced you that DPS is the way to go, then it is worth giving Adobe a ring and asking them about the price for the platform use…

If the price is too high you can consider using the In5 plugin to have all the overlay and other interactivity exported into HTML5.

If you are not convinced but you still want to use InDesign to create interactive content consider this:
Animations created in InDesign CC upwards can be exported to HTML as ePub interactivity, which means that any animation created in InDesign will work in applications supporting the ePub3 (fixed layout) format. Such applications include iBooks for any device or even chrome plugins like readium and can be uploaded to the internet, put in a Dropbox or sent via e-mail. The ePub file format is essentially html in the .xhtml format, which means you can simply extract this content and host it on a server. Meaning that you created interactive HTML straight from InDesign.

The “Publish Online” button in InDesign CC 2015 does the same but Adobe hosts your content online and adds a viewer frame around it.  It’s definitely worth a try!


ePub and online published HTML interactivity supports:

  • HTML animations and interactivity
  • Internal and external links
  • .mp4 audio and video
  • Multi State Objects

Hosting the content on either their own or on Adobe’s servers is not an option and they want their content to be available offline. Although the .epub format could be a solution for them as well it is not as wide spread and many of my delegates need to use a more widely recognized format: PDF.
At its current state the PDF format can not support interactive animation created with anything else but flash. Flash content will still not play on devices without the flash player, which is now only available on desktop computers. However they can include .flv, .mov or .mp4 videos both streamed or embedded. Embedding videos would of course increase the file size, while streamed video content would not be available without an internet connection.


PDF interactivity supports:

  • .swf animations and interactivity (given the flash player is installed – the flash player is not available for touch devices)
  • Internal and external links (internal links can also use view size and page location)
  • .flv and other format videos (will only play back if the video codec is supported on the device)

PDFs are are fairly limited and their capabilities depend mainly on the device on which they are opened where as the ePub capabilities can be expanded using HTML and JavaScript.  Furthermore, the combination of HTML and JavaScript would also allow for packaging content into an App format, like .apk for Android and .iap for iOS devices using a service called Phonegap… but that is for a different post.

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