PDF spreads from InDesign: radio button vs dropdown

When proofing PDFs of books to clients, it is often important that the client sees the proof as a series of left and right page spreads. PDFs made with any of InDesign’s default settings (these are the options in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box in the top dropdown field in square brackets) will show the PDF in Adobe Acrobat as it’s default view – single pages.

Adobe Acrobat does allow for pages to be presented in two-page appearance, but this is controlled by the user. If the user is unaware of this feature, then they will be viewing the PDF using Acrobat’s default single page view.

It is possible to change the view settings of a specific PDF while in Adobe Acrobat and this is done from the Properties option from the File menu.

The page viewing defaults of Acrobat itself can also be changed, but this will view any PDF that has not had its preferences changed when the PDF was made.

It is worth noting though that prior to 2015, the widely accepted method to prepare a PDF as readers spreads was to do this from InDesign’s Spreads radio button in the Export Adobe PDF dialog box.

While this does prepare what appears to be readers spreads, it does so with some disadvantages:

  • The centre spread line cannot be seen. This can be addressed by using the page border script from Indiscripts that applies a page border to all pages. Run this script prior to exporting the PDF to generate the page border and then export the PDF, then rerun the script to turn the border off.
  • The page count is incorrect. The folios will still appear to be correct within the PDF, but the page navigation itself will show the page count as half the number of original pages plus one (e.g. a 16pp file saved as spreads will now show up as 9pp in the PDF’s navigation).

However, from June 2015 it has been possible to set the default view options when exporting a PDF from InDesign for viewing in Adobe Acrobat.

This allows PDFs to contain the correct page count and to also show the page split between the spreads while still showing the pages as spreads.

Should be problem solved, right?

Unfortunately, no. Despite the dropdown now being available, there’s no ideal way to prepare readers spreads to suit all PDF readers or platforms.

  • Unless InDesign users read all of InDesign’s patch notes (maintained by James Wamser) or were otherwise made aware of this change, then normal habits would persist, and users would continue to prepare spreads using the spreads radio button.
  • If the dropdowns had been used, this only makes viewing the spreads possible in Adobe Acrobat (Reader or Pro), but unfortunately this software is no longer the preferred option for viewing PDFs. Besides Mozilla Firefox and Adobe Acrobat, most PDF readers only support single page view.
  • Even if Acrobat or Firefox are being used, users can still override the view either manually, or using Acrobat it can be done by default using accessibility in the preferences

So what can be done?

There are effectively four options:

First option is to prepare PDFs based on an audience using Acrobat only as their reader and use the dropdown option for spreads. If the PDF is exported from InDesign using a PDF/X standard, Acrobat will also show the PDF as it appears in InDesign’s overprint preview.

Second option is to prepare a PDF using the pre-2015 method of using the spreads button and the Indiscripts page border script.

Third option is to lobby the manufacturers of the non-Adobe PDF reader software to bring their software into line with the PDF specifications set out by Adobe itself (and while they are doing that, also update their readers to also accept form fields and commenting functions!).

Last option is to do nothing and leave the pages as single spreads… and that isn’t necessarily a bad option. If the PDF is being created for onscreen viewing only, and the viewer must see something that is intentionally spread over two pages such as an image that crosses over two pages, then single pages should be fine.

Last word

It is of note that people are not just consuming information on a single desktop monitor, but may have two or more monitors in which software windows are being juggled around; or on a mobile device that is more natural to be held in a portrait fashion. Social media apps such as TikTok and Instagram are designed for mobile devices to be held in a portrait orientation. It’s hard for me to admit, but left and right hand pages are just a legacy of printed books as their assembly creates this phenomenon. Unless there is a crossover between the two pages, a reader will usually read the content on one page, adjust their gaze and read another – their focus of vision can’t be on both pages at the same time.

Also, if the PDF is intended for print by a printing company, don’t provide them a PDF as readers spreads as they won’t be able to impose the pages for printing without breaking the PDF back into single pages.

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