Tips for adding interactivity to your digital publications

By adding interactivity to PDFs made with Affinity Publisher, your readers can jump directly to a chapter of your document, visit related web pages and get in touch by email. These tips will help you provide readers with a clear and consistent experience.

You might have created documents that use anchors and hyperlinks already without realising it. Text generated by Affinity Publisher’s Table of Contents and Index features is automatically hyperlinked to pages and headings in your document. If you have such a document to hand, export it using the PDF (digital—small size) or PDF (digital—high quality) preset to try this out.

If you need to get up to speed on how to create hyperlinks and anchors, read the Hyperlinks topic in the Advanced section of Affinity Publisher’s Help system. Here, we offer advice on good practice when using these features.

Adding a hyperlink to an irregularly shaped object that text flows around? Its clickable area will be the rectangle within the object’s outermost points. So, it will also encompass any text that flows into that area.

This applies even to images that contain an alpha channel (transparency information), as well as shapes.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hyperlink these kinds of objects at all. Just bear in mind whether it might cause confusion if the reader’s pointer changes unexpectedly or they accidentally tap their touchscreen.

2. Can readers tell text is hyperlinked?

Affinity Publisher helps readers to identify hyperlinked text. When adding a link, you can apply a character style—one of your own or Hyperlink.

If you haven’t expressly defined a Hyperlink character style, selecting that adds a factory default to your document that mimics web browser defaults: it turns text blue and underlines it. This style doesn’t affect other attributes, such as font family, size and weight.

Don’t worry if the default hyperlink character style jars with your publication’s design. It’s editable, of course, and the power of text styles means that your changes are applied to all hyperlinked text in an instant. You might simply remove the underline or change the colour to one from your brand’s identity.

3. What about images?

Hyperlinks attached to pictures are easy to discover on a desktop system due to the cursor changing when it’s over them. But, is it so obvious what readers using a touchscreen can tap?

Consider laying down rules in your brand’s style guide about which images should be linked, and whether a worded or other visual indicator should be displayed in your digital edition.

Magazines, for example, tend to use a more creative style than formal publications like academic and business reports. The following screenshot shows how this might look.

To ensure a comfortable experience for readers, allow them to click any of the relevant words; don’t restrict the hyperlink to an article’s title, say.

In our example, it’s sensible to apply a hyperlink to all of an article’s title, page number and description. This enables the reader to be a little less accurate in where they click/tap.

5. Not every PDF viewer is equal

Hyperlinks can point to external files distributed alongside your PDF. This kind of hyperlink’s Include File on Export option tells Affinity Publisher to copy the linked resource to the same folder as the PDF. The option is ticked by default, so leave it alone in order to rely on this production safety net.

If your publication includes file links, give some guidance to your audience about which PDF viewer to use. Readers will find that the Preview app bundled with macOS doesn’t like hyperlinks to files and returns an error. The links are correct, though, and will work in Acrobat Reader and possibly others.

6. Anchors on tables and shapes

Want to make a worded reference to a table somewhere in body copy to take the reader to that table? Anchors can’t be attached directly to tables but they can be attached to text within them.

If a table’s caption sits under it, avoid adding the anchor there. When following a hyperlink to an anchor, PDF viewers tend to position the anchor at the top of the view, requiring the reader to scroll up.

So, unless your table’s caption or title appears above it, add the anchor in the table’s top-left cell. The cell needn’t contain text. Now when the reader jumps to the table it will be in plain sight.

7. Publish ‘nice-looking’ web addresses

Long web addresses (URLs) look poor in publications but may be necessary to direct readers somewhere specific. A common solution is to use a service that generates shorter URLs, such as Bitly or TinyURL.

These services turn long URLs into less distracting forms that are easy for your print edition’s readers to type. As a bonus, many provide statistics about how many times links are visited.

Some services allow the last part of URLs to be tailored—for example, https://bit.ly/as-betaforums. Some can also provide a custom domain, like the affin.co links that appear in much of our marketing.

Affinity Publisher’s Preflight panel validates hyperlinks but you need to check links to web pages and email addresses work and go to the correct places. The app can’t detect basic typos in URLs, such as afinity.serif.com having one f in ‘affinity’.

Once your PDF is exported, it’s sensible to check every online hyperlink takes the reader to the correct place. But, you could check your links before exporting instead by selecting each one in turn on the Hyperlinks panel and using Go to Target to verify its target.

When exporting your PDF, make sure your hard work in hyperlinking things doesn’t go to waste. Of Affinity Publisher’s built-in PDF presets, Include Hyperlinks is turned on for the following:

  • PDF (for print)
  • PDF (digital—small size)
  • PDF (digital—high quality)
  • PDF (for export)
  • PDF (flatten)

The option is permanently disabled for the three PDF/X variants. That leaves the PDF (press ready), for which it’s off by default. You’re unlikely to want to use that for a compact digitally distributed publication, though!


Technical author
Alan is part of our technical authoring team and joined us from the world of magazines (MacUser), where he wrote up software techniques and worked on pioneering interactive digital editions. When he’s not neck-deep in page layouts, layer masks and adjustment layers, you’ll often find him digging through second-hand records for interesting sleeve artwork or gazing in wonderment at the graphical variety of Japanese video games.