PDF In-Depth

Transitions Made Easy

March 23, 2000


Anybody who has used any kind of electronic slide show application is probably familiar with transitional effects. There are wipe effects, fade, dissolve and so many others.

Unless you have dug into the Acrobat Full Screen Preferences dialog you may not know that PDF comes with a full compliment of transition effects.

As much as I like Acrobat and PDF, I must say that transition effects are not the best documented nor the most accessible features. So I'm going to show you all the possible ways (that I know of) to add transition effects to your PDF documents/slide shows.


  1. Temporary transitions can easily be applied via the Acrobat File > Preferences > Full Screen menu.
  2. Permanent transitions can easily be applied via the PDFMark programing language at distill time.
  3. Permanent transitions can easily be applied via EPS recipes (provided on the Acrobat CD) during document creation.
  4. Permanent transitions can be "hacked" directly into a PDF file, should you be brave and bold enough to attempt it (it's really quite easy).
  5. Permanent transitions can be applied via certain document creator applications.

List of PDF transition effects

  • Blinds horizontal
  • Blinds vertical
  • Box in
  • Box out
  • Dissolve
  • Glitter (3 options)
  • Replace (use this one to eliminate form field flicker or annoying page drawing)
  • Split (4 options)
  • Wipe (4 options)

Temporary transitions with the full screen dialog

In Acrobat's Full Screen Preferences dialog box in the "appearance" section you will find a drop down window labeled "Default Transition:". By selecting one of the many transition styles listed in this window you will be applying that particular transition while a PDF file is being viewed in Full Screen mode. This approach offers all the possible effects but it is not possible to adjust the duration of the effects.

It is important to understand that this will apply the same transition effect to each page of a file while open in Full Screen mode. So if you choose the Wipe Down effect it will be used over and over as you move through the PDF pages of your presentation. The only way to get a variety of transitions is to select the "Random Transition" option, but then you cannot control which effect gets applied to which page.

It is also important to understand that transition effects applied through the Full Screen Preferences dialog are only temporary. They are only applied by Acrobat, at the software level, while a PDF file is open in Full Screen mode. They are not saved as part of a PDF file (even if you do a Save As). This means that if you distribute your presentation, someone else may not see it the way you would see it because the transitions were not distributed with the file. Those viewing your presentation with their own copy of Acrobat will see it according to the way they have things configured at their end. They may have transitions turned off completely, or have a different effect selected.

Permanent transitions with PDFMarks

If you use Distiller to create your PDF files, then transition effects can be made a permanent part of your PDF presentations by applying them with the PDFMark programming language. A PDFMark for applying a transition looks like this (everything after a % symbol is only a comment):

% The following line ensures pdfmark is used only when
% the PostScript file is processed by Acrobat Distiller. 
% Printing to a printer will have no effect.
systemdict /pdfmark known not {userdict /pdfmark systemdict /cleartomark
get put } if 

%this is the transition, glitter at 270 degrees.
[{ThisPage} << /Trans << /S /Glitter /Di 270 >> >> /PUT pdfmark

Permanent transitions with EPS

Adobe provides what it calls a "Transitions Kit" on the Acrobat 3 CDrom. Look for it in the Utilities folder. This Transitions Kit consists of the following readme file (part of which I've taken the liberty to reproduce here for your benefit), and a collection of EPS files.

Excerpt from Readme file:

Transitions: These EPS files (1/8" x 1/8" box) do not draw anything on the page, they simply pass through some special PostScript instructions understood by Acrobat Distiller defining the transition to be used when going to the page where this EPS file is placed.

These EPS files can be customized as needed with a text editor and placed on the page in any page-layout program that accepts EPS files. Note: If you place it on the master page it would get applied to all pages.

Using this transitions kit is far and away the easiest method of applying permanent and different transitions to PDF files in most cases. More about them later.

Permanent transitions with various applications

Several applications are capable of applying transition effects, or at least the code required for Distiller to add the effects during the distilling process. It is beyond the scope of this article to get into all the details of how generate transition effects with each application. You can refer to the application's help system for more details. I'll simply give you a list of some of the more common applications that can do it.

Microsoft Word can add transition effects through field codes, although the code needed may vary slightly from the regular PDFmark. Personally I see no need to go through all this trouble in Word when you can so easily insert the EPS recipes from the Transitions Kit by going to Insert > Picture > From File, and choose a transition effect from the Transitions Kit.

The PDFMaker macro for Microsoft Powerpoint will preserve your Powerpoint transitions when converting your slide show presentation to PDF.

FrameMaker can add transition effects through its PostScript Frames. But again, you can also easily Place the EPS recipes from the Transitions Kit.

Tex can add transitions through the use of PDFMarks with the hyperref macro package.

There is also a lesser known application by Actino Software called, Presentation tool 1.0 which can create transition effects.

And for the more technically inclined such as programmers and web developers, there is also the venerable PDFLib 3.0 by Thomas Merz that can generate transition effects.

Mastering PDF transitions

Wait, there's more. The Transitions Kit also contains a Trans.eps file which contains valuable instructions on how to customize the EPS recipes. Open it in a text editor and read it for yourself. You can customize such things as the duration of the effect, the direction of the effect and more. Actually by customizing the Trans.eps file alone you can create any transition effect since it contains all the necessary PDFMarks in one convenient location.


When all is said and done, PDF transitions are a valuable resource for those wishing to convert their proprietary format electronic slide shows, into platform independent slide shows complete with fancy transition effects.

The EPS recipes provided by Adobe in the Transitions Kit are particularly useful in that they predefine all the different transition styles and are easily customized with a simple text editor.

And for those who may wish to delve into the world of PDFMark programming, you will soon realize that the approach used by Adobe to create the Transitions Kit can easily be used to create other types of PDF enhancement kits. By including various PDFMarks in such EPS files, you can easily make recipes for creating bookmarks, links, article threads, form fields and almost any PDF enhancements possible with PDFMarks.

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