Transitions Made Easy

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

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
  5. Permanent transitions can be applied via certain document creator

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
  • 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

% 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

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

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

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

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About the Author: Bryan Guignard

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