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Saving Time on Routine, Multistep Tasks by Running PDF Actions


  1. Applying a Default Action
  2. Creating a New Action
  3. Final Thoughts

Article Description

Who doesn’t want to work smarter, not harder, during the workday? Lots of us use PDF files in one way or another to convey information. Adobe expert Brian Wood shows you how to use PDF actions to simplify and automate your work and create that perfect PDF “experience.”

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Creating a New Action

Creating a New Action

If you find yourself in the position of wanting to run certain commands on PDF files, but they are listed in the Actions section of the Action Wizard task pane, you can create your own. Make sure you have no PDF files open, and then follow these steps to create your very own action:

  1. Click the Create New Action option in the Action Wizard task pane.
  2. The Create New Action dialog box appears. In this dialog box, you are tasked with three things:

    • Deciding what files to start the action on (open files, a folder, etc.)
    • Deciding which “steps” to take (what to do to the files)
    • Deciding where Acrobat should save the resulting files
  3. In the Create New Dialog box, choose Ask When Action Is Started from the Starts With menu. Notice all of the options in the menu. One of the Start With menu items I use frequently is A Folder on My Computer. This allows you to create a folder on your hard drive and drop files in there that you can then process when you run the action by clicking it in the list of actions in the Action Wizard task panel (see Figure 9).
  4. Figure 9 Choose which files on which to run the action

  5. The next step is to add the steps to take. In the panels on the left side of the dialog box, steps (commands) are categorized according to their function. Click Pages to see all of the steps you can add. Suppose that you have to add headers and footers; then secure a series of PDF files. Start by clicking Header & Footer (Add) on the left. This adds that step to the action and will be listed in the Steps area to the right in the dialog box (see Figure 10).
  6. Figure 10 Add the first step to the action

  7. The next thing for you to decide is whether you want to set the header and footer options now, or decide when the action is run. Here’s something to consider: If all of the documents will have the same headers and footers, set it now by clicking Options and adjusting the settings in the Headers & Footers dialog box. If the headers and footers are different for each document (at least a chance they may be), allow them to be changed when the action is run by choosing Prompt User.
  8. Try adding another step, such as adding security to the PDF (Encrypt in the Protection panel) (see Figure 11).
  9. Figure 11 Add another step to the action

  10. Click Add Instruction Step. Instruction steps are a step in the action that “pauses” the action and displays a message. This can be good for explaining what they are about to do next, adding written steps to perform a command that you can’t find in the action steps dialog box (like adding comments), or explaining exactly why they are performing a step, such as “add this month’s ad on the last page” or something.
  11. In the Add/Edit Instructions dialog box, type a step name and instructions in the appropriate fields (see Figure 12). Click Save.
  12. Figure 12 Add an instruction step

  13. In order to tell Acrobat where to save the finished PDF files, choose an option from the “Save to” menu. I usually choose to save them in the same folder by choosing, “The Same Folder Selected at Start.” I don’t let them overwrite the existing, by deselecting “Overwrite existing files.” This allows you to create a “version” of the original files (see Figure 13).
  14. Figure 13 Select where to save the final files

  15. Click the Provide Additional Settings for the Destination button to the right of the Save To menu. This opens the Output Options dialog box. Here is where you can choose a different naming convention for the files so that a version is created (if you like). To do so, select Add to Original File Names and add something before and/or after, such as “_secure.” This would make a filename similar to “originalname_secure.pdf” (see Figure 14).
  16. Figure 14 Change the file naming

  17. The last options in the Output Options dialog box allows you to output a PDF (default) or another file format (such as .JPEG). If you choose PDF as the output format, you can choose to embed an index (this can speed up searching, but be careful because it may add some file size), and/or run PDF Optimizer to try and bring the file size down (among other things). Click OK.
  18. In the Create New Action dialog box, click Save. In the Save Action dialog box, give the action a name (required) and a description (optional)(see Figure 15). Click Save. Notice that the new action you created appears in the Actions list in the Action Wizard task pane on the right. To run it, you can simply click its name.
  19. Figure 15 Name the action

The last step in working with actions and the Action Wizard is editing, importing, and exporting actions.

  1. In the Action Wizard task pane, click Edit Actions.
  2. In the Edit Actions dialog box, you will see all of the things you can do to actions in Acrobat (see Figure 16), including the ability to copy and edit existing actions. Notice that you cannot edit, rename, or delete the existing actions. You can only copy them and then make any changes you like. If you wish to share an action with someone, like a co-worker, you can click Export to export the action as a .sequ file (sequence file). You can save this anywhere and email it to others who also have Acrobat X. They can then open the Edit Actions dialog box (if they have Acrobat X Pro) and click Import to add the action to their list.

    Figure 16 The Edit Actions dialog box

  3. Click Close to close the dialog box.
3. Final Thoughts | Next Section Previous Section