AECBytes Architecture Engineering Construction Newsletters  

AECbytes Tips and Tricks Issue #6 (May 24, 2006)

Combining Several PDFs on One Page in Adobe Acrobat Professional

John TeSelle
Founder, LineType Software, Inc.

Although Adobe Acrobat is not intended to be a page-layout tool, it can be used to import pages from one PDF file into another and to reposition or scale these pages on the larger layout page of the main document.

Note that this procedure requires Adobe Acrobat Professional (version 6.0 or 7.0). It will also work with Acrobat 5.0. The necessary tools are not included in Acrobat Standard 6.0 or 7.0, however.

In this example, we will create a 24 x 36 PDF from a CAD application, and then "paste up" letter-size sheets of specifications on that large 24 x 36 sheet. This might be useful, for instance, if specifications are being written in a word processing program but the architect or engineer wishes to include them on the drawings.

Creating the CAD Layout

First, create the sheet in CAD. Here is what it looks like in the CAD application.

There is some general drawing information at the top of the page, and then ten empty rectangles are drawn in the lower part of the sheet. These are actually a little bit smaller than letter-size paper, but they are the same proportion as an 8½ x 11 page and so the letter-size specification pages can be scaled to fit these boxes.

Now create a PDF of this drawing, using the PDF-creation features of Adobe Acrobat. This process will not be described here, but it is easy to do. This gives us a 24 x 36 PDF as shown below.

We'll also assume that the specification pages have already been created as a separate PDF document—these may have been printed from a word processor to a PDF printer driver, for instance. The next step will be to import each page of this specification document into one of the boxes on the 24 x 36 sheet.

Creating Button Fields

We will use the form-creation tools in Adobe Acrobat Professional to do this import procedure. As shown below, choose Tools > Advanced Editing > Button Tool to create a "button" form field. Usually, this type of field is used to create an interactive form that has click buttons. We will be taking advantage of other properties of the button field, however, and won't be using its interactive capabilities.

When the Button Tool becomes active, draw a rectangle that almost fills the first empty box on the layout sheet. Set its properties as indicated in the dialog boxes shown below. It is important that the border and fill colors under the Appearance tab are both set to None, and that under the Options tab we set Layout to Icon only and Behavior to None.

Now click Close on the Button Properties dialog box, and with the Button Tool still selected, right click on the button field that was just created. Under the context menu that appears, select Create Multiple Copies—this will allow us to duplicate the button field several times on the page.

The figure below shows the dialog box that appears to duplicate this form field. Enter 2 and 5 for the number of rows and columns, and then click OK.

The document now appears as shown below.

There is now one button form field for each box on the sheet, but they are not in the right locations. There are several ways to reposition these fields, but the easiest is probably to select the bottom row of buttons using the Shift-Click method, and then move all these fields down to align with the bottom row of boxes. Holding Shift down while moving will constrain the fields to vertical movement only.

The same method can then be used to move two button fields at a time over to the right. Now the document appears as shown below—each button field is aligned over one of the boxes in the underlying 24 x 36 sheet.

Since these are empty button form fields with no border or background, they will be invisible if the Button Tool is inactivated. If the Hand tool is selected, for instance, all the button fields will seem to vanish. They are still there, though; by selecting Tools > Advanced Editing > Button Tool again, the editing borders around the fields reappear and they can be moved or edited.

Importing the PDF Specifications

Now that the button fields are all in their correct places, we can import the specification pages. Double-click on the first field, and the Button Properties dialog box opens up. As shown below, under the Options tab, click on the Choose Icon… button. This brings up another dialog box that allows us to specify which PDF file and which page number of that file will be used as the image for this button field. Choose the first page of the specifications PDF, and click OK. The button field now appears with that page of the specifications reduced to fit inside the bounds of the field.

Now without closing the Button Properties dialog box, click on the next button field in line, and then click on Choose Icon… again. Select the next page of the specifications PDF for this field, and so on for each button field in sequence. When complete, each page of the specifications is now in its own box on the 24 x 36 sheet, as shown below.

When we click on the Hand tool now, the buttons remain visible because there is now something "inside" each button to see.

Making (and preventing) Changes to Imported Pages

Note that page contents imported in this way are not linked directly to the original document. That is, if the PDF containing the specifications changes, the imported "image" will not change—the pages will have to be re-imported if changes are to be reflected in the 24x36 sheet. Also, if the 24x36 document is sent to someone else, it is not necessary to send the specification document as well—the imported pages are embedded in the receiving document, which is entirely self-contained.

Because the imported images are in button fields, however, it is possible for someone to change them using Adobe Acrobat. It is also possible that some third-party PDF reader programs (such as those used by print management software at a reprographer's shop) may not correctly interpret or print these form fields.

The solution is to "flatten" the form fields containing the imported pages. The flattening operation removes the form field from the document and inserts just the image of the imported file, which cannot be easily modified as can a form field. For more information on flattening, see my earlier article, Flattening PDF Annotations, in AECbytes Tips and Tricks.

About the Author

John TeSelle is a practicing architect in Nashville, Tennessee. He is the founder of LineType Software, Inc., which develops plug-ins for Adobe Acrobat and Reader for the AEC industry. He is an authority on the use of PDF and PDF-based digital signatures for architects and engineers, and has shared this expertise with professionals across the country in seminars and webcasts sponsored by Adobe Systems, Inc. He can be reached at




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