How to add bookmarks to a PDF document (using free software)

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This posting will describe the process of adding bookmarks to your PDF document using free software. Bookmarks are used in PDFs as an interactive index that can instantly transport the reader to certain pages, sections, individual elements within the documents, and even external documents or media files.

PDF bookmarks add an extra dimension to PDF documents by making them interactive in ways similar to, say, a webpage, whereby you can instantly jump to the desired section or information that you want to read.

PDF’s with bookmarks can be much more useful and accessible, especially for technical document and instruction manuals, but also for ebooks whereby chapters or sections can be delineated as well.

The program used to do this and presented here is called “JPDFbookmarks“, and it is both free and open source.

step2-decide on your PDF bookmarks

For this example I am going to go through the process of adding bookmarks to a document I am publishing to PDF, step by step.


1. The first step: download JPdfBookmarks here (approx 5/7 megs). This program is multiplatform (Windows/Mac/Linux), free and open source. It does not need to be installed; on Windows simply unzip and then run “jpdfbookmarks.exe”.


2. Next decide on the bookmarks you want. In the example below I have a Word document that I am converting to PDF, and I would like to simply replicate the index structure of this document as bookmarks in the PDF document.


3. Create a PDF document: or locate one that you want to add bookmarks to. (Yes you can easily export to PDF from Word).


Add bookmark4. Add the names for your desired bookmarks: launch JPdfBookmarks then open your PDF document. To add a bookmark click on the “add bookmark” icon (which is the top icon in the left sidebar), or you can click Ctrl+Alt+S or use the “edit”/add bookmark menu. You can`][- also click on any existing bookmark to add a sibling or child bookmark from the context menu.

Next name your bookmark appropriately. Use a name that makes sense, as these bookmarks need to make sense for readers that are going to use them.

Add as many bookmarks as necessary. Do not worry about defining them in the document for the time being, just put them all down in the correct structure.

Also note that you can drag and drop to re-arrange your bookmarks, and use the formatting controls in the left sidebar to format as desired (bold, italic, change font color, etc.)

See the screenshot below to see the list of bookmarks I entered for this example:

Bookmark list


5. Define each bookmark individually: to do this first get the page, section or individual element visible on screen, then right click on the bookmark in the sidebar and choose “set destination”.

It is important to get exactly the right view on-screen when you bookmark, as the bookmark will preserve exactly your on-screen view. Use the controls on the top toolbar to navigate to the view (see below).

pdf controls

Bookmark creation step by step

(a) Click on the bookmark in the left pane that you added in step 4 above

(b) Navigate to the page or part of the page that you want the user the see when they click on the bookmark using the controls above. Zoom in or out appropriately, as any zoom factor will also be preserved; the only exception to this is using the “select to zoom” tool in the toolbar, which enables you to select and bookmark any rectangular area in your document and will be denoted by a red outline.

Generally speaking there are 6 possible bookmark types: zoom to fit width, zoom to fit height, zoom to fit page, or select to zoom a particular section of the document. The other two types are a web bookmark, where the bookmark opens a URL on the internet, or a multimedia bookmark, where clicking the bookmark launches a media file.

Set bookmark(c) Go back to the bookmark in the left pane. Right click on it, scroll all the way to the last option in the context menu and select “Set destination” (or click (Ctrl+Alt+A). See screenshot to the right.

(d) Go back to step (a) and do this for all bookmarks that you want to define.

(e) To create a web bookmark, right click on the bookmark and choose “web bookmark” in the context menu.

(f) Once you are done and have defined all the bookmarks you want, test them by clicking on each one in the list. If the document doesn’t scroll down in the way that you intended make sure to fix the bookmark.

(g) Your bookmarks are now defined, but you’re not done yet. Go on to the steps below.


6. Decide on whether you want the bookmark list to appear whenever the PDF document is opened: if so, click on the button indicated in the screenshot below. If not, make sure that it is depressed.

pdf controls2


7. Save the PDF: using “File/Save” or “File/Save As” if you would like a different name. The saved PDF will contain the bookmarks you defined and is now ready for publishing.


8. Export the bookmarks definitions: using “Tools/Dump” (or press Ctrl+Alt+D). This will export the bookmark definitions such that you can re-use them later on if you need to.

Imagine that after all this work creating bookmarks you find a few typos in the text that force you to re-create the PDF file. By exporting your bookmarks to a text file, you can simply create a fresh, typo-free PDF and re-import the bookmarks to it without having to go through the whole exercise described here again (use “Tools/Load” or Ctrl+Alt+D”.

pdf controls3Note on adding or removing pages: if you need to re-create your document and add or remove pages to it, you can use the “page offset” button in the upper toolbar to shift an individual bookmark or a group of bookmarks forwards and backwards.

To do so, load up your new, modified document with the added or removed pages then import the bookmark file into it. In the left sidebar, select the bookmarks you would like to shift forward or backward by page increments (Ctrl+Click to select multiple bookmarks), then click on the “Apply a page offset” button shown above. You will then have the option to shift the selected bookmarks forwards (positive page values) or backwards (negative values).


Are there other free programs that you use to create bookmarks in a PDF documents? Please let us know in the comments section below.