Setting up Quick Production for Print (PDF) to KF8 to ePUB

by | Oct 19, 2012

by David Bergsland (@DavidBergsland)

David Bergsland’s last post here was Typography in Kindle? Yes We Can! Today he addresses the current state of ebook conversion with popular tools for designers.

Here we are—well into the second decade of the new millennium and we now have a new method of publishing which truly helps individuals share what they have learned with readers who want the knowledge. The new changes are almost designed for those of us who feel called to share our vision with our trainees, students, and sheep. The new methodologies work better for teachers and leaders in small unique niches than anyone else.

But who cares about books?

That’s printed books: Yup! They are still an essential part of the mix unless your sole focus is on novels. In most cases, the printed version will still be at least half of sales. Even then readers assume there is a print version available. You should release the printed version on CreateSpace before you release the Kindle KDP (especially if you are going to use KDP Select).

If your readers want a copy for their library, digital storage is very unsatisfactory and unreliable. They will buy the print version. Also, you never know if your ebook will still read well in your new ereader. For many reasons, you should always start your design as a printed book. The main reason can be seen in the following subhead.

Print to ebook conversions work, the reverse do not

What many do not realize is the high quality requirements of printed materials. For example, books are printed at 600 dots per inch (dpi) at even the very worst level of cheap copying. Low quality quick print from places like Kinko’s or any of the thousands of quickprinters usually print at 1200 dpi. Commercial printers image at 2400 dpi or more. Like the Web, ebooks are stuck at 72 dpi—and worse yet, 600 dpi wide.

High quality images

Print quality normally cannot even handle the image degradation of the JPEG format. It is possible to make printing-quality 300 dpi JPEGs (as you can see in the bottom half below), but they are very rare. Most of the 72 dpi images are disasters with massive artifacts around all the contrast edges.

JPEG Artifacts

As you can see on top above, the edges of the rose petals are very chewed up. Under close examination, the damage is severe. This really makes a difference in print, but in an ebook they actually look fairly similar (unless you are exaggerating for effect like I just did).

Vector images

In fact, for books, you should really be using vector images (done with outlines). These are images created with Illustrator or InDesign: PDFs—without any photos or scans. They always print at the highest resolution possible. However, there is no vector format accepted by an ebook—except in theory.

They are all written in XHTML and CSS which require Web-quality graphics—GIFs, JPEGs, and the occasional PNG at 72 dpi and a maximum of 600 pixels wide.

Vector graphics, like SVG images, are only supported by Adobe as an export from Illustrator. No app I know of can import them or add them to the code even though XHTML and CSS2 supposedly support them. It takes professional-level coding skills to add them, at this point. As a result, ebook graphics are really very low in quality. Plus, 600 pixels doesn’t give you much room for any detail.

Print quality can be lowered to ebook quality easily

This is the bottomline reason for starting with print. For images, there is barely a theoretical way to raise the quality of ebook images to print quality (using SVGs). But this is the least of our problems. For reading, especially non-fiction, readers have come to expect sidebars, boxed copy, drop caps, multiple columns, and so on. Almost none of this works in an ebook.

Mainly you must get used to the fact that ebooks are single-column formatting of one single long story. In Web terms, copy must be in a div. It is possible to add floating divs within the copy but only by hand-coding them with percentage widths and locations.

Here’s a list of things not available to ebooks

  • Sidebars and multiple columns: These are not possible for ebooks (unless you are a coding whiz). They probably never will be until all ereaders are at least as capable as the 3rd iPad with its Retina Display.
  • Small caps, oldstyle figures, small cap figures, ligatures, or any of the other easily usable OpenType features: Print supports all of these. No ereader does yet, though CSS2 supports several of them: like true small caps.
  • Floating graphics with text wrap: This can be done in an ebook with careful hand-coding, but not really.
  • Embedded fonts: Complex font control is normal for print. Only Kindle KF8 files will do it now in an ebook, and the fonts can only be seen on the Fire. The silliness of not adding this to the iPad and OS Kindle readers is beyond me.
  • Anchored objects with captions: These are objects that are attached to the type and move with it. These are easy in InDesign; but ebooks can not use them unless you get into the code. Even then you are very limited.
  • Lists: These now work fairly well, but normal things like right aligned numbers and using graphics as bullets are not possible. In fact, because embedded fonts are not supported you can normally not even use graphic bullets from a dingbat font.
  • Tables: InDesign now does a reasonable job of exporting readable tables, but the formatting options are still quite limited and inline graphics usually do not work.
  • Paragraph rules: these do not work unless you add hand-coded divs and gradient rules are not possible except as separate graphics added before or after a paragraph.
  • Fancy or graphic drop caps: Simple drop caps sort of work in ebooks, but the fancier versions with swash letters or inline graphics simply are not possible.

Authors & designers do not code

I know I will get many flaming comments when I post this, but it is the simple truth. In most cases, creative people have a really hard time with coding—even code as simple as XHTML and CSS. Even if they can code (like me) they hate it and avoid it rigorously except for last resort emergencies—for me it must be to solve something that is necessary but not working.

So, we need a WYSIWYG solution for ebook design: the only place to find that on a professional level is InDesign. If you are putting your print designs together everything should already be formatted in InDesign CS6 (yes, CS6 is necessary). From there the conversion can be very easy if you set it up right.

I hear your argument for iBook Author, but Pages really does not have professional formatting capabilities. It’s barely even with Word and that is disastrous when you are formatting several hundred pages by shortcut. I suspect Quark has something, but I repented of that software for Y2K.

I know many ebooks are put together by coders, but for print they have to go to InDesign eventually. If they started with the ebooks, they then have to start over. If they started with InDesign, all that’s needed is a simple redefinition of the paragraph, character, object, and table styles.

Of course, you’ll need to practice with your print setup to make it convert that easily, but that is not difficult and you’ll see wonderful production speed benefits once you get your styles set up.

With InDesign CS6, the Kindle Export plug-in is good

For CS5.5, Amazon’s free plug-in was pretty crude. This time around, it works quite well. Plus it will embed fonts for KF8 in Fire. With the licensing problems, you may not be able to do that. But I’m a font designer, so it’s wonderful for me and very easy. All you need to do is copy the book for print and paste it into a Kindle-sized template.

You’ll have to swap JPEGs for PSDs. You’ll need to rasterize PDF graphics into JPEGs. You’ll usually want to make your graphics 600 dpi wide. You’ll also want to add all relevant links reader and Web use.

HINT! The only hitch is that the Kindle export plug-in will not convert nested styles. So, you need to hand format those with character styles. Knowing that this was coming, you probably already did it this way for the print version.

CS6’s ePUB export is also quite good now

Once it is exported as KF8, the same document can be exported as an ePUB.

You’ll want to be sure you set up your Edit All Export Tags dialog and your TOC. The coders will scream bloody murder, but on a practical level the result is definitely usable. Lists, tables, paragraph and character styles all transfer very well.

I’ve detailed the setups I use in Writing In InDesign Revised Edition 2.5 book and in the InDesign eBook Conversions booklet if you need that level of help.

The ereaders are so limited that these ePUBs are more than good enough for Nook, Kobo, and iBooks. If you have few enough graphics you can even export a text only file to be crammed into Word and then Smashwords (but only very simple books will take that level of abuse).

HINT! The fly in the ointment is iBooks through Lulu. They cannot take any links and Lulu/Apple has added some ridiculous hoops to jump through. I keep trying, but it’s not a good situation. It’s sad. Lulu used to be my best distributor after Amazon.

David Bergsland‘sDavid Bergsland passion is typography, page layout, and book design. He’s written seven books published by others and helped with a few more. Since early in the millennium, he’s published dozens of books and booklets—his best-seller is self-published on-demand: Practical Font Design, now offered by FontLab in some of their bundles. He was on the original team with InDesign 1 and has written many books and booklets on how to use InDesign effectively. After beginning to write full-time in 2009, he has become even more enamored of the page layout tool, doing all of his writing within the app. David lives in southern Minnesota in a small town with his Pastor wife and near his daughter and four grandchildren.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Chris Jennings

    I understand that you are saying that digging-in to the ePub is not something that many self-publishers want to do. I believe that the web is now a space occupied by creative people who make beautiful web sites by learning the craft of mark-up and CSS. Maybe this is what will happen with eBook publishing.

    I don’t understand your point about iBooks and the cost of uploading. It doesn’t cost anything to upload books to the iBooks store and you don’t need an aggregator. I didn’t find this a problem myself.

    ePubs on the iPad does indeed support ligatures. Download my book: eBook Typography for Flowable books and you will see that not only are ligatures supported by so is kerning and alternate swashes.

    I do certainly agree that InDesign is falling a little short at getting these features into the ePub directly; even a simple paragraph rule is not turned into a bottom-border in CSS – I hope that, one day, we won’t need to dig in to the ePub at all!

    • David Bergsland

      Author: Chris Jennings
      I understand that you are saying that digging-in to the ePub is not something that many self-publishers want to do.

      DCB: They’r not able to do it either.

      I believe that the web is now a space occupied by creative people who make beautiful web sites by learning the craft of mark-up and CSS. Maybe this is what will happen with eBook publishing.

      DCB: I doubt it. It’s a different type of skill needed for writing and creating on that level. Coding does not allow that level of freedom, freedom equals bugs.

      I don’t understand your point about iBooks and the cost of uploading. It doesn’t cost anything to upload books to the iBooks store and you don’t need an aggregator. I didn’t find this a problem myself.

      DCB: You need to buy a block of ISBNs and go through that hassle of getting set up with Bowkers. Then you can upload for free—but you’ve already spent several hundred dollars.

      ePubs on the iPad does indeed support ligatures. Download my book: eBook Typography for Flowable books and you will see that not only are ligatures supported by so is kerning and alternate swashes.

      DCB: That’s excellent! Lulu has always bounced stuff like that. I’m glad coders can make it work. It’s beyond my pain tolerance.

      I do certainly agree that InDesign is falling a little short at getting these features into the ePub directly; even a simple paragraph rule is not turned into a bottom-border in CSS – I hope that, one day, we won’t need to dig in to the ePub at all!

      DCB: I suspect that will be nearly true for CSNext of InDesign, but that’s just a guess.

  2. David Bergsland

    @Chris I have no issues with what you say, but it misses a basic point. Most creatives (including authors) find it difficult, or at least painful to do much coding. People who are focused on coding rarely have the design skills or the taste and style to do beautiful books. It usually takes the oversight of an art director, at the very least. This is beyond what I am talking about or promoting. My focus is on DIY Publishing on a strict budget. Hiring a Web developer may be a very good idea. But only if you can afford it.
    The iBooks issue is for those of us who cannot afford to upload the books ourselves. The aggregators do not take embedded fonts even if iBooks supports it.
    As for ligatures and the rest of the OpenType features, I don’t think anyone supports that yet in an ebook. Few browsers do: FireFox 4+ and maybe Chrome? CSS2 supports it but the browsers and ereaders do not.

  3. Chris Jennings

    There are quite a few in you list of what ebooks can’t do that I must disagree with. My eBook (thus far only for iPad) on eBook Typography shows many features working:
    Sidebars using columns no, but what does that have to do with retina display?
    Ligatures and alternates. Yes if in the font has it.
    Floating and text wrap. Yes, and direct from ID CS6
    Embedded fonts yes for sure on the iPad.
    Anchored objects and caption. Grouped, they stay anchored in the flow of the text.
    Lists work and so does dingbats on the iPad. Even as generated content from the CSS.

    I appreciate that your list is saying that these things are not supported with ePub export from InDesign. Here I agree, but the ePub format ( and Mobi) are really HTML and CSS so using web dev techniques is a must for generating attractive ebooks. Unpack the ePub and edit with Dreamweaver!

  4. Rob Siders

    If anyone finds they don’t have the need for access to the full suite of Adobe CS tools, a subscription to just InDesign CS6 can he had for a more reasonable $20/month.

  5. Tracy R. Atkins

    This is a fantastic write-up. I’m sold.

    I am the odd-man out here. I actually used HTML for my Kindle Version. I handled it through MS Word instead of Expression Web, but I have become fairly good at it. However, it took a lot of “gnashing of teeth” to be proficient. I got there out of the illusion that going from Word to Mobi was easy. I must admit, MobiCreator does a good job with conversion, and going the Word/HTML/Mobi route was the best way I could make due with what I had. Of course, I am an experienced web dev, so it my approach isn’t recommended. If you have a complex picture book, this approach will cost you a fortune in Crown Royal.

    I think I just need to bite the bullet and drop the $50 a month on an adobe subscription. I can get the full suite of the latest adobe apps that way and I will probably cut my production time in half.

  6. Katherine Owen


    I had to abandon InDesign (CS 5) export to Kindle Mobi by late summer because Amazon readers were complaining that they could not see the text on a black background with white text on their Kindle Fires. I spent “days” troubleshooting this one and finally concluded that KDP was doing something to my Mobi file upon upload. Now, I’m thinking it’s just the CS5 version of InDesign in conjunction with Amazon’s Kindle plug-in and funky code that is probably more compatible in CS6. In any case, I abandoned the InDesign mobi file process and reworked the entire document in Word (three novel documents, actually). Heartbreak, indeed.

    With your post above, I realize that I need to take the $ plunge and upgrade to CS 6 because writing in InDesign as you suggested in one of your other guest posts was most excellent advice for this writer’s process. Writing in InDesign always saves me time and angst on the production side for both print and ebook/mobi. Thanks for the post; it clarifies things for me, at least.

    Katherine Owen

    Joel – thanks for hosting David on your always helpful blog.

    • David Bergsland

      Yup! Sad to say, Adobe continues to make its upgrades necessary. That will probably continue for me until I get what I want in ePUB production as well as print. Hopefully CS7 will do it, my budget will not support the new monthly fee for the entire product line.

    • Joel Friedlander

      Thanks for your comment, Katherine. David always has something substantial to offer, and his articles help meet one of the aims for the blog, to provide useful content to readers at widely varying levels of expertise.

  7. Rob Siders

    David wrote: “Print to ebook conversions work, the reverse do not”

    In terms of push-button processes, this is accurate. But as long as you’re managing your assets well and have a solid work flow, an ebook-to-print process can work and work great. My shop began with ebooks-only production and later added print, but the cost and time required to flip our work flow to print-to-ebook was too steep. Plus, 80-plus percent of my client roster just wants ebooks, so it doesn’t make a lot of sense to upset something that works simply because the asset-quality requirements for print are far higher than they are for ebooks.

    • David Bergsland

      That is true for you, but Amazon still says that all ebooks have many requests for a printed version. EVen my ebook-only books have a printed version now and nearly half of my sales are in print.

      • Rob Siders

        I don’t doubt this, but I can’t force someone to buy a service from me they don’t want or cannot afford (which isn’t to say I wouldn’t like to!). And I’m certainly not going to license InDesign for an entire staff of ebook designers anticipating the day the work flow from print-to-ebook makes more sense.

        Don’t get me wrong: I love paper, I love making paper, and we encourage authors to add it to their product mix because it makes good business sense to avoid alienating people who also love paper. It’s just that I don’t see the independent publishing trend line moving toward “paper, too” over the short or long term with any kind of velocity. I think the best-case scenario is that it holds steady for the next several years before declining rapidly as device technology continues to mature. Paper won’t go away, obviously, but it’ll fill a much smaller portion of the market. Of course, I could be very wrong about this — I was a huge Kindle skeptic when it was released, and the irony is not at all lost on me.

  8. David Bergsland

    If you add your graphics as anchored objects with an object style, it is simple to modify the style to inline and change the graphics to JPEGs, GIFs, or PNGs. RElinking takes a little time, but it’s really not bad. <y book "Practical Font Design" has well over 100 graphics in it—as does "Writing In InDesign".The epubs and KF8 versions of these books were relatively quick and easy to convert (less than a day of work).

  9. Diane Tibert

    Thank you for the detailed post. It’s a lot to digest. I probably could figure out coding, but I don’t think I’d enjoy it. That’s one thing I’ll leave to someone else or leave out of ebooks entirely.

    The limitations of ebooks is one reason I believe paper books will be around much longer than some claim.

    I haven’t used a lot of images in my books, but there are a few projects in the near future which will contain them on every page. At the moment, I plan to create print versions only. That said, in a year from now, embedding images in ebooks may be a whole lot simpler.

  10. david Bergsland

    Yesterday I had an experience that shows a part of the process well. I recently had two books come off Kindle KDP Select. I usually start with that to see how the book will sell and to get some marketing help fromAmazon in the process. As soon as the books come of Select, I can then release the book elsewhere.
    This means I need an ePUB. In both cases, that took about 20 minutes to accomplish and another half hour to publish them in PubIt and Kobo Writing Life. AS mentioned, Lulu has been such a pain that I decided to release them in Smashwords instead. Because that had to be converted to a dumbed down version of a Word doc to meet Smashwords requirements, that took me over 2 hours each.
    Such are the vagaries of current self-publishing with limited capital.

  11. David Bergsland

    @Carol Yes, the learning curve is a little steep. But you can take a single InDesign course at an accredited school and get an academic version of InDesign very inexpensively in the process.

  12. Carol Frome

    Sounds great, but–unless the price has come down–InDesign is quite expensive–hundreds of dollars expensive–isn’t it?

    Also, I hear the learning curve is steep indeed. You’re not going to sit down and learn it in an afternoon. A friend of mine told me it took her months to learn it.

    • Chris

      Taking a course to learn it and getting the education version is an awesome way to go. (My education version of the creative suite was NOT hundreds of dollars, it was quite affordable.) But you should also be aware that the built-in help and adobe online helps are extremely useful and thorough. InDesign may look hard, but there are a LOT of resources available to help you learn it, even if you don’t decide to take a course.

  13. Jo Michaels

    The sad truth is: Most folks aren’t working with InDesign for their printed books. Once I discovered CreateSpace would take a PDF, it was all easy coasting from there out. Having a template based on their specs makes it easy to drop in my text, apply my paragraph styles, add frills and fun chapter heads, and export for print. Of course, if everyone had that ability, where would book designers make their money?

    Can’t believe they upped the ante for CS6 like that. I’m resisting the upgrade. May have to give in now. haha!

    Great post! WRITE ON!

    • Joel Friedlander

      So Jo, are you saying you’re using Word or another word processor to format your books for CreateSpace? There’s a huge difference in the output of these programs.

      • Ruth Schwartz

        Hi Joel –

        I used MSWord to format Secrets & Pleasures for CreateSpace, using a template I downloaded from them. I had to tweak it a little bit, but not much, and the book came out beautifully. Granted, it is a work of fiction, so does not have any graphics or subheads.

        Also, I then tweaked the file to work in Kindle, and then through Calibre, made an ePub file. I think this process can work for fairly basic design requirements.

        • David Bergsland

          Yes, it will work for very simple books. The problem is that the typography looks very bad to the professionals and makes non-professionals subconsciously queasy because their experience tells them that this was don by a non-professional so maybe it cannot be trusted. We have to remember that nothing from a word processor ever made it into the public light except from bureaucratic output until well into this new millennium. Now, maybe the youth (under 30?) no longer recognize it. But everyone older knows (on a sub-conscious level at least) that only non-professionals use Word for publishing. Worse yet, they may relegate it to that place where they always throw things like that away (associating it with committee output from governments and bureaucracies). Using Word to publish is dangerous in that way.

  14. Paul Salvette


    Thank you and this is a very interesting look at what InDesign can do. You actually can embed images as bullet points, but it will only work on the Kindle Fire and I think iBooks. Gradients using a -webkit- prefix are possible in Kindle Fire and iBooks (which both use the WebKit engine). The CSS syntax looks like this:

    background-image: -webkit-gradient(linear, staring point, ending point, from(color), to(color));

    I’m not sure if this will be exported properly through InDesign.



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