Creating a PDF for Lightning Source Print-on-Demand in InDesign CS4: Part 3

by | Nov 17, 2009

In these posts I’m reviewing the steps that I take to create a PDF file for digital print-on-demand printing at Lightning Source (LSI) from Adobe InDesign CS4.

File creation using this process must be performed at least twice for each book submitted to LSI; once for the interior (bookblock in LSI terms) and once for the cover.

It’s essential that you get this right to avoid poor reproduction, hangups in production, or extra charges for repeated proofs to get the book right. By carefully following the procedures outlined by LSI, we can assure ourselves of fully compliant files.

The problem is that the instructions for this process are spread over the following documentation, all supplied on the LSI website:

  • B&W_Int_Layout_Example(Explained).pdf
  • B&W_Int_Template_Example.pdf
  • DigitalFileSubmissions.pdf
  • DistillerSettingsDoc.pdf
  • FAQs.pdf
  • FontEmbedding.pdf
  • LSI_FileCreationGuide.pdf
  • PSsettingsINDcs4_MAC_cov.pdf
  • PSsettingsINDcs4_MAC_int.pdf
  • ScanTitleSubmissions.pdf

Note that this set of files is specific to file creation on the Macintosh in Adobe InDesign CS4. Other files from LSI contain instructions for other programs and platforms.

Step-by-step instructions are available from the following LSI webpages:
Lightning Source – Digital Cover Creation
Lightning Source – Digital Bookblock Creation

Okay, Let’s Dig In!

It’s important to understand that the method outlined by LSI does not produce PDFs from InDesign. Instead, we’ll be producing postscript files from InDesign. These files will be used by Adobe Distiller to create the PDF file.

Most of this process is controlled from within the Print dialog box. On seven successive screens, the specifications from LSI are entered in the appropriate places. Although it’s a bit time-consuming to go through these settings, it’s really worthwhile. And once you’ve finished with the setup, InDesign will let you save your customization so it can be re-used just by loading the entire set of specs at once.

Rather than go through each option, I’ve set up these dialog box options to match the specifications in LSI’s documentation. All you have to do is make your options the same as these screenshots. Make the selections you see here and select or unselect the check boxes so that your dialog matches these screenshots.

When your file is ready to go, pull up the Print dialog and follow along with these screenshots.

Here’s the first screen, the Print Dialog’s General options:

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Click to enlarge

Note that your driver in the PPD dropdown may read “Adobe PDF” without the version number, and that’s fine.

Here’s the Print Dialog’s Setup screen. Note that you will need the enter the actual trim size of your book in the “Paper Size” Width and Height boxes. In this case the book is 5-1/2″ x 8-1/2″:

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Click to enlarge

Here’s the Marks and Bleeds screen. Note the unchecked boxes.

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Click to enlarge

And here’s the Output dialog.

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Click to enlarge

Now we have the Graphics dialog.

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Click to enlarge

Keep going! We’re almost there. This is the Color Management dialog.

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Click to enlarge

Last, but not least, the Print dialog’s Advanced tab.

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Click to enlarge

Changes for Color Covers

I follow the same procedure for the color cover of the book, since there are only two of these dialog boxes that change, the rest stay the same. First, the Output dialog gets a different treatment:

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Click to enlarge

In this example for color postscript processing, under Output/Color, instead of “Composite Leave Unchanged” select “Composite CMYK.”

The second difference is in the Color Management section:

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Here, for the Color Management/Options/Color Handling selection, instead of “No color management” select “Let InDesign Determine Color” and the “Document CMYK – U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2” Printer profile.

Painstaking, but Reusable

At this point you could click on “Save” and let InDesign create your postscript files, but before you do that, click instead on the “Save Preset” button, which will give you an opportunity to save all the settings you just painstakingly adjusted. Call the preset something you will remember, and when you are returned to the Print dialog’s Advanced screen, click on “Save.”

I save both presets. After setting up the interior, just before clicking “Save” I save the preset as “LSI Interior 11.09.” Then I do the cover, and save that preset as “LSI Cover 11.09.” With these saved I can go back and just pick the preset from the dropdown menu and I’m ready to go.

You’ll be presented with a standard save dialog, but make note of the location the file will be saved to, as you’ll need this information in a moment.

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Click to enlarge

Heading for the Distiller

Our last task is to use the files created in InDesign to create our PDF file for submission to LSI. For this task we’ll use Acrobat Distiller, a part of Adobe’s Creative Suite. Here’s the rather unhelpful main screen of Distiller:

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Click to enlarge

In the Default Settings dropdown near the top of the screen, select “PDF/X-1.a:2001”. Use the File/Open command and navigate to where you saved the postscript file just a moment ago. That’s all the input you need with Distiller. As soon as you open the file you’ll see a progress bar as Distiller works through the file creating your PDF.

At the end, Distiller will show, in the top window, the location of the PDF it created. You’ll also notice a report in the bottom window of the Distiller screen. This is what you want to see:

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Click to enlarge

Distiller has reported that “This document passes PDF/X-1.a:2001 compliance checks.” Congratulations!

Checking it Twice

The last two checks you’ll need to do are to make sure your file looks the way you expect the book to look, and that your fonts have embedded into the PDF file correctly.

Open the PDF you made in Distiller in Adobe Acrobat Reader or Acrobat Pro. Page through the entire file and look at the pages, running heads, chapter openings, page numbers and any elements outside the text stream like charts, graphs, tables with callouts, captions, and so on. Does the book look as you expected?

Next, select File/Properties and click on the “Fonts” tab. A window will open showing the fonts used in the document. Next to each font name you should see either the notation “(Embedded Subset)” or “(Embedded).” This is what you want to see. Here’s an example:

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Click to enlarge

If for some reason “(Embedded Subset)” or “(Embedded)” isn’t listed next to the font name, that font is not embedded and LSI will not be able to process your file. If you’ve followed these steps exactly, you should not have this problem.

One . . . Last . . . Thing

LSI also has strict guidelines about naming your files, and I have known them to reject a file simply because it was named incorrectly. They instruct you to name the PDF file we just created for your book interior with the ISBN number in this format: isbn_txt.pdf or isbntxt.pdf.

For a book with the ISBN 0-936385-40-5, the file should be named 0936385405_txt.pdf or 0936385405txt.pdf. The cover file would be 0936385405_cov.pdf or 0936385405cov.pdf

You are now ready to go into your LSI account and upload your files. You should be confident that when your book proof arrives, it will be exactly as you expected.

A last word: This post is not intended to supply technical support for Adobe InDesign, Adobe Acrobat or Acrobat Distiller, or to replace the materials issued by LSI. It is a record of exactly the steps I take when I’m preparing a client’s book to go to press at Lightning Source, and is solely based on the materials I cited at the beginning of the article. LSI may change these requirements at any time, so it always pays to check whether their requirements have changed. If this seems like too much work, or too difficult to understand, think carefully about whether you are better off tackling these technical challenges, or putting your energy into making your book the best it can be, and devoting yourself to marketing your book. This is the type of chore that is handled by any talented book designer in the ordinary course of book production.

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. Cindy

    Thank you! I’ve been searching high and low for this info …

  2. Richard Foley

    An addendum for the new file naming convention: book=isbnnumber.pdf + cover=isbnnumber_cov.pdf

    • Joel Friedlander

      Richard, here’s what it says in the current File Creation Guide version 10, revised November 15, 2011:

      Single file naming: isbn_txt.pdf or isbntxt.pdf
      Multiple file naming needs to number in ascending order;
      for example: isbn_001.pdf; isbn_002.pdf (for multiple files)

      So it appears the article is still correct. Can you give me a link to where you found the “new file naming convention” you quoted? Thanks.

  3. KP

    Thanks for sharing this information with us. Your site is awesome and you’re a wonderful writer.

  4. Joe Becker


    I’m glad to hear you have a mac (since most of the book-formatters I speak don’t and thus have difficulties with my documents written on my mac). Can you please tell me how to make a pdf for lightning source from my word document? I’m on a mac os x 10.6.6 and I just downloaded Adobe Reader, which my pdf’s now automatically open up in.
    However, I’ve been advised to change my Word doc to pdf by changing the “printer name” to ADOBE PDF but that is just not showing up in the menu.

    Help? Thanks!!

  5. Abigail

    Thanks for this very helpful article: I’m preparing a book cover for LSI, using CS4 (Acrobat Pro 9) and SL, and am having the exact same problems as Dimas and Dominick. Saving the file as a PDF with the pdf/x-1a:2001 setting makes a very nice-looking PDF (no problems with frames showing on this design, thankfully; I have run into that before).

    Do you think it’s safe to submit the cover design to LSI in this InDesign-generated PDF format, not worrying about the whole InDesign->Postscript->PDF routine? My client is pushing her book deadline and I’d really like to submit it correctly the first time around rather than having them send it back.

    Thanks for any advice you can give.

    • Dominick


      Here’s what I did:

      1. Went to the Adobe support page titled “Creating a PostScript file in Mac OS X for submission to Create Adobe PDF Online.” (It’s 3 years old, but relevant.) The web address is: I printed the instructions, in case I needed them.

      2. Then I went to: and about 2/3 of the way down the page, under the heading PPD Files, I downloaded the first one, labeled PPD Files:Adobe.

      3. You’ll get a file called adobe.sit. I unstuffed it and then had an adobe ppd file.

      4. Don’t ask me why I did the following, but it seemed to work: I created a “nesting dolls” thing with folders. I first created a folder called “en.lproj” and placed the ppd file in it. Then I created a folder called “Resources” and put the previous folder in that. Then I created a folder called “Contents” and put the previous folder in THAT! Then I created one last folder called “PPDs” and placed the previous folder in THAT.

      5. Then I placed that loaded folder inside the Printers folder, which is in the Library folder in the root directory (the one under your operator/administrator name in FInder.)

      That seems to work. I get the postscript settings as described in Joel’s article, and then I can create an adobe pdf from that.

      I should say that I also tried simply adding the ppd file all by itself to the Printers folder–but the OS X security seemed to destroy it! I dunno! I’m a duffer when it comes to this stuff. It worked until I rebooted the computer, then it disappeared. That’s when I tried the “nested folders” solution and that has worked through several reboots.

      My files were accepted by LSI. I just received the proof today and it is fine.

      I should also say that my cover file still had the ghost lines in the pdf I sent, but that they did NOT show up in the proof. LSI probably rasterized the cover. Good luck!

      • Dominick


        I should add that the first step is probably superfluous, except as a way to find the PPD file. I did not intend to create the pdf online.

        Also, my first cover file upload was accepted. My first text file was rejected, but not because of the pdf format. I had goofed in setting up the bleed margins. The photo bleeds are supposed to SHOW in preview mode, as they do on the cover template LSI sends. I plead ignorance. It’s the first time I used inDesign.

        When LSI rejects a file, they let you know the same day. It will show up in your Account At A Glance page. In my case, it was rejected on Thursday, I resubmitted (upload) the next day, which was Friday. It was accepted on Monday. The proof was printed and sent out yesterday. I received it today. Good luck! DB

    • Joel Friedlander

      Abigail, as I said in my email, just use the [Press Quality] PDF preset and you should be fine.

    • Abigail

      Thanks so very much to both of you for the very helpful replies! I really appreciate you taking time to help out a complete stranger.

      I think I’ll go for the “Press Quality” PDF preset as Joel suggests, just because it will be simpler and faster; then if LSI doesn’t accept the file for some reason I will try Dominick’s more round-about method. Will try to report back here with the results.

      Thank you again!

  6. Joel Friedlander

    Dominick, I’m familiar with the “ghost edges” problem in creating PDFs and I’ve solved it with the [Press Quality] PDF export option. My files ran without any problems at Lightning Source. I’m running OS 10.5.8 but I don’t think support for the OS should be an issue since all LSI will see is your PDF. Try it, I bet it will work fine.

    • Dominick

      Thanks, Joel. I will try that and let you know how it works. I think I did overreact a bit when the rep wrote that SL is not supported. I think all she meant was that they couldn’t give any advice about it.

      If LSI rejects my files, I’ll do the postscript-to-pdf procedure on my daughter’s laptop, which runs 10.5.x.

      Thanks for the great site!


  7. Dominick

    The steps described above and in other posts on various forums have not worked for me. I’ve installed all the CS4 and OS X updates at least twice.

    The best I can do is use the export PDF function, but the resulting pdf shows the frame edges when I use the pdf/x-1a:2001 setting. When I use the High Quality PDF setting, the frame edges do not show up!

    But it might be moot because I was just informed by my rep at Lightning Source that they do not support Snow Leopard!


  8. Dimas

    Just installed Acrobat Pro 9 and everything works just fine :) Already uploaded my files to LSI thanks to your guide. Cheers.

  9. Joel

    Dimas, thanks for the link to that article. I hope that solves your problem.

  10. Joel

    Dimas, that sounds odd. You know, on my system (Mac OS 10.5.8) the PPD drop down list has hundreds of printers and, for some reason, the Adobe PDF 9.0 is way down the list, completely out of alphabetical order, between “Xerox WC M20 Series” and “HP 1300 Series” although I’m mystified why. It took me a while to find it. Could it be something like that?

  11. Dimas

    This is by far the most comprehensive technical guide I found about lightning source. I do have a question though. On the first screen I don’t have Adobe PDF on the PPD dialog. I wonder why. Because I do have both Acrobat 9 and Distiller. Any ideas?

  12. Helen

    Joel, thank you! What a fantastic, logical and easy-to-follow tutorial.


    • admin

      Thanks Helen, hope it proves helpful.


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