InDesign to EPUB Export Basics: General Settings

Editor’s Note: This is the first part of a series explaining how to generate an EPUB from InDesign. It’s meant for beginner InDesign/EPUB users, but other levels might learn something new as well.

There comes a time in every print designer’s life when they need to create an EPUB. While others might start from scratch, InDesign seems like the best place to start for print designers. Adobe has made great strides on their EPUB creation tools in InDesign, and you can leverage a well-styled file into a pretty great EPUB with the right settings. Today we’ll look at the very first panel in InDesign’s Export to EPUB menu: General Settings.

The General Settings Pane of InDesign’s EPUB Export

The General Settings Pane of InDesign’s EPUB Export

Let’s get started. Open up and InDesign file and Go to File > Export (or Command E from a mac).

Note: This describes the latest version of InDesign CC (as of April 23rd, 2014).

Version: EPUB 2 or EPUB 3?

This dropdown allows you to select the EPUB version for the file you are creating. EPUB 2 was the standard format for quite a while, while EPUB 3 has recently seen wide adoption with updated specs and advanced functionality.
So what version should you choose? Well, my default answer would be EPUB 3. At this point almost all of the major e-retailers support EPUB 3, and if you’re using InDesign you probably put the effort into designing the book and EPUB 3 will offer more in the way of design and formatting options.
The more complex answer is you should look into what formats are supported by whatever system you use (smashwords, a common self-publishing tool, for example, only supports EPUB 2). If worst comes to worst, you could always output both formats to submit to different retailers.



If your cover is already in the current InDesign file, make sure its the very first page and select “Rasterize First Page.” This will convert that page to a cover image to be used by the EPUB file.
If you have a cover in another InDesign file, first convert it to a JPEG file, then use “Choose Image…” Select the JPEG you created and Click OK. Once you’ve done that your image path will be put in the text field below the dropdown menu.
If you don’t have a cover, you might want to consider creating one and following one of the two options above. Otherwise, select “No Cover”


We’ll discuss this in more detail in a later post, but for now here’s a really basic description of how both dropdown options work.
File Name
This will generate a TOC based on the file name. If your file were named “book” chapters would be named “book-1,” “book-2,” etc.
TOC Style
This option gives you full control over the TOC creation. To generate the TOC, you can go to Layout > Table of Contents… The TOC will then be generated from this setting.


This allows you to include margins on an EPUB page. You might be inclined to add the same margins that you have in the print file, but I’d encourage you to not do that. Most ereaders have built-in margins on pages, and this will just add to that margin. If you add too much margin to the left and right you might end up with an unreadable text column on some devices.
Unless you are really sure you want to add margins to your EPUB file, you should probably leave this as 0.

Content Order

For most basic books, you’ll only have one option (the other two will be grayed out): “Based on Page Layout.” If you have one of the other options (“Same as XML Structure” or “Same as Articles Panel”) you probably know what you’re doing with it and should specify either accordingly :)

Text Options

Footnote Placement

End of Section
This will likely be the most common solution for most EPUB files. This will take all of the footnotes and append them to the end of the section.
A footnote at the end of the section of text

A footnote at the end of the section of text

After paragraph
This adds the footnote right after the paragraph referencing it. This leads to a rather bumpy reading experience, so use only with extreme caution.
Footnote after Paragraph

Footnote after Paragraph

Inside a Pop-Up (EPUB 3)
(This option is only available if you specify EPUB 3 in the Version drop down.)
This is a great option if you know your file will be made available on the iBookstore as Apple has implemented the pop-ups as expected. Other readers may eventually adopt this standard, but only time will tell. If the reader does not support EPUB 3 pop-ups, it will default to a style much like the End of Section option.
EPUB 3 Pop-up (shown in iBooks Desktop)

EPUB 3 Pop-up (shown in iBooks Desktop)


Map to Unordered Lists
This is what I would recommend to most EPUB creators. It converts your bullets to an <ul> element, which allows for semantic better semantics and CSS styling.
Mapped to Unordered List

Mapped to Unordered List

Convert to Text
It’s possible that if you have a complex and custom bullet style that this option maybe be better for you. If you think this is for you, it might be best to create an EPUB with it and check to be sure it converts correctly (and it may require some custom CSS if not).
Converted to Text

Converted to Text


Similar to the Bullets options, except this will convert to numbers (ordered lists) rather than bullets (unordered lists).

View EPUB after Exporting

Checking this opens the EPUB file in your default desktop reader (assuming you have one installed).
And there you have it. In the coming weeks will dig into more

Ebook, e-book, eBook: Toward a Fulsome #eprdctn Terminology

Editor’s Note: Ebook, e-book, or eBook? I’m certainly guilty of using the latter. Today’s guest post from Laura Brady looks at the words and acronyms we use (and shouldn’t use).

The ePub world is full of confusing lingo that developers flippantly toss off like we’ve been working in this space for decades. The truth is the ebook world is very new and, as such, naming conventions are still in flux. In this article I will attempt some consensus on the words we use to describe our work with a view to working toward some standards.


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How to Convert your ePub to a Kindle Format

One of the most common questions I get asked when people start making ebooks is “Do I really need to create two separate files? One for Kindle and another for everyone else?” And then they usually ask if it takes twice as long :)

This isn’t a silly question. Anyone that looks at the files that publishers provide to readers can see there are two different file formats: .epub and .mobi. But just what is the difference, and why do we need both?

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How to Build a Device Library Without Taking Out a Loan

There’s little more frustrating then hearing through a client that a reader is complaining about how a file looks on some device. And more often than not its some obscure Kobo or Android device.

There are probably 25 e-readers on the market, all with their own rendering and UX bugs. Except for large publishing and development offices, its financially burdensome to be expected to buy all of them the day they’re available. And yet many clients will expect you to be able to solve all of their problems.

Here’s a couple ways to build a device library on a budget.


One of my favorite places to find used and gently worn e-readers is on eBay. In the past I’ve gotten current version of Kobo and Nook tablets at the current price of last year’s models. I’ve also gotten review copies of devices that were at most used a couple times!

Be very careful to read the descriptions of each device you want to buy. A lot of sellers will post no-longer working devices for cheap. Make sure that whatever you buy has a good refund policy in case the device you buy is dead on arrival.

Kindle Outlet

Arguably, the devices you need most are Kindles. They’re the most popular e-readers and probably have the most unique bugs. A great place to get Kindle devices for cheap is the Kindle Outlet. These are Amazon factory refurbished devices at up to 25% off.

Many other manufacturers also sell refurbished items. I’ll update this as I find more: Apple, B&N

Start a Local Device Exchange

If it’s completely out of the question to purchase 10 devices (if you’re a freelancer, that’s almost certainly the case), your next best step is to get together with some friends and each purchase a few devices, so in total you have everything you might need. This isn’t perfect situation—your friend might be out of town or unresponsive on a day you need something, but if you build in some time it can be a great, inexpensive option.

Some cities have local tech groups or workshops. Some of these groups have device labs (often gained through donations) that will have a variety of devices to check on (more like Android and iOS devices, but they might have a Kindle Fire or something). Development agencies and design studios in your city might also be able to help (but you’ll likely need a personal connection to get an in).

#eprdctn Community

In the past I’ve been in some binds and have reached out the the #eprdctn community on Twitter to ask for quick screenshots of how things render on a specific device. Don’t expect a quick turnaround, but sometimes you’ll luck out.

Editing EPUBs in the post-Sigil world

Editor’s Note: Today’s guest post comes from Anthony Levings, who runs the SketchyTech blog. Today he has a look at the bumpy post-Sigil environment for EPUB creators.

The Sigil editor was not used by everyone in the #eprdctn world and there are those who wouldn’t admit to doing so in public even if behind the scenes they used it to fix things up once in a while. The truth is, however, that with its official demise  it marks yet another #eprdctn tool that has failed to move from EPUB 2 to EPUB 3.

As commonly happens with small open source projects, the weight of development ended up falling on the shoulders of one person, and no doubt the overwhelming task of deciding how to handle the many facets of EPUB 3 forced the development to a standstill.

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Break Kindle and iBooks Rendering With This One Little Trick

It seems hard to believe, but sometimes I still come across ereader bugs that just make me really scratch my head. Here’s just one of them.

Applying a width of 100% to the <body> element is a very common CSS style (it’s often done to ensure that when you set a width of 100% on any element inside a <body> tag that it consistently will be the full width of the page across all devices). It’s so common I have it in my reset when I design websites. So imagine my surprise when I discovered what it was doing to rendering on 4th/5th gen kindles (the non-Paperwhite one—that’s how we have to describe it, right?).


Bad, Worse, Worst.

Bad, Worse, Worst.

It seems that this device has decided that a <body> element with a width of 100% should be the width of the device’s screen, not the width of the display inside the margins, causing the text to be wider than the visible area and cropping it (it’s really obvious that that’s the problem when you change the margins to their widest setting, like I did on the far right). Even crazier still is that the <html> element width will be correct, but the <body> element will be wider. This is all sorts of confusing for so many reasons.

Just to be safe, I looked at it on a Paperwhite to be sure I wasn’t crazy. Nope, just fine.


The same file on a Paperwhite. No cut off text!

So of course I thought this was just one of those crazy Kindle bugs they tend to have. And then I saw what happened in iBooks.


On the left, a file with body 100% width; on the right without it

On the left, a file with body 100% width; on the right without it

This isn’t nearly as bad as the Kindle (it cuts off no more than a letter), and could just be a mathematic rounding error, but it’s still confounding (and it works fine in iBooks for Mavericks, so it’s certainly a bug). How do these bugs get by these companies? Really, no one added a width of 100% on <body> elements in books before? And no one used it in testing files? This is why eBook developers can’t create nice things without tearing their hair out.

Until this gets resolved, its pretty clear we should all avoid applying width: 100% on <body> elements.

Want to play around with this yourself? I’ve added a zip of ePub and mobi files here. Included are working and broken versions—the only difference is the inclusion of the body {width: 100%;} line in the css file.

(And yep, this is filed on 99 problems here.) 

InDesign forums now have a dedicated ePub forum

Great news for ePub creators who use InDesign to create their ePub files. At Anne-Marie’s and other Adobe InDesign forum member’s request, forum admin Bob Levine has just set up an InDesign subforum dedicated to ePub discussions!

Visit the InDesign – EPUB forum here and post away:

Don’t forget that also has a dedicated EPUB and eBooks forum that gets a fair amount of traffic as well! You can find that here:


99 Problems

99 ePub rendering problems on the  wall
take one down, pass it around
98 ePub rendering problems on the wall

Easily the most frustrating part of designing and developing ePub projects, the various rendering issues on each and every device or app can create an enormous amount of headaches. Despite the standards set forth by ePub3 we’re still a long way off from consistent rendering on each and every device.

One big reason is that none of these rendering systems are open source (unlike the majority of web browsers). Because of this, there’s no one single place to see if a rendering bug exists, and—if so—how or if it has been fixed (see the WebKit issue tracker to see how web browsers handle this).  Without any of the major e-retailers taking the lead on this, I’ve decided to try to give it a go.

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Fixed Layout ePubs and InDesign

Douglas Waterfall, senior InDesign engineer/architect/epub nerd, has a Twitter account that he barely uses. He’s tweeted only twelve times, at the time of this writing. So when he tweets, it means he’s motivated.

Last week, he tweeted this:

Let me translate that for you:

EPUB 3 = Current standard for valid e-book files, supported by most eReaders, and allows for much more interactivity, rich media, and designer control than EPUB 2.

FXL = Fixed Layout (ePub), a subcategory of EPUB 3 eBooks that acts and looks less like a web page and more  like a PDF on an eReader. Essentially, layout of each of the book’s pages is exactly how the designer laid it out in InDesign. Many kid’s books, cookbooks, and photo books are done as FXL. Currently supported by iPad’s iBooks, Kindle Fire and HD, and Kobo devices.

Pre-release = Adobe’s beta program, where volunteer users (who sign a non-disclosure agreement) get access to upcoming versions of the software to test on their own computers with their own files, and report back what’s working, what’s not, and what would be nice to have.

If you can put one and one and one together, and you’re interested in helping this come to fruition, then by all means, use the email address that Douglas included in his tweet and volunteer!

Oh, and in case you’re wondering . . .

#eprdctn = Douglas included this hashtag to ensure it’d appear in the Twitter stream of anyone following the #eprdctn (short for eBook Production) hashtag. You can see the live Twitter stream here, even if you don’t have a Twitter account: The #eprdctn denizens are ebook designers and developers and vendors from around the world who trade tips, gripes, and breaking news with each other. No need to follow individuals, if a tweet includes this hashtag, and you’re following the hashtag, you’ll see what they wrote.