Adobe’s New FXL Export

  • Sharebar

Today, Adobe releases a significant update to InDesign. One of the new features is a fixed-layout EPUB export option. This much anticipated feature is set to have a big impact on this ebook niche market.

image1

The Skinny

The resulting EPUBs are pixel-perfect, EPUB3 reflections of the print InDesign layout. Really really. Objects are exported as if “Preserve Appearance from Layout” is checked, and “CSS Size” is set to fixed. The positioning is absolute and controlled at the word level via span tags with positioning and inline styling. Master page items will export and hold their spatial relationships as well.

The EPUB maintains the relationship between all the objects on the page with absolute pixel positioning. The text is live and searchable. This is big! Fixed-layout epubs have landed!

Export options

The export options windows are going to look very familiar to users who have been generating reflowable EPUBs from InDesign CC. There are a couple of key differences.

image2

There are choices for how to export the document – as spreads, single landscape pages, and synthetic spreads. This decision is important as fixed-layout epub is one HTML file per page. How you choose to define that page affects the HTML setup. Synthetic spreads are two XHTML files which will display as a spread in locked-lansdcape orientation.

There is also a new option under the navigation TOC. When “none” is chosen, there will be no navigation document, only a thumbnail navigation on device. This option makes sense for children’s and other very simple content.

image3

The conversion settings menu has nothing new. Under the CSS options, there is the option to add CSS but there is no way to disable CSS output altogether. This change is important to understand. Because of the way that InDesign renders the content, the CSS is critical to the rendering of the file. The position of the various page elements comes from there. The file will be a mess without the InDesign generated CSS. You can add another style sheet here that will apply to the whole document, but that’s your only option. The InDesign generated CSS looks like this:

image4

The final export options page that has something new (Viewing Apps and Javascript will look exactly the same as reflowable export options from the last iteration of ID) is the Metadata page. This screen will be auto-populated with info from “File Info” and looks like this:

image5

As you can see, you can export a pretty full set of metadata from here.

Best Practices

This new export option creates positioning instructions at the word level, stopping at a word space. This is a critical piece of information. Anything that interrupts the width of the word will mess with the layout. Some layout habits will interfere with a clean export. Horizontal and vertical scaling is one good example. Scaling won’t export to epub – reflowable or fixed-layout. Why it is important to avoid it in a project destined for FXL is that an exported word will take up less space than expected causing a gappy layout.

This set of images is from Owl Kids book called Draw Out the Story. The first example shows the table of contents page exported as is with scaling in place. There are lots of unappealing gaps in the way the text is rendered. I got a message warning me that the scaling wouldn’t export.

image6

When I re-export with the scaling removed, I get a cleaner page.

image7

Where this potential export quirk is also important to keep in mind in with fonts. All of the fonts in your project must be TTF or OTF, must be packaged with the font and available for export and embedding. If the font is missing, the font won’t render in the correct width at the other end and you will get gaps or, worse, overlapping text. You’ve been warned!

Also be aware that white space will not export as expected. Tabs, em- and en-spaces and other white space will mess you up. Use first-line indent to create and indent, for example.

Layers and Transparencies

Complex layouts with layers that are expected to behave well with transparencies will trip you up in FXL EPUB. They won’t work as expected and will not knock-out in the way the print layout will.

This snippet is from an ID document with the frames on, illustrating all the layers and transparencies at work in this file.

image8

Without any intervention, this ID file will export to FXL EPUB with this result.

image9

Not quite right, as you can see. My workaround is to flatten all the artwork in this page into one background JPEG, setting behind the text in the ID files and in the resulting EPUB as well, giving me a nicer picture that looks as the designer intended.

image10

Really complex layering from the ID file will also result is a faulty z-index making the addition of hyperlinks difficult.

Hyperlinks

Cross-references, text-based hyperlinks, and indexes don’t export at all in FXL EPUB. Hyperlinks applied to an object which go out to a URL are, at this point, the only kind of hyperlink that exports.

Some Cautions

The HTML that comes out of this new export option is complex and painful to edit. Revision is best achieved by editing the InDesign file and re-exporting. Because the document is exported as a whole with styles numbering from beginning to end of a document, it’s not a good idea to export a single page with a changes but to re-run from scratch.

This FXL export gives you EPUBs that will work nicely in iBooks. They also work well on Kobo iOS and Android and in Google Play. They will not work at all on any Kindle devices and conversion to the KF8-FXL format will be difficult.

The export does not include any work-level IDs in the span tags, making the layering of media overlays a little tricky.

One Last Thought

Despite all of these cautions, this EPUB export option is really tremendous. It will be a very easy solution for a broad range of publishers. In fact, as I don’t actually like this format a lot and really think it should be used only in a very limited way, this new export option makes me uneasy. It will be too easy now to create a FXL EPUB!

26 thoughts on “Adobe’s New FXL Export

  1. Laura, this is great. What a lot of intense work and great insights and tips you’ve done!

    Your last comment sticks with me. Sort of like non-savvy designers making sloppy print mechanicals. In that case, generally, if it prints, it’s not damaging. But here, if mechanical is sloppy (or made in a generally correct but not correct-for-export way — para indent instead of tab, e.g.), then results will be poor and then where are you if you’re a publisher trying to get this done inside the design or production dept with no background in these products? Calling an expert to figure out why there are unsightly word spacings, and fix them.

    Also, if you’re a publisher selling to Amazon as well as Apple and Kobo, is there any point of creating this ID export, and then creating another version for Kindle? I know Adobe wasn’t aiming for the Amazon market to begin with in this release, but it seems sort of short-sighted.

    With these issues, I wonder: is this a good first attempt that isn’t ready for use on anything except simple books until export issues are resolved and Amazon is addressed. (And then, if book is simple enough, I’d go with a templated approach anyway.)

    • Try it on you own documents and see for yourself – there are do many kinds of documents that it is pointless to guess or predict.
      Laura has done a great job if pointing out sone if the current limitations and if you documents do not have this kind of content then the limitation will not affect you.
      At some level FXL can be seen as “PDF export but using HTML” and that inherently created limitations with the wide range if browsers/devices.
      ID was built to express PDF and so there will be some things which HTML cannot support. We will continue to improve what we can (just ran out of time for hyperlinks) and push the envelope as much as we can. We have Choosen to target EPUB3 devices/viewers because they give us the most ability to represent ID content.
      We are continuing to work on this towards the next CC update, help us make it better.
      Douglas Waterfall
      Architect, InDesign Engineering

  2. The updates all around are significant. I can live without the Kindle FXL export, although it would be nice. My biggest complaint is Adobe’s insistence on forcing users to upgrade to the new software version by not allowing files saved in the latest version to be opened by prior versions.

    It’s not really an issue in-house, but it makes it difficult to share files with vendors and partners who may or may not be at the same version.

    • We export to IDML all the time for vendors that need it. Stipulation being that things need to be checked very carefully, as anything may alter in the export due to different sets of features (and who knows what else.). It’s not foolproof, but the major fixups are few and far between. Even if I was able to just open any future version file I would still need to be aware of the same limitations.

      AND – Thank you Laura for this great summary!

    • Hi Rob:

      No nefarious intent here to force an update, we only change the file format when features we add require it and due to our own architectural limitations this pretty much means most features.

      Anytime we change how/where/what we save into the INDD file only the new version knows how to read it and the old version(s) of course do not because when they were created the new version did not exist!

      When we were shipping every 18 months this was less of an issue, now that we ship every 6 months people bump into it much more often – architecture has not changed, just how often it hits people.

      There are no simple solutions to this for us and limiting ourselves to features which don’t have this issue is not what we’ve wanted to do so at this point.

      Douglas Waterfall
      Architect, InDesign Engineering

  3. Nice assessment Laura. And thank you for pointing out the gotchas and the bigger issues related to business rules. Essentially, if you’re a publisher who wants to do FXL for both iBooks and Kindle, and you don’t see Indesign as your primary source (you’re pulling XHTML5 content into your book from a CMS for example), then the nascent Indesign FXL export may not be sufficient for your production requirements.

    Further, your concern that the ability to do everything as a FXL is warranted. Lots of people make very poor decisions about when to use or not use FXL. We want to encourage thoughtful decisions based on both business rules and the expected user experience/requirements rather than just throw everything into FXL because you now can.

    Thanks for being a straight shooter.

  4. Pingback: Der lange Weg zum EPUB3: Neue Werkzeuge für enhanced eBooks | digital publishing competence

  5. Pingback: This Week in InDesign Articles, Number 122 | InDesignSecrets

  6. Hey Laura,

    thanks for your effort! I’m searching for a possibility to make FXL for Amazon’s Kindle by using Indesign CS6. Is there any chance or is it just a pain in the a**? :-)

    Looking forward to your response!

    Greetings, Jessica

    • Hi Jessica.

      At present, InDesign’s fixed-layout export is useless when it comes to KF8-FXL file construction. There are some ID FXL plug-ins that auto-generate that format (Flipick, and Circular Flo, for example) but the code straight out of InDesign will not work at all, I’m afraid.

      I’m sorry to deliver the bad news…

  7. Pingback: Why Fixed-Layout EPUB From InDesign is a Big Deal for Designers | InDesignSecrets

  8. Can anyone provide me information regarding file size of the FXL export? Say I have a pretty complex landscape layout and the InDesign source file is around 10-15 MB; what is the average size of the epub file produced from the export in this case? We don’t have CC yet so I can’t test. I am just curious becasue of the type of CSS and HTML I hear that InDesign produces if file sizes are large and bloated.

  9. Pingback: Mobile Publishing: Update September/Oktober 2014 | smart digits

  10. I’ve been working on developing a new Fixed Layout EPUB and followed the few videos implicitly. I have a slideshow embedded in one of my pages, using the actions shown in the video by …
    However, when I export following all steps, the page with the slideshow is blank (white). In fact if I export with settings under General > Options > Spread Control: enable synthetic spreads, the entire spread for the pages where I’ve embedded / configured the slideshow are blank.

    Also I’ve been researching online, all over the place, to find out how to configure/install the Interactive EPUB Previewer under > Object > Interactive in Indesign. Have had no luck. Installed ExtendScript toolkits and such. I’m at a dead end.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>