InDesign to Ebook: Resources

By Colleen Cunningham, eBook Developer, F+W Media

Note: Please visit the updated dedicated e-production resources page.

Here at Digital Book World we published an article (InDesign to Ebook: Resources) over a year ago, summing up useful resources and tools for producing ebooks and for converting into ebook formats. After getting a great response from the community, we decided to update that article and make a dedicated e-production resources page that we’ll keep updated with the latest and greatest ebook information.

If you are new to ebook production, start with The Basics section for a short introduction. Or do you want to jump right in and get started? We’ve divided this page up into Resources, which will introduce you to some great learning resources, Tools, which includes a rundown of the most commonly used software used in ebook production, and Quality Assurance, which will be useful for ebook developers as well as those who outsource their digital workflow.


Ebooks in the EPUB and Kindle format basically consist of sets of downloadable, zipped-up websites that use CSS and HTML to format the content. This page by eBook Architects does a good job of explaining the different ebook formats.

Many print designers are asking, “How much code do I really need to learn?” For now, book designers need to know at least enough to make your EPUB file validate (this ensures that the markup is working correctly) so that their ebook titles can be sold on-line through the most popular ebookstores. And although InDesign does a good job of automating tedious markup during export, there is still a lot to do manually in the EPUB file, including cleaning up extraneous formatting and improving the digital markup and design of the ebook, before the ebook is ready to be sold in a competitive market. Fortunately, there is a lot of supplemental software from which to choose from to help you through the process of converting to the EPUB and for the Kindle. Read on to learn more.


Around the Web




Ebook Retailer Specs


Special Topic: Regular Expressions

Around the Web

Book Industry Study Group

The BISG promotes book industry standards and best practices. Their EPUB3 support grid is particulary useful for navigating the EPUB2 to EPUB3 transition.

Cari Jansen

This Adobe export offers InDesign-to-EPUB advice on her blog.

eBook Architects

This ebook production house hosts a resources page for ebook developers with sample files available for download. They also offer a comprehensive list of major ebook retailers and distributors.

Electric Book Works

The EBW Knowledge Base has a useful overview of the digital workflow.

EPUB Secrets

EPUB Secrets offers advice to ebook developers, from beginner to advanced. The site is a companion to InDesign Secrets.

International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF)

The IDPF is the organization responsible for developing and maintaining the EPUB open standard. Note that EPUB2 is the version currently accepted by most ebook retailers as of early 2013 with the exception of Apple/iBooks, which accepts the newest version, ePUB3.


This site hosts eBooks to download, reviews of software programs used to read and create EPUB files, and a tutorial on how to create EPUB files.

Learning Regular Expressions (RegEx)

Test your regular expressions before using them with this handy site built with JavaScript.

Search for ebook production video courses by Anne-Marie Concepción, Mike Rankin, and other experts.

Get caught up to speed on the building blocks of EPUB and Kindle files through these free tutorials in CSS and HTML. Remember: not all markup is supported on all eReading devices.


EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating Ebooks for the Apple iPad and Other Ereaders by Elizabeth Castro, plus compantion guides

Popular project-based book and companion guides teach you how to make an EPUB file from Microsoft Word or InDesign; the books also explain how to edit CSS and XHTML. This site also has sample files for download. The companion blog documents updates.

HTML, XHTML, and CSS, Sixth Edition by Liz Castro

This book is helpful for learning about markup when you’re ready to crack an EPUB open.

Kindle Formatting by Joshua Tallent

A top resource for authors, publishers, and anyone else interested in publishing content on the Kindle. This book covers the older Kindle format called Mobi7, which is still used by the older-generation Kindles and the Kindle iOS reading app.


Digital Book World

Real-world, practical news, and information about digital publishing. You’re here already!

MobileRead Wiki and E-Production Wiki

MobileRead Wiki is a community forum about creating digital books and the devices they are read on. In particular, the E-Production Wiki offers tested, updated information.


Every Wednesday at 11:00 am EST, join us for the #eprdctn chat. Using the #eprdctn hashtag for tweets about e-production will direct those tweets to a knowledgeable and active community ready to answer questions and discuss the latest developments in digital publishing and e-production.


Books in Browsers Conference

Annual. Forward-thinking discussions and presentations.

Digital Book World Conference

Annual. Digital publishing workshops and seminars from industry experts.

Print and ePublishing Conference

Annual. Answers on publishing for ebooks, print, iPad/tablets, and interactive documents.

Ebook Retailer Specs

The three “flavors” of ebook formatting come down to the big three ebook retailers, in order of ebook formatting “robustness” (least to most): Amazon (Kindle = Mobi7 or KF8), Barnes & Noble (Nook = ADE), and Apple (iBooks = webkit). eBook retailer specs are as follows:


eBook Ninjas

A podcast on every aspect of digital book production, reading devices, and digital publishing news.

The Kindle Chronicles

A podcast about digital book production in general and Kindle formatting in particular.

Special Topic: Regular Expressions

Regular expressions is a powerful way to find and change large amounts of markup and is particularly useful in ebook development. Andy’s World of Regex offers an introduction to this topic as well as training.


An online regex string tester.


An online adventure game utilizing regular expressions.


A visualizer for regular expressions strings.

Mozilla Developer Network

Online documentation on regex operators.


Creating: EPUB

Creating: Additional Formats

Unzipping and zipping



Conversion: Kindle Format

After familiarizing yourself with the basics of a print-to-digital workflow, the next step is to figure out which tools fit best with your particular content and current skill set.

There are 7 common steps in every EPUB and Kindle project:

  1. Creating the files
  2. Unzipping the EPUB (some software does allow for editing without unzipping)
  3. Editing the ebook
  4. Zipping the EPUB
  5. Validating the markup
  6. Converting the EPUB file to the Kindle format (if necessary)
  7. Testing to ensure your ebook is valid and the formatting works on targeted ereaders

The seventh step is important in both in-house and outsourced digital workflows and is covered in the last section of this article.

(NOTE: $ = not freeware)

Creating: EPUB

Adobe InDesign CS6 ($)

  • Pro: The most popular print layout software; exports to EPUB format; has training videos.
  • Con: CSS and xhtml markup often needs adjustment to work optimally on all ereading devices and apps.

Microsoft Word ($)

  • Pro: The most popular word processing software;
    exports to HTML.
  • Con: Not commonly used by book publishers to create print books; only saves in HTML so files must be edited extensively for the EPUB format with scripting.
  • Note: Apache OpenOffice is a free, open source alternative to Microsoft Word that has ePub generator extension, which makes it a good alternative for authors on a budget.

Pages ($)

  • Pro: Word processing software for iWork on the Mac;
    exports to EPUB.
  • Con: Not commonly used by book publishers to
    create print books; MAC only.

Creating: Additional Formats

Adobe Digital Publishing Suite

Adobe’s DPS offers software to facilitate the process of building an ebook app. This companion blog provides instructional information.

Fixed Layout

The fixed layout format mimics the look of fixed-layout, like a PDF . Liz Castro offers miniguides on creating this format. See individual ebook retailers for their required specs.

Unzipping and zipping


  • Pro: Free script that automates the EPUB zipping
    and unzipping process.
  • Con: MAC only.

Terminal (Use Liz Castro’s instructions in her book)

  • Pro: A utility included with MAC OS; does not
    introduce coding glitches.
  • Con: Entering instructions through the command
    line can seem difficult at first; MAC only.


  • Pro: A utility included with the Windows operating system.
  • Con: Windows only.


BBEdit 10

Coda 2


  • Platform: Mac, PC
  • Price: from $50/month with Adobe Cloud
  • Trial period: Adobe Cloud has a 30-day trial period
  • Pro: A website editor for editing CSS and HTML in EPUB files; sometimes packaged along with InDesign if a design suite was purchased
  • Con: WYSIWYG editor can introduce coding errors so use in code view only
  • More info:

oXygen XML editor


  • Platform: Mac, PC
  • Price: Free
  • Pro: An open source WYSIWYG EPUB editor; allows for the editing of EPUB files without unzipping; commonly used in an EPUB workflow for easily renaming xhtml files within the EPUB
  • Con: The WYSIWYG editor can move and change CSS, which can bloat the EPUB and make CSS editing difficult
  • More info:


  • Platform: Mac (included with the OS)
  • Price: Free
  • Trial: Not necessary, included with the OS
  • Pro: A popular text editor, especially useful
    for making quick edits
  • Con: All coding must be done by hand, but this
    generally creates a very clean file
  • More info:


  • Platform: PC
  • Price $16.50
  • Trial: Yes
  • Pro: A popular text editor, especially useful for making quick edits
  • Con: All coding must be done by hand, but this generally creates a very clean file
  • More info:


WYSIWYG stands for “what you see is what you get.” While this can make editing an easier process because you can visualize the changes you’re making right away, WYSIWYG editors tend to introduce coding changes that may not always validate. Use with caution.

Calibre is a popular ebook editor, but it wreaks havoc with CSS and therefore makes markup editing difficult and is not recommended for EPUB editing.


epubcheck for EPUB

  • A command-line tool that you download and install onto your computer in order to validate EPUB files for every ebook retailer. Alternatively, you can upload your EPUB file at the IDPF’s online validator.
  • Here are epubcheck validation error explainations.

FlightCrew for EPUB

  • A GUI tool that you can drag and drop your epub onto for validation.
  • Here are EPUBcheck validation error explainations.

Kindle Previewer for the Kindle format

  • Push EPUBs through Kindle Previewer to check for Kindle validation errors.
  • Download the Kindle Publishing Guidelines (check for updates often) for specific instructions on Amazon’s preferred format and coding for covers.

Conversion: Kindle Format

Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Programs

Information on creating and uploading ebooks for the Kindle. Scroll to the bottom for KindleGen, Kindle Plugin for InDesign, the Kindle Previewer, and Amazon’s Kindle Publishing Guidelines.


Command-line tool used to build ebooks that can be sold through Amazon’s Kindle platform, using .azw and Mobi7/KF8 files, which are Amazon’s proprietary ebook file formats. Kindle Previewer is powered by KindleGen and converts EPUB files to the Kindle format automatically.


Testing for QA is the final step in the EPUB workflow, whether the workflow is in-house or outsourced. This is where the project can get complicated because now the single EPUB file must be modified depending on the specific eReader devices, eReader software, and apps you choose for your ebook. You can sell an ebook on Amazon, which can then be read on the Kindle (e-ink device) or on the iPad (iPad Kindle app on a color tablet). Or you can sell an ebook through Sony which can then be read on a Sony eReader (e-ink device) or on Adobe Digital Editions (software on a computer with a color screen).

If creating one EPUB, for now the best tactic is to keep the file simple and test it out on a few popular eReader devices, eReader software, and apps (at least the ones that you are plan to sell your ebooks on).

Rufus Deuchler has a blog post about the EPUB file he created to test the same CSS across different ereaders. If you have an ereader, feel free to download and sideload the CSS.EPUB file onto your ereader to see how the CSS renders. You can also use the AppleScript unzip script to open it and see how he built his CSS. Alternately, you can view his screenshots that show how the file renders across different ereaders.

Budget, time/deadlines, and the needs of the content are the context within which most QA processes occur. Most ebook developers have their own personalized mix of ereader devices and apps that they QA on, but the minimum would be (and this all freeware but no real substitute for eReading devices):

13 thoughts on “InDesign to Ebook: Resources

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  3. Paul @ Bookmark

    Great list! … How about including Openoffice as a free, open source alternative to MS Word. It even has ePub generator extension, which makes it a great alternative for authors on a budget.

  4. Richard

    Really surprised that the kindle works using html and css.
    It must more or less be a web browser in its own right, which I’d never considered before (though makes sense now I have!).

    Speaking as a web designer, html and css isn’t all that difficult to learn – so I don’t think print designers should fret too much about coding, as it’s not a particularly mathematical language.

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