Resources: Going from InDesign to Ebook

By Colleen Cunningham, eBook Developer, F+W Media

Resources: Going From InDesign to Ebook

Here at Digital Book World we published an article (InDesign to Ebook: Resources), which summed up useful resources and tools for producing ebooks. After getting a great response from the community, we decided to make a dedicated e-production resources page that we’ll keep updated. Please email suggestions to Colleen Cunningham.

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 the rest of this page into three sections:

  • Resources — the best learning materials
  • Tools — popular software in ebook production
  • Quality Assurance — advice for ebook developers and those who outsource their digital production


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

InDesign Scripting



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 particularly useful for navigating the EPUB2 to EPUB3 transition.

Cari Jansen

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

Create rich-layout publications in EPUB3 with HTML5, CSS3, and MathML

In this article by Liza Daly, learn to create rich-layout pages using some new features in EPUB3.

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.

EPUB3 Sample Documents

Download EPUB 3 samples from this Google Project Hosting page.

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.

jQuery User Interface

jQuery UI is a curated set of user interface interactions, effects, widgets, and themes built on top of the jQuery JavaScript Library. You can use this page for experimenting with what JavaScript that iBooks will support.

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

Mozilla Developer Network

Get caught up to speed on the building blocks of EPUB and Kindle files on this site, hosted by an open community of developers. Good places to start for beginners are the pages on HTML and CSS. When you understand the basics, visit the HTML5 page to see what EPUB3 supports. Remember: not all markup is supported on all ereading devices. ( is not recommended).


The publishing workflow can use XML to tag content for maximum efficiency. This video features an introduction to XML by Portnov Computer School. Adobe offers information on incorporating XML into InDesign.


eBook Typography by Chris Jennings

This ebook demonstrates design on iBooks. The author’s blog has additional information.

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

HTML5 & CSS3 Visual QuickStart Guide (7th Edition) by Elizabeth Castro and Bruce Hyslop

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.


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. The CSS template is frequently updated and can be customized for your own digital workflow.


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


Books in Browsers Conference

Annual|Autumn|San Fransisco Forward-thinking discussions and presentations.

Digital Book World Conference

Annual|January|NYC Digital publishing workshops and seminars from industry experts.

PEPCON: The Print + ePublishing Conference

Annual|Spring|Variable 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 retailers that offer their own specs are as follows:

  • Amazon: click on “Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines”
  • Barnes & Noble: the specs are behind a log-in
  • Unfortunately, Apple only allows access to their iBooks specs if you apply to iTunesConnect or work with an iBookstore aggregator who will distribute your ebooks for you

For a comprehensive chart of ereaders and apps, visit the MobileRead Wiki.

InDesign Scripting

InDesign is transformed into a more efficient EPUB-exporting machine when scripts are created and run to check if the file has been prepped correctly prior to export, especially when the same InDesign file is intended for both print and EPUB export. These tasks include transforming forced caps to real caps and checking for unsupported characters.

Start by reading JavaScript for the Absolute Beginner from InDesign Secrets.

Scripts already built and available for use can be found here:

If you are comfortable with the idea of building an InDesign script for your own workflow, check out:



Aptara provides integrated digital publishing services and content technology solutions, including ebook creation and content conversion. This PDF by Jean Kaplansky explains the content conversion process.

Digital Book World’s eBook Design and Development listings

This list of ebook companies consists of fellow Digital Book World members, registered users, and credible industry partners.

eBook Architects

This Texas-based conversion house is committed to making the eBook creation and publication process easy and affordable and offers ebook conversion, formatting advice, customized ebook process development, and consulting.


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 useful in ebook development.

Andy’s World of Regex

This site offers an introduction to this topic as well as training.

O’Reilly Media Books

Introducing Regular Expressions and Mastering Regular Expressions, 3rd Edition are popular books on this subject.


Learn regular expressions with simple, interactive examples.


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.


Send your workshop news to Colleen Cunningham.


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 ($)

  • The most popular print layout software; exports to EPUB format; has exporting-to-EPUB training videos
  • CSS and HTML markup often needs adjustment to work optimally on all ereading devices and apps

Microsoft Word ($)

  • The most popular word processing software; exports to HTML
  • 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 ($)

  • Word processing software for iWork on the Mac; exports to EPUB; app available on the iPad
  • Mac only

Case Study: How to Produce an eBook with Pages


  • Create ebooks, typeset PDFs for print-on-demand and other uses, and webbooks
  • Choose from professionally designed book themes
  • Built on top of WordPress and enables content import from a WordPress blog
  • The WYSIWYG interface makes it a good option for authors

Instructions: How to Make a Book with PressBooks

Creating: Additional Formats


Adobe’s Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) offers software to facilitate the process of building an app for the iPad from an InDesign layout. This companion blog provides instructional information.

Case Study: Comparing Adobe Digital Publishing Suite and iBooks Author

Fixed Layout

The fixed layout format mimics the look of fixed-layout, like a PDF. It is most appropriate for image-heavy ebooks because text is fixed and not flowable. Because the most popular ebook vendors like Apple and Amazon do not sell PDFs as ebooks, fixed layout is the next best option. Liz Castro offers miniguides on creating this format. The BISG offers a Field Guide to Fixed Layout. And CircularFlo is software that converts InDesign files to the fixed layout format. See individual ebook retailers for their required specs.

iBooks Author

Available for free on the Mac App Store, this e-book authoring application creates an ebook in the EPUB format in which you can combine fixed layout and flowable text. But be aware that the resulting ebook can then only be sold in the iBookstore. Otherwise, it can be distributed for free but still can only be read in iBooks. The app offers templates and many aspects of a document may be edited in WYSIWYG fashion.

Case Study: Using iBooks Author and other posts

Unzipping and zipping


  • Free script that automates the EPUB zipping and unzipping process
  • Mac only

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

  • A utility included with Mac OS
  • Entering instructions through the command line can take some time to learn
  • Mac only


  • A utility included with the Windows operating system
  • Windows only


BBEdit ($)

Coda ($)

Dreamweaver ($)

oXygen XML editor ($)

Sigil (moved from here)

  • Platform: Mac, PC
  • 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
  • The WYSIWYG editor can move and change CSS, which can bloat the EPUB and make CSS editing difficult
  • More info:


TextPad ($)

  • Platform: PC
  • A popular text editor, especially useful for making quick edits
  • 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 (moved from here)

  • 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 explanations.

FlightCrew for EPUB

  • A GUI tool that you can drag and drop your epub onto for validation
  • Does not validate EPUB3 files (as of November 2013)
  • Here are epubcheck validation error explanations

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.

R. Scot Johns’ KF8 Functionality Chart

This comprehensive chart documents which KF8 elements work on which Kindle devices. Below the chart are definitions of each of the elements.


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 may have to be modified depending on the specs of the specific ereader devices, ereader software, and apps on which you choose to distribute your ebook. You can sell an ebook on Amazon, which can then be read on the Kindle (e-ink device) or on the iPad or iPhone (iPad Kindle app on a color screen). Or you can sell an ebook through Barnes & Noble which can then be read on a Nook Simple Touch (e-ink device) or on the iPad or iPhone (Nook app on a color screen) or Nook desktop app on a Mac or PC computer screen.

A list of common ebook quality assurance issues can be found at Amazon but the list is thorough and universal enough that it can be applied to every vendor.

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.

Hack your Cover by David Lillo is a Photoshop PSD template that allows you to preview how your cover will look on an e-ink Kindle, iPad, iPhone, an Amazon Kindle eBook page, and an Amazon book detail page. And check out Natasha Fondren’s comprehensive guide to ebook cover specs.

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 the following desktop ereader apps in the absence of ereaders themselves (Note: This is freeware but no real substitute for the ereading devices themselves):

Last updated November 2013

Please email updates and corrections to Colleen Cunningham