Resources: Going from InDesign to Ebook

By Colleen Cunningham, Senior 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 here 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 and ereaders cannot exist without the other. Ebooks in the EPUB and Amazon Kindle formats consist of downloadable, zipped files that use HTML and CSS to organize and format the content. These ebooks are then read in ereaders or ereader apps. This page by eBook Architects explains the different ebook formats and this page describes compares ereaders and ereader apps.

Many print designers ask, “How much CSS and HTML do I really need to learn?” Here is the minimum that designers need to know:

  • How to make an ebook file validate: This ensures that the file is functioning properly. Ebook vendors will not accept an ebook for sale unless it validates. We recommend FlightDeck. It is not free but beginners can quickly validate and learn how to make their ebooks market-ready.
  • How to implement semantic markup: This ensures that the ebook content renders consistently across the various ereaders and apps. Here is an introduction to applying semantic markup in Word. This free video tutorial from explains how to implement semantic markup in InDesign.

InDesign does a good job of automating the tedious bits of markup during the export process that enable an ebook file to validate and contain semantic markup. But there is still a lot to do manually inside of the EPUB file before the ebook is ready to be sold in a competitive market, including cleaning up extraneous HTML formatting and improving the CSS to optimize it for ereaders. Fortunately, there is a lot of supplemental software from which to choose from to help you through the process of converting print layouts to ebooks. Read on to learn more about the workflow and your options.


Official Organizations





InDesign Scripts

Regular Expressions

Ebook Retailer Specs


Official Organizations

Book Industry Study Group

The BISG is a not-for-profit association with the mission of facilitating innovation and shared solutions for the benefit of all who create, produce, and distribute published content. They offer guides from their publications tab, including the Field Guide to Fixed Layout.

International Digital Publishing Forum

The IDPF is the organization responsible for developing and maintaining the EPUB3 open standard. One of their areas of focus is EPUB accessibility and they offer a useful accessibility checklist generator.


EPUBZone is a microsite of the IDPF which features an overview of the standard together with articles about EPUB3 capabilities and best practices for creating EPUB3-compatible content. There is also a link to a showcase galley of freely downloadable EPUB3 sample publications.


EPUBTest is home to:

  • The BISG EPUB3 Support Grid, a summary of e-book app, device, and reading system performance evaluations for features supported by the IDPF EPUB 3.0 e-book file format.
  • The EPUB Testsuite, a freely available collection of material created specifically for the purpose of maintaining the EPUB3 Support Grid.


Presented here are tried-and-true ways to learn about ebook production. Start with what you most want to learn about, but consider visiting all of the links for a well-rounded education.

Before You Make a Fixed-Layout Ebook: Five Things to Watch Out For

This Digital Book World post by Laura Brady explains the pros and cons of InDesign’s export to the fixed-layout ebook format.

Cari Jansen

Find InDesign-to-EPUB advice on this blog by Adobe export Cari Jansen.

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 Typography

Typographer Charles Nix offers expert pointers on ebook typography and fonts here. And here is his slide deck from Ebookcraft 2014.

eBook Typography for Flowable eBooks

This iBooks ebook by Chris Jennings demonstrates beautiful ebook typography and design. The author’s blog and iTunes video podcast are companion resources.

EPUB Straight to the Point: Creating Ebooks for the Apple iPad and Other Ereaders

Popular project-based book and companion guides by Elizabeth Castro 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. Note: The materials only teach on older versions of InDesign and EPUB2 but are expected to be updated soon for InDesign CC and EPUB3.

ePublishing with InDesign

This book by Pariah Burke provides information on how to design and launch digital publications in many formats. Creating Fixed-Layout eBooks concentrates on the fixed-layout format.

EBW Knowledge Base

The EBW Knowledge Base by Electric Book Words has a useful overview of the ebook workflow.

EPUB Secrets

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

EPUB3 Best Practices

This book by Matt Garrish includes best practices to help you navigate the wide range of functionality of the latest version of the EPUB file format. What is EPUB3? is a free book that offers a good introduction.

HTML5 for Publishers

This book by Sanders Kleinfeld gives an overview of some of the most exciting features HTML5 provides to ebook content creators—audio/video, geolocation, and the Canvas—and shows how to put them in action.

HTML5 & CSS3 Visual QuickStart Guide

This book by Elizabeth Castro and Bruce Hyslop is helpful for learning about markup when you’re ready to crack an EPUB open.

HTML5 Doctor

A website that offers resources for learning the hows and why of implementing HTML5.


Search on the term epub to find their excellent ebook production video courses by Anne-Marie Concepción, David Blatner, Mike Rankin, and other experts.

Mozilla Developer Network

This is a popular online resource for learning HTML and CSS. Remember: not all markup is supported on all ereading devices.


Large-scale publishing workflows should ideally use XML to tag content for maximum efficiency and the ability to publish to multiple formats (digital, print, web) simultaneously.


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.

The Kindle Chronicles

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


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 Francisco Forward-thinking discussions and presentations.

Digital Book World Conference

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


Annual | March | Toronto A one-day conference dedicated to ebook production that offers a mix of practical tips and forward-thinking inspiration.

PEPCON: The Print + ePublishing Conference

Annual | Spring | Location is Variable Answers on publishing for ebooks, print, iPad/tablets, and interactive documents.


Ebook QA: Digital Literacy for Editors

Proofreading ebooks is a mysterious, technical process. Do I need to know how to code? Do I need to know the technical specs of the various platforms or readers or apps? The process even has its own name—QA, or quality assurance—which feels like another way to alienate editors from digital products. This course will guide students with a beginner publishing and or or editorial background through the world of digital publishing with a view to creating a marketable set of QA skills. The basic structure of ebooks and their formats will be reviewed, as well as a thorough briefing on what can go wrong in an ebook and why. Reflowable ePubs and mobi files, fixed-layout with and without audio, ePibs, enhanced ebooks, and iBooks author projects will be scrutinized. This is an online course. Register here.

InDesign Scripts

The more you learn about using InDesign in an ebook workflow, the more you will realize that it is important to prepare the content for export correctly. Using InDesign scripts is a powerful way to find and change large amounts of text and is useful in speeding up the preparing content to export to EPUB. These tasks include transforming forced caps to real caps and checking for unsupported characters.

To find scripts already built and available for use, check out:

To learn how to build InDesign scripts for your own workflow, check out:

Regular Expressions

The more you learn about the InDesign-to-EPUB workflow, the more you will realize that being able to edit your ebooks directly (unzipping the EPUB file) is a useful skill. Using regular expressions is a powerful way to find and change large amounts of markup and is useful in speeding up ebook development. To learn more, check out:

Ebook Retailer Specs

Although EPUB3 is intended to be a standard, ebook vendors vary in some aspects of how they will display the EPUB3 specifications. If you are producing an one ebook to sell through vendors, it is important to familiarize yourself with each of their publishing guidelines so that you can troubleshoot issues. FlightDeck is an online validation service that also tests your ebook to be sure that it passes with major ebook vendor’s guidelines. To access the guidelines, check out:

  • Amazon: Click here and then click on “Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines”
  • Barnes & Noble: The specs are behind a log-in
  • Kobo: Download the specs here and read more here
  • Apple: iBooks specs are accessed after you apply to iTunesConnect or work with an iBookstore aggregator


Incorporating an ebook outsourcer into your publishing workflow is a chance to build a partnership committed to your ebook quality. Some outsourcers also offer production advice on their websites.


Aptara provides integrated digital publishing services and content technology solutions, including ebook creation and content conversion. This PDF called What to Expect When You’re Converting 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

eBook Architects 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. The Learn About Ebooks page is loaded with information about formats, distributors, marketing, and more.


Creating: Reflowable EPUB

Creating: Additional Formats

Unzipping and zipping



Conversion: Amazon 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 files
  4. Zipping the EPUB
  5. Validating the markup
  6. Converting the EPUB file to the Amazon 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: Reflowable 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


  • Drag and drop text from Word to preserve formatting
  • Exports EPUB for ebooks and PDF for print-on-demand
  • Compatible with Mac, Windows, Android and iOS

Instructions: How to make a book using the Reedsy Book Editor


  • 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

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.

Case Study: Children’s Fixed Layout ePub for iPad

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 with interactivity and enhancements, such as audio and video. This format is best suited for picture books, cookbooks, textbooks, and the like. 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: How To Make an eBook with iBooks Author


Apps are standalone ebooks which are not read in an ereader. Adobe’s Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS) offers software to facilitate the process of building an app for the iPad from an InDesign layout. The companion blog provides instructional information.

Case Study: Comparing Adobe Digital Publishing Suite and iBooks Author

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 ($)


Note: This tool is still available but will no longer be updated or developed.

  • 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:

Sublime Text ($)


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.

FlightDeck ($)

  • Includes a comprehensive report detailing whether your file will be accepted by the major retailers
  • Explains everything you might need to fix
  • Offers a free online handbook of best practices

Kindle Previewer for the Amazon Kindle format

  • Push EPUBs through Kindle Previewer to check for Kindle validation errors.
  • Download the Amazon Kindle Publishing Guidelines (check for updates often) for specific guidelines

Conversion: Amazon Kindle Format

An EPUB file can incorporate Amazon’s publishing guidelines and then can be converted into Amazon’s proprietary ebook file format so that it can be sold through the Kindle platform. The newest version of Amazon’s format is called KF8. The files have an extension of “.mobi”.

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 KF8 ebooks. Kindle Previewer is free software 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 September 2014

Please email updates, corrections, and suggestions to Colleen Cunningham