EBW Knowledge Base

Working on the PDF

Note: You need a good PDF editor to do this. Most designers and typesetters have Acrobat Pro. If you don’t, but you have a Windows machine, you can do all of these things in Foxit Phantom 2.0, which is very similar to Acrobat Pro, but is cheaper and lighter. It does not have all of Acrobat Pro’s functionality, but it has enough to get this job done. We haven’t tested other PDF editors for Mac, but you could try PDF Studio or Proview. (PDFpen looks interesting, but the sparse features list suggests it’ll fall short.)

  1. Before anything else, open your PDF in Adobe Digital Editions. ADE is currently the most widespread e-reading application for PDF ebooks, and its engine is the same Adobe-based one that powers many other ereaders. Sadly, it’s riddled with problems, including the fact that it will not show images saved with JPG2000 compression (and perhaps other image formats too). If your PDF contains any such images, they won’t display in ADE. So, check your ebook in ADE looking for missing images. (Tip: In ADE, check the book’s ‘Item Info’ and see whether there’s a ‘Document uses unsupported PDF feature’ warning. If there is, you’ve probably got an image compression problem.) If your PDF has this problem, regenerate the PDF from the source files trying any setting that avoids JPG2000 compression. If your source file is a PDF, try printing it to PDF using a PDF print driver (such as the Adobe PDF printer, which should come with Creative Suite). You’ll probably lose any bookmarks and interactive features by doing this, unfortunately, and will need to recreate them in the resulting PDF.
  2. If you’re working from a print PDF, use your PDF editor to remove crop marks. Top notch PDF editors (like Acrobat Pro) can also resample the images from a high print-based DPI to something better for ebooks, around 150DPI.
  3. When designing a document for print, your first page is usually page 1 of the document, not your cover (and, if you’ve used them for content, inside front cover, back cover, and inside back cover). For a PDF ebook, your first page must be your front cover. Create a single-page front cover – create this as a single PDF page at the same size and with the same settings as the content document. Use your PDF editor to insert it as the first page of your PDF document.
  4. In your PDF editor, show the Bookmarks panel, and create a Bookmark for the cover. (With the Bookmarks panel and cover page showing, click ‘New Bookmark’ and call it ‘Cover’.)
  5. If necessary (e.g. if these pages contain paid advertising), do the same for the inside front cover, inside back cover and back cover, and any other pages that you want mentioned in the Bookmarks. The Bookmarks in a PDF editor will show as the clickable Table of Contents in an ereader.
  6. Check that the page numbers as numbered by your PDF editor are the same as the page numbers of your actual pages. You may need to renumber the opening pages (e.g. cover, inside front cover) in roman numerals, so that your document’s first page is page ‘1’ in Acrobat’s own numbering.
  7. If necessary, add metadata such as a copyright notice or blurb in the Document Properties dialogue box (File > Properties). The more metadata you include, the better your ebook will be. In the Document Properties, include at least the title and author.
  8. You also need to set the PDF’s Initial View in your PDF editor to something suitable for ereaders. (In Acrobat Pro and FOxit Phantom, go to the Document Properties dialogue box, and the Initial View tab.) The Initial View should specify:
    • Show “Bookmarks Panel and Page”
    • Display: “Single page”
    • Zoom: “Fit page”
    • Show “Document Title” (not “File name”)
  9. Save and close the PDF.
  10. Open it again. It should now open with the Bookmarks panel showing, the document title (not file name) showing in the bar at the top of the PDF editor, and the whole of the first page fitted to the viewing area.
  11. Check that the Bookmarks work (i.e. they go to the correct places when clicked), and that all pages are there and in the right order. If you have the time, make sure everything works by checking every page. (E.g. sometimes PDFs don’t display transparency correctly, and you won’t know unless you check.)

This is just the simplest way to get a PDF ebook from InDesign. You may refine and add to these guidelines, based on your experience with publishing PDF documents for digital reading.

For instance,you may adjust the compression settings for images on export,  to make them higher-res, especially for publications with great photography. Or you may add extra hyperlinks (e.g. make adverts click through to the advertiser’s website).


  1. Wouter Reinders says:

    When placing the cover on the first page of your Indesign document – just place a anchored box in the text stream – insert the word “cover” (in the style you use for export and updating the contents) in this anchored box – make sure box is on the pasteboard… this should eliminate doing this step in Acrobat and your indesign file will look as it will in the PDF…

  2. EBW says:

    Thanks, Wouter. I’ll try that. Our preferred approach is to only ever have to have one InDesign document, rather than one intended for PDF and one intended for print (and possibly others beyond that for other formats). But if your systems (e.g. for tracking corrections and document versions) can handle more than one document, then this could certainly save time in Acrobat. —Arthur

  3. Wouter Reinders says:

    The only reason why I am currently working on two versions is because of the font used in the existing book version and the one we using for the epub (libertine)… will be discussion this with Ilse when she is back from gone… Would prefer to have the one file…

    Is there a website where we can find more fonts we can use in the epub books?

    The text box on the first page does not have to be the same size as the other as long as it is in the same text stream…

  4. EBW says:

    Wouter: For fonts for epub, see http://electricbookworks.com/kbase/creating-epub-from-indesign/working-in-indesign/fonts – particularly the link to the League of Movable Type.

  5. EBW says:

    Just added a few suggestions for non-Adobe Mac-based PDF editors.

  6. Arthur says:

    Added a new first step, to check that your images will show in ADE, which doesn’t support JPG2000. We’re hoping for a major re-release of ADE in late 2011 with the release of EPUB3, which surely would fix this major bug.

  7. Arthur says:

    After recent testing with Sigil, I’ve had to change my recommended cover CSS for img.cover from height to max-height.

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