Electric Book Works Web, mobile and print publications

Working in InDesign

The guidelines here are for designing and typesetting with epub export/conversion in mind. They are also good design and typesetting practice even if you’re not sure you’re going to be exporting or converting to epub.

One story flow

There are two rules of thumb for managing text flow: … Read more

Pagination and master pages

PDF ebooks have pages like print. But reflowable formats, like epub, have no fixed pages as such. So there is no pagination. When you export an InDesign file to epub, it will pretty much ignore: … Read more

Images and objects

Where possible, anchor your images. Like floating text boxes, any image that isn’t anchored might not appear next to the relevant text after export to epub. Up to CS4, unless anchored, images and objects will be placed pretty arbitrarily in the ePub (usually at the end in random order). From CS5, InDesign tries to guess where an image should go by its placement on the page – but you might not want to trust it. … Read more


When dealing with fonts, you need to know about formats, licenses and embedding. … Read more

Thinking ahead: styles and tag names

When exporting to epub, InDesign uses your style names as part of the tags in the ebook’s XHTML code. … Read more

Text alignment

It’s best not to use justified text. On very small screens this causes big spaces between words, especially if text ever wraps around images. Rather use any of Left (ragged right), Right (ragged left), or Centered alignment. … Read more

Background colours

We’ve had mixed results trying to create an off-white ebook page. We don’t recommend doing this, though. It’s almost always wasted time, and page colour is now often determined by the ebook-reading device software for difference contexts (e.g. dim or reversed out for low-light situations). … Read more

The table of contents

Creating an automatic Table of Contents in your InDesign document gets you a Table of Contents in your exported epub file. So always create one, even if you don’t include it on any page in the document. You can just put it on the pasteboard. It doesn’t even need page numbers. It just needs to list all the headings you want in your epub’s clickable Table of Contents. … Read more

File sizes

No exported HTML or XHTML file in an epub can be bigger than 300K when uncompressed (or 100K compressed). As a rule of thumb, this is about 40000 words of a simple novel. Any longer book must be broken up into smaller documents (e.g. chapters). … Read more


You can add metadata in the InDesign document (Info>File information). Include at least the title and author in the File Information, since that’s the minimum that an epub needs in order to be a valid epub. … Read more


InDesign CS4 makes claims that it can handle multimedia (without you having to get into the epub code), and we’re testing that. It doesn’t look good, though (it was effectively broken in CS2 when Apple’s Quicktime stopped supporting SWF, and wasn’t yet fixed at the time we wrote this). … Read more


We recommend using the same InDesign documents for creating your print PDFs and exporting to epub. This way, you only ever have one master InDesign document, which is good for version control. … Read more

The Export to Epub dialog box

In order to export a full book from InDesign, you must select the export command from the “Book” panel menu, instead of the “File” menu, as it is for documents. Make sure that you have the “Book” panel visible (it automatically pops up whenever you open a book in InDesign). The export tool will only export character/paragraph styles and metadata from one document in the book. This document can be selected from the Book panel menu as the “styling source” document (the little symbol to the left of the document name). … Read more

Troubleshooting export to epub

Unfortunately, if your export fails, InDesign’s error messages are not always helpful. … Read more

Arthur Attwell 17 February 2010
This information is more than two years old, and may no longer be accurate. Contact us to check, or log an issue on GitHub.