December 2, 2014 Last Updated 8:54 am

Design column: Creating fixed layout ePUB eBooks with the latest version of InDesign CC

With last week’s announcement by Adobe that it would stop offering its Single Edition app solution as a free benefit for Creative Cloud members, the company has started to emphasize its fixed layout ePUB solution inside InDesign. Keith Gilbert, a digital publishing consultant and educator, explains how the InDesign fixed layout ePUB solution works for creating eBooks for the Apple’s iBooks, Play books, and Adobe Digital Editions 4.

The latest update to Adobe InDesign CC makes creating highly-designed, graphically-rich fixed layout EPUB output easy. If you know how to use InDesign for print projects, you now have a simple path to publishing your content digitally for reading on tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.

What is fixed layout EPUB?
The EPUB 3 standard specifies two types of EPUB output: “reflowable” EPUB and “fixed layout” EPUB. Fixed layout EPUB supports accurate positioning of text and graphics, as well as audio, video, and interactive elements. This format is a faithful reproduction of your InDesign layout, so it is ideal for highly-designed books such as cookbooks, travel books, photography and art books, “coffee table” books, and children’s books.

Currently, fixed layout EPUB 3 files can be read with iBooks on iOS devices and Macintosh computers, Google Play books, Adobe Digital Editions 4, and the Readium extension for the Chrome browser. In the near future, additional EPUB readers and marketplaces will also support the EPUB 3 standard for fixed layout EPUB.
How to create fixed layout EPUB

You can export a fixed layout EPUB from any InDesign file. Just choose File > Export, and select EPUB (Fixed Layout) for the format. See Figure 1.

Figure-1

Figure-1: File & Export gives you the choice of exporting a Fixed Layout EPUB or a Reflowable EPUB

When you choose EPUB (Fixed Layout), you will see the Fixed Layout Export Options dialog box. This is where you can tweak settings for the cover appearance, the TOC, spread handling, resolution of images, and metadata about the book. For many projects, the default values can be left as-is. See Figure 2.

Figure-2

Figure-2: The Fixed Layout Export Options dialog offers controls to customize the appearance and behavior of your EPUB

Design best practices
Depending on the design, you can often just convert your print layout to fixed layout EPUB with little or no adjustment. But if you want to optimize your layout to take full advantage of the EPUB platform, here are some best practices:

  • Any page size and orientation can be converted to EPUB, since fixed layout EPUB pages scale to fit the screen on which they are viewed. But to optimize a layout for tablet screens, consider a page size of 768 x 1024 or 1024 x 768 pixels. This size displays well on a variety of tablet screens. When designing for this page size, images should be 150 ppi or greater, and body type likely will need to be 16 points or larger.
  • Unlike reflowable EPUB, fixed layout EPUB will faithfully display the actual typefaces and sizes that you’ve used, with line endings and character positioning that precisely matches your layout. But one caveat is that PostScript fonts cannot be embedded in fixed layout EPUB output. You must use OpenType or TrueType fonts that are properly licensed for EPUB embedding. Typekit Desktop Fonts, included with your Creative Cloud subscription, are all in the proper format and properly licensed for EPUB embedding. See Figure 3. In some cases, you will need to use Type > Create Outlines to convert extended characters such as bullets and ornaments that cannot be represented by the EPUB format.
Figure-3

Figure-3: The Add Fonts from Typekit button gives you access to almost 300 font families, all properly licensed for EPUB output

  • While CMYK images will work just fine for EPUB output, keep your images in RGB mode whenever possible for the richest, most vibrant color.

Adding interactivity and media
One advantage that fixed layout EPUB has over print is the ability to include interactivity, animation, audio, and video.

  • To include interactivity, use the Window > Interactive > Buttons and Forms panel to create buttons, and the Window > Interactive > Object States panel to create “multi-state” objects that can be controlled by buttons. Interactive forms are not supported in fixed layout output from InDesign. See Figure 4.
Figure-4

Figure-4: The button actions highlighted in yellow are all valid for EPUB output

  • To include animation, use the Animation presets and settings in the Window > Interactive > Animation panel, and adjust the animation timing with the Window > Interactive > Timing panel. These panels make it easy to animate page objects in a wide variety of ways. Everything you create with these panels will work in your EPUB, with the exception of the “Smoke” and “Fly in and Blur” animation presets. See Figure 5.
Figure-5

Figure-5: The Animation and Timing panels make animation easy

  • Video that will be included in a fixed layout EPUB must be saved as an MP4 file with H264 encoding. Audio must be saved as an MP3 file. Then, use File > Place to place the video or audio file on the page. Use the Window > Interactive > Media panel to control the playback options.
Figure-6

Figure-6: You can quickly access the EPUB Interactivity Panel with the option-shift-return (Mac) or alt-shift-return (Windows) shortcut

To quickly proof your interactivity, animation, and media, use the EPUB Interactivity Preview panel located in Window > Interactive. See Figure 6.

Validating your EPUB
Once you’ve successfully exported your fixed layout EPUB, its a good idea to “validate” it to be sure that it conforms with the EPUB 3 standard. An easy way to do this is to download and install the pagina EPUB-Checker. This free utility makes it drag-and-drop-simple to check an EPUB for errors.

Distribution options
Once you’ve successfully designed, exported, and validated a fixed layout EPUB, you will certainly want to enjoy it and share it with others.

  • You can view a fixed layout EPUB in any EPUB viewer on a Macintosh or Windows computer that supports fixed layout EPUBs. iBooks on the Mac, Adobe Digital Editions 4 on Mac or Windows, or the Readium extension for the Chrome browser are all good options.
  • You can distribute a fixed layout EPUB via email or a website, and others can view it on desktop computers or mobile devices with fixed layout compatible EPUB readers. Note that Kindle E-readers and tablets do not support the EPUB specification.
  • You can submit a fixed layout EPUB to a store, such as the Apple iBooks Store or Google Play Books. Both of these stores will host, apply Digital Rights Management (DRM) and distribute your submitted content. If you charge for your EPUB, they take a percentage of the sale price. If you give away your EPUB, they will host and distribute it free of charge.

Submitting your EPUB to a store
To submit an EPUB to the Apple iBooks Store, first set up an iTunes Connect account. Then download and install the iTunes Producer app on your Mac. (iTunes Producer is, unfortunately, only available for the Mac). Next, run iTunes Producer, and enter details about your EPUB such as title, author, publisher name, description, etc. Finally, use iTunes Producer to upload your EPUB file to Apple. Apple approval generally takes less than 24 hours.

The process for submitting a book to Google Plays Books is similar, starting at play.google.com/books/publish/

The next time you design and layout a print book, give InDesign’s fixed layout EPUB output a whirl. Or, perhaps you have a cookbook, travel guide, photographic picture book, or children’s book inside you just waiting to be written and published. The latest version of InDesign CC and fixed layout EPUB provides an easy and inexpensive way to produce and distribute highly-designed digital content.


Keith Gilbert is a digital publishing consultant and educator, Adobe Certified Instructor, Adobe Community Professional, conference speaker, and an author and contributing writer for various publications. During his 29 years as a consultant, his work has taken him throughout North America, Africa, Europe and Asia and included clients such as: Adobe, Apple, Target, the United Nations, Best Buy, General Mills, Lands’ End, and Medtronic. Follow him on Twitter @gilbertconsult and at blog.gilbertconsulting.com

You can download a free 30-day trial of InDesign CC at adobe.com.

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