Fixed Format ePub

The new fixed format functionality provided in Adobe InDesign CC 2014 is definitely worth looking into. Although it is new and lacking some features, it certainly takes the work out of creating a simple fixed format ePub for iPad. You don’t need to worry that your carefully drawn graphics will not show up. They do, exactly as drawn, because the fixed format export takes a picture of everything that is not text and places it to x,y coordinates using absolute positioning.

The way InDesign handles text does provide some problems for the designer. Apparently, with the idea of supporting text to speech sometime in the near future, every word on the page is placed exactly where you put it. If you modify the font (using any of the Advanced Character Styling formats) the end result may not be acceptable. Also you are limited with the fonts you can use. (See blog for July 9 of this year.) On the bright side, you don’t need to worry about setting up text styles or object styles because that is all taken care of by the export. But I would suggest using styles anyway.

Remember that each page for an ePub file is a separate HTML file. Unlike the reflowable format, the fixed format export splits the pages up for you. You do not need to worry about setting up pages so they will break correctly.

Just for testing, I created a quick little book to demonstrate how one could create a fun Christmas ePub letter to send as an email attachment to family and friends. The book was eight pages, set up for Digital Publishing intent and iPad page size (1024 x 768). Although I have only tested the result on iPad and on the computer using iBooks, I am sure the book can be read on any device that can host the iBooks reader. It definitely displayed as expected on the devices tested.

For this test, I was particularly interested in how InDesign would handle a horizontal page format with a full-width image. Sometimes this specification can be a hassle to set up (especially if using Apple’s iBooks author). InDesign handled it without a problem.

If you are curious, the code produced by the Fixed Layout export can be a little scary but doesn’t seem to add much overhead to the final package. Of course, that is if you do not use a lot of graphic elements such as lines and bullets which are imaged and saved as PNG files.

The biggest drawback is that Hyperlinks are not supported (yet). Special style options such as drop shadows are also out of the question. So if your client insists on having drop shadows or hyperlinks, you may end up having to use tried and true HTML.

HTML For ePub

HTML for ePub is not a walk in the park. Not only do you need to make sure the HTML/CSS is written correctly, you also have the issue of creating all of the other files needed for ePub. For this, I would suggest using a template. Just knowing what is supported on what devices and providing fallbacks is enough to make any designer gun shy. On top of this, you can end up with some time-consuming problems when it comes to validating the ePub.

A Cautionary Tale

I mention this only because I had a recent experience that needs mentioning. Here’s the situation. I had a little book that required some styling not supported by the InDesign fixed format. So I picked up a template, and hurriedly substituted images and text as needed. The problem was that in my hurry I decided to use TextEdit rather than my trusty Dreamweaver. The changes to my template files were minimal so I did not bother to do an epubcheck. (I have used the template so many times, I did not question the output.) I zipped up the folder of files using ePub Zip and opened the package in iBooks. It displayed perfectly. Then I emailed the book to my iPad. What? There was an error on the first page, an error I have never seen before.

Back to the drawing board. Run the ePub through epubcheck. Sure enough, it found the error on page 1; something to do with a quote missing. Double check the HTML. All quotes are there as required. What was going on? Finally, after checking and re-checking, I enlarged the text in TextEdit so it was at least 18 points. With the text enlarged, I could see the problem. When I changed the text inside of the quotes for a class name, somehow TextEdit decided that one of my quotation marks needed to be a smart quote (not the straight quotes required by HTML). I then opened Preferences for TextEdit. Sure enough, smart quotes had been enabled.

A Word to the Wise

So here is a tip for those of you who venture into the world of HTML. If you do decide to use TextEdit (or other plain text editor) for making a small change to an HTML document, make sure that Smart Quotes is disabled. With Smart Quotes on, all you need to do is change the text inside of straight quotes and the application will, without your knowing, change the quotes to typographer quotes for you. The iBooks reader may forgive the error, but epubcheck and iPad will not.