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InDesign CS4 is one of the most popular tools for creating ePubs, but the range of options it provides when exporting can confound many users. While I’m not a wizened InDesign expert, I have accumulated a set of choices for the various options that differ from the defaults and can help form the basis of high-quality ePub output from InDesign. As you become more comfortable working with InDesign’s particular quirks, you’ll probably want to adapt these instructions to your particular style of manuscript setup.

0. Use InDesign CS4

It’s critically important to use the InDesign CS4 rather than an earlier version. CS4 included a number of updates and improvements to ePub output, so buy/upgrade at least one seat before starting to work on ePubs from InDesign rather than wasting your time on CS3 bugs that have been fixed. On top of that, make sure you’ve gotten all of the latest CS4 updates from Adobe (which have resolved some other ePub output bugs).

From your CS4 .indb file, select Export Book for Digital Editions…, an export filename, and start working through the three-paneled set of output options:

1. General

General options panel in InDesign CS4 ePub output

General options panel in InDesign CS4 ePub output

The first section of General options have to do with the metadata that InDesign will include in the OPF. Because too many ePubs have too little metadata, it’s worth always checking that option & filling out some basic metadata. Adding the name of the publisher (mapped to, surprise, <dc:publisher>) is an obvious choice. In addition, it’s worth filling out some of the fields in File→File Info… on the book’s Style Source .indd file to provide InDesign with a bit more metadata to work from.

The next set of choices around CSS is more flexible. Defined Styles should be your default choice, especially for internal testing. It (sometimes) provides a reasonable set of CSS without being bloated with overly-specific styles. While it sounds tempting to let InDesign obsessively copy every element of your design from print to CSS, it often degrades the experience on ePub readers other than Adobe Digital Editions and on tiny screens.

If you’re working on a series of titles with similar styles, you may find it worthwhile to write your own master CSS file that modifies or overrides what InDesign suggests and then manually update the CSS in the ePub with your master. In that case, either start with the CSS generated by Defined Styles & pick and choose what to override or choose Style Names Only, which will give you a CSS skeleton (all the selectors but no declarations).

Map to … Lists under Bullets and Numbers will get you the widest interoperability in most cases. If you have complex numbered lists, it can be hard to get list numbering to continue after a break (in XHTML 1.1 in general), but try to avoid the Convert to Text options unless you’re really in a bind. Map to Static Ordered Lists isn’t a good choice because it produces invalid ePub.

I don’t recommend Adobe’s font embedding option because it (intentionally) creates invalid ePubs. Liza offered some advice on how and when to include embedded fonts.

View eBook after Exporting just opens Adobe Digital Editions with the exported ePub file.

2. Images

Images output options

Images output options

The set of Images options probably deserves more testing because manuscript setups are so diverse. If you’ve setup your InDesign files with Links to web-ready images scaled to a reasonable size, choose Copy Images: Original. Because that usually isn’t the case, you’re probably better off choosing Optimized and experimenting with the Image Quality JPEG export options. I always choose JPEG over GIF or Automatic as the Image Conversion1. Choose the highest Image Quality you can without making your ePub unreasonably large in file size.

3. Contents

Contents output options

Contents output options

The final set of options controls the schema of the OPS documents that InDesign will output (which will be either XHTML or DTBook). The control also provide some options for the declarative table of contents (NCX). While there are times when DTBook output is encouraged or required, XHTML-based ePubs are much more common and will work well in more ePub readers.

The choices surrounding the Table of Contents depend on the way you’ve setup your InDesign files, but I’ve had the best luck with Include InDesign TOC entries, which tries to map the heading hierarchy from your files into the ePub, and Suppress Automatic Entries for Documents. As ePub readers evolve, I’m finding they include increasingly attractive displays of rich NCX data, so it’s worth the time to test out this option.


1 Although I always choose JPEG instead of Automatic, I was never able to make InDesign output a GIF under the Automatic option, so it may be a non-issue.

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3 Responses to “Choosing InDesign ePub output options”

  1. Anuj

    Thanks, this was useful.

    Can you please give similar info about InDesign CS5.

    thanks