Preparing Your Digital PDF with InDesign

This tutorial will offer you  advice on how to use Adobe InDesign to prepare an optimized digital edition PDF book.

What do I Need?

This walk thru will use InDesign to layout and directly export a PDF at a resolution appropriate for viewing on computers and devices, and Acrobat Pro to optimize the PDF.

This tutorial uses Adobe InDesign CC and Acrobat DC for Mac. If you are using a different version of the software or different OS, some of the instructions and screenshots will be slightly different, but you should be able to find the right feature in your software version.

How do I Get This Software?

Adobe InDesign and Acrobat are available from Adobe at Adobe does have educational discounts on their software if you are able to take advantage of them:

Or you can get it as part of the Creative Cloud and pay a monthly fee:

1. Set up and format your InDesign Document

Setting up your file is nearly identical to setting up a book for print but the specifications are much looser. If you plan to produce both print and digital editions, it is best to set up your book files to print specs and then export for both digital and print using the same file with the correct export information for each format.

For more information about creating InDesign file for print, see the DriveThru tutorial for Preparing your book for print with InDesign

For your convenience, we have created templates to make your layout work easier: DOWNLOAD INDESIGN DIGITAL TEMPLATES

What are all these lines?

  • The black line on the outside edge represents the edge of the page.
  • The pink and purple box defines the margin.
  • The black line in the center is called the gutter and is the inside spine of the book.


Master/Parent Pages

When you open the template, click the Pages menu on the right and double-click Master or Parent (depending on your version of InDesign) Page at the top of the box. Anything you place on the Master/Parent Page, including guidelines, will appear on all the pages of your book (guidelines will not appear in the exported PDF). Once you set up your Master/Parent pages you can assign the to the interior by right clicking on that page, if you want to set multiple pages just select as many as you would like and right click.

If you have a background element that is intended to appear on every page of the book, place it here. If you are using layers, it's best to keep background art on the lower layer and text (like page numbers) on an upper layer. If something seems "behind" something else on the same layer, you can right click it go to Arrange and select to move it forward or back.

The template has page numbers at the bottom of the Master/Parent page in the correct placement. You can edit the font and size of the page numbers on this page.


Setting up text formatting

Before you start adding text, set up the formatting to make text import easy.

In the Type pull-down menu, select Paragraph Styles.


In the window, click the small pull-down menu on the top right and choose New Paragraph Style (at the top of the menu).


In the new menu, select Basic Character Formats. It is the second choice in the options to the left.


Here is where you name and format the basic font for the book: Headers and other fonts are set up next in this tutorial.

  • Name your style.
  • Select the font size and family.

Remember, this text will be small, so use a font that is easy to read without many flourishes. Industry standard is 10 to 12 pt, with leading set to auto.

Click OK when you have these options selected; the little window that is left open can be moved to the right side of the screen, out of the way. If you intend to have more than one type of body text, create them all here.

Now go back to the Type pull-down menu. Select Character Style.


In the window, click the small pull-down menu on the top right and choose New Character Style (at the top of the menu).


Select Basic Character Formats: It is the second choice down in the options to the left. Here is where you name and define your Headers.


  • Name the Style.
  • Select the Family, Style, Size etc.

You can repeat this to create different headers. Header fonts should remain between 14 pts to 24 pts. Use different sizes and bolded fonts to create a hierarchy.

Place the box over to the right when you are done. Now you are ready to start adding text.

Adding Text

There are two ways to add text to an InDesign file:

First Option

You can select text, copy it, and then, using the Text Tool in InDesign, click and drag to make a box then paste and the text will appear in this box.

If you have more than one column’s worth of text, you must manually flow the text by clicking the [X] box at the bottom of the text box, then clicking on the next text column with the shift key held down. InDesign will then place all of the text for you.

If you are working on a larger format book with two columns, the text will be placed from left column to right column and page to page, in order. 


Second Option

In InDesign, go to the File pull-down menu and select Place. Navigate to the text file, and select it.


You will see a little text block attached to your cursor. If you click in a column, InDesign will start the text in that column. If you have a lot of text to place, hold the Shift Key, and InDesign will place all of the text for you.

If you are working on a larger format book and it has two columns, the text will be placed from left column to right column and page to page, in order. 

Once all of the text is imported you can format it, move it around, and add art to finalize the book.

Formatting Text

With the Text tool selected, click anywhere in the text, then right click and choose Select All. This will select all of the text you placed. The text will be highlighted for the whole book or chapter.

Select the Paragraph Styles menu (the one you set to the side) and select the style you created. This will format the basic body text.

Italics and boldface formatting can be lost when importing text. Double-check that you have not lost this information. If this occurs, use the Character Styles menu to correct the lost formatting.


To format headers, select the text and click the Character Styles menu, select the header style you want from the ones you created earlier. 

Repeat this process with the headers until they are all formatted and your text is done.


Pro Tip: Things to avoid as you style text in your document

  • Widows. In publishing parlance, a widow is a word or bit of a line "left alone at the end," i.e., the first line of a new paragraph that starts at the bottom of a column of text or a page, with the rest of the paragraph in a new column or on the next page. 
  • Orphans. The counterpart to a widow, an orphan is "alone at the beginning," i.e., a single word or line from the previous column or page left by itself at the top of a new column or page.
  • Hyphens. When broken across columns of text or pages. 

Adding Art

To add art or graphics, first make sure nothing is selected by clicking on the white space outside of the book using the black arrow tool.

  • Go to the File pull-down menu and select Place (same as with text).
  • Navigate to the art or graphic you want to place and click Open.

Your cursor will now have a thumbnail of the art attached. Simply click where you want the art to go. 

The art will need to be resized, and it may be sitting on top of your text. Select the text column with the black arrow tool, and change the length, using the blue boxes, to accommodate the art. InDesign will automatically re-flow the text as you resize the box. 


Next, hold down the Shift Key and resize the art box with the black arrow tool by grabbing the handle on any corner and dragging.


Once you have the art box the size you want it, you will want to resize the art to fit in the box. In the tool box at the top of the page, you'll find a series of boxes to help you format the art. Click on the box to fit the art proportionally. Repeat this process until all art is placed.


If you move art or graphics to a new folder or edit any art or graphics, you will need to re-link each one. You can do this by selecting the link in the Link menu, click the broken chain at the bottom of the menu and navigate to the file in the window that pops up.


2. Adding Cover Images and Setting Up Correct Pagination

Make the front cover the first page and back the cover the last page of your digital PDF. You can add one page at the beginning of your interior text file document, and one at the back (right click adjacent page and select add page) and place covers respectively. Save your document before you begin the next step.

Next, you will want to renumber the pages to match the PDF page numbers to the table of contents pagination.

First, using the Pages palette, expand the palette options from the icon in the upper right corner of the palette. Navigate down to and select Numbering & Section


The Numbering & Section options dialog box will pop up. In The Page Numbering section, use the Style pull down menu to select the Roman numerals. Click OK.


The entire book now changes to Roman numerals.

Select page one (according to the Table of Contents) in the Pages palette, expand the palette options, and navigate down to Numbering & Section Options again. This time, be sure Start Page Numbering at: is selected and set to 1. Then in the Style pull-down under Page Numbering set as Arabic numerals (1, 2, 3), and the pages will be renumbered properly.


3. Adding Bookmarks

To make navigating through a large PDF book easier, bookmarks can be made in Acrobat or with InDesign, which can be exported and used in your final PDF digital edition. As with any layout, you'll have more options and easier editing if you create them in InDesign instead of Acrobat. But, if you need to bookmark in Acrobat, see the section under Enhanced PDF's.

A good use of bookmarking is to place one at the first page of every chapter in your book, as well as any sub headers in the chapter that are important, so readers can jump straight to the a point in the book they want.

You will need to open your Bookmarks palette. To find it, go to the Window pull-down, navigate down to Interactive, then select Bookmarks.


Leaving that window open, navigate to the text that you would like to bookmark and highlight that text using the text tool. Then, go back to the Bookmark palette and either click the page icon at the bottom of the bookmark palette next to the Trash Can icon, or expand the menu options from the top right-hand corner of the palette and select New Bookmark. The text you have highlighted will now appear in the Bookmarks palette list. An anchor icon will appear to the left.


You will need to proof this list and edit bookmarks in this palette. Bookmarks will appear on this list in the order they are made, not in the order they occur in the document. To reorder your bookmarks, expand the menu from the top right-hand corner and choose Sort Bookmarks. This automatically rearranges the bookmark entries by page order as they occur in the document.

You can also create hierarchies in the Bookmark palette. To make a sub-header bookmark, you can drag and drop a bookmark and nest it underneath another. See the screenshot below for an example:


4. Adding Hyperlinks

You may also want to add links between pages that occur in your document, such as page references (see page), or links to destinations outside your document, such as a URL. As with bookmarks, links can be made in Acrobat or InDesign, which can be exported and used in your final PDF digital edition. As with any layout, you'll have more options and easier editing if you create them in InDesign instead of Acrobat. But, if you need to link in Acrobat, see the section under Enhanced PDF's.

Make sure to test each link in your final PDF after export.

To get started, you will need to open your Hyperlinks palette. To find and open it, go to the Window pull-down menu, navigate to Interactive, then select Hyperlinks.


Adding links between pages

Assigning hyperlinks between pages in your document (or multiple documents) easy using InDesign.

Using your text cursor, highlight your source text. Then click the icon on the top right of the Hyperlinks palette. Select New Hyperlink.


Then, in the menu that opens, choose Page or Text Anchor from the pull-down menu. We HIGHLY recommend Text Anchor as it will allow text to re-flow while maintaining the link (setting Text Anchor is detailed below page linking), if you link to a page and the text re-flows to a different page you may need to edit the link later. We will cover how to make each starting with Page first.


Now set your Destination information. In the Document pull-down, you will see a list of all the saved InDesign documents you currently have open. If you are linking to the document you are currently working in, select it here or choose a different booked document that is already open. Make sure that you have set your destination page number to reflect the page number of the book not the page number in the Pages palette if you have not setup Pagination. If you have already created a Style Sheet for formatting your hyperlink text, you can find it in the Character Style pull-down menu. When you have completed your Destination and Appearance details, click OK. Your new hyperlink will appear in the Hyperlink palette.

Please proof that all the links go where intended when using the page link.


Setting Text Anchor Links is a two step process. To set a Text Anchor Hyperlink, navigate to the text you would like to link to, select it using the text tool, then click to open the options in the Hyperlink Pallet (top right) and select New Hyperlink Destination.

In the window that opens, under Type select Text Anchor and either use the selected text or rename it and click OK


Then go back to the text you would like to link from, select it and select New Hyperlink. In the window that opens, in the Link To select Text Anchor, select the correct document, and in the Text Anchor pull-down find the Destination Text Anchor you created. Set your Style and Appearance then click OK.


You can check your new hyperlink by clicking the page icon (for Page link) or the anchor (for Text Anchor) next to the named link. The page will jump to the destination you have just assigned.


There are a few ways to add hyperlinks to URLs in your document. Once you become familiar, you will find the way that works best for you. This is the most direct way to create a URL link.

Select the text to be linked, click to open the options in the Hyperlink Pallet (top right). From the list, select New Hyperlink. The New Hyperlink dialog box will open. In the Link To pull-down menu select URL. The URL in the Destination field can be any valid Internet address (http://, ftp://, mailto://, etc.). When you have completed your Destination and Appearance details, click OK. Your new hyperlink will appear in the Hyperlink palette.


5. Exporting Your InDesign file as a PDF

Now that you’ve completed setting up your book for print, exporting it as a digital PDF is easy!

Please do not use any Security settings in your digital edition export. The ability to copy/paste or print the digital edition can be managed under the File Security settings in your Product File information when you upload the book. Any security settings imposed on your uploaded digital edition
will hinder our automatic watermarking process during customer check-out and can hinder accessibility of the PDF for readers. For more info on Accessibility see Accessible PDFs

With your completed file open, select Export from the File pull-down menu.


In the menu that opens, navigate to the location you would like to save your new PDF, rename it so as to not overwrite any other files, and then make sure Adobe PDF (Interactive) is selected as the Format


The Export to Interactive PDF dialog box will open. Match the settings shown in the screenshots below. Especially important is to choose JPEG Compression, not JPEG2000 compression under the Compression setting. Many devices don’t render images using JPEG2000 compression.


Once you have adjusted your export settings, click OK. A Warning dialog box may pop up at this point, to warn you that color shifting may occur in the process because your CMYK file will be converted to RGB values. This conversion process is necessary, click OK.
Make sure to proof your new PDF when it’s complete.


6. Tips and Things to Remember


Although exporting your PDF using the methods provided will take care of most of the specifications for a digital PDF, there are a few things that are important enough to bring to your attention again. These points are listed in DriveThru’s Quick Specs document and Checklist for Digital Books, both of which can be found under Digital PDFs, and below

  • DO NOT use JPEG2000 compression in any linked or embedded JPEG art files, even if it reduces your file size.
    Tablets and phones cannot always display images using JPEG2000 compression.
  • DO NOT use PDF/A profile compliance for your exported PDF.
  • DO NOT use transparency in your document or images.
    Tablets and phones also have problems displaying PDFs with transparency attributes.
  • DO NOT lock or use security settings in your exported PDF. This includes imposing password protection as well as turning off the ability to copy/paste or print from the PDF.
    These options can be managed under the File Security settings in your Product File information on the DriveThru site when you upload your book. Any security settings imposed on your uploaded digital edition will cause errors during the automatic watermarking process.

7. What do I do next?

Once you have finished producing and testing your digital PDF, you’re ready to upload!

If you have any questions about how to proceed with creating a title listing, see our article, Set Up a New Title or Edit an Existing Title Listing.

8. I Need More Help!

Please email us any questions you may have, or if you have any thoughts on how we can improve this tutorial so it answers more questions for everyone.

You can also find people with professional skills in digital layout and contract them to create your files. The cost of this work depends on how much of the work you do yourself before handing it over for layout. We can recommend someone for layout if you would like.

Please contact Partner Relations by submitting a request through our webform for details. Or you can also find freelance layout professionals at sites like


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