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Best Document Size for EPUB Export

A.L. wrote:

I’m trying to develop my first e-pub. What should my document size be or does that even matter?

This is a great question because it seems like there should be… but the truth is that there isn’t. The reason there isn’t is important: You don’t lay out an EPUB “ebook.” Rather, you arrange its flow.

Remember how you keep avoiding HTML because it’s so annoying? For example, it’s a pain to position things properly on the page, it doesn’t really support fonts very elegantly, it’s annoying to have to deal with a bunch of different browsers (which maddeningly can’t agree on how to display your HTML files)? Well, guess what? EPUB is HTML!

(Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha… I feel as though I were talking about soylent green!)

That’s right: There is no escape from it. EPUB is HTML. And not the good kind, not the modern kind of HTML that can do fonts and cool layouts and such that we’re all getting used to in the 21st century. Not, currently EPUB is basically a hacked-together mess of HTML and very basic CSS that will look different on every epub reader and that simply cannot represent much of what you wish it could.

So, because EPUB is basically html/css, you’re basically creating a very long stream or thread. You can specify page breaks at chapter headings, but just as you don’t know how an HTML file will look in someone’s browser (because perhaps they have their font display jacked up to show text really large), you won’t really know where most of your document’s page breaks will be.

I guess, in some ways, the “best document size” would be 18 feet tall by about 6 inches wide (5.4m x 15 cm)… just one huge, long story. The document size doesn’t affect the EPUB output, but at least you’d have a visual reminder that EPUB is more about flow than layout.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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11 Comments on “Best Document Size for EPUB Export

  1. I think it is worth noting that the EPUB specification itself it much more advanced than what is currently supported. EPUB does allow embedded fonts and very advanced CSS. It’s simply the devices that don’t support it yet.

  2. The document Size is no issue here, it reflows the text based on the the e-readers screen and fontsize (with the zoom option).

    What really matters is the Size of the xhtml files. No bigger than 300kb. This because of the VALIDATION. So split that story in parts. That matters!

  3. Is there a good resource to learn all about ePub doc in one place? a book, video series, etc.

    I work at a University and there is interest in making some of our publications mobile. Instead of outsourcing it, I’d like to be the one to tackle the job.


  4. I second Bob’s endorsement of Liz Castro’s book. I picked it up over the weekend and I like it a lot. Liz is also a “must follow” on Twitter for EPUB/ebook info.

  5. Given that Amazon has a disturbingly high 70% of the ebook market in the U.S., some may want to look into the new Kindle plug-in that Amazon has released for InDesign. It takes an relatively simple InDesign document and outputs in Amazon’s proprietary mobi format, which Amazon can then DRM for sale. It even allows you to select an image to become the ebook’s “cover.”

    You can find the plug-in at:

    It’s a 0.9 version, so it has a few issues.

    * It choked on a book of mine with about 200 styles. One with about 30 styles seems to be working fine.
    * It generates a Kindle-ready table of contents from that in InDesign, which is great, but the result is hideously ugly.
    * Seemingly at random, some terms that are italicized within InDesign aren’t italicized in the Kindle mobi output.

    That said, it is quite handy to be able to tweak the existing ID file for a printed book and use it to create one for Kindle devices and apps. That’s much better than trying to export an ID book to HTML or rtf and hand edit the result to run through the automated converters at Amazon or Smashwords.

    It also suggests that someday we may be able to use one application that outputs in print/pdf, epub, mobi, and whatever new format develops. It’s not what I’m call the best of all worlds, an app specifically designed for page-less output that imports from InDesign and exports in high quality to all the ebook platforms. But it is a start.

    There’s also a multi-platform Java-based Kindle Previewer on that same download page. It will let you see how documents in various formats (mobi and epub) will look on different Kindles and the Kindle apps for iPhones and iPads. The match (line breaks and screen breaks) between the Previewer and the real thing isn’t perfect, but it gives you a general idea how a book will look and lets you proofread the result for errors like that missing italicization.

    And I add my recommendation to the chorus of voices. Liz Castro has done the hard work of figuring out how to work around the eccentricities of epub as displayed by the iPad and like devices. Her book is well worth owning.

  6. Hi,

    I just have a doubt. How I manage an image with 600 px wide into a doc with 6 inches wide.
    The image stay out side from page, very strange.

    I used to layout with A4 pages. It’s suitable wide page to images

  7. I’m struggling with the same issue. When you initially layout a book in InDesign, what page size do you make it in document setup? I understand that epub doesn’t think in inches but for instance if I want an end result of 1200 x 1700, and I create an image that is between 300 and 600 pixels wide, and I make my page size in in design 6 x 4.25, InDesign forces me to size the image smaller to fit on the page. Then when I export the jpeg won’t it be resaved at the smaller pixel size and I lose that resolution… what size page do I need to create if I want a 1200 x 1700 end result? (I’m working on a fixed layout project using Liz Castro’s excellent book- but it isn’t clear on this question)

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