How to edit images

We review the common image editing tasks to prepare images for use in ebooks, and look at some commonly-used image editing programs.

Common editing tasks

Yellow bird, edited

Image source:

When you include images in ebooks, these are the most common things you’ll need to do so that they display correctly:

  • Crop – to get the right proportions and to focus on the main subject
  • Resize – to the correct dimensions – in pixels, not millimetres
  • Change format – for instance, from PNG to JPG or another specified file format
  • Reduce file size – to a size required by e-readers and to reduce overall ebook file size 

Some conversion services will accept larger images in a variety of formats and will reduce their size and standardize them as part of the conversion process.

However, you’ll get better control over the output by preparing the images to the required specifications.

Some image-editing tools

You will need access to an image-editing tool. There are many image-editing programs available, including several good free ones. The options below are all excellent in their niches.


Adobe Photoshop is the professional’s image-editing tool of choice.  It’s the industry standard for image editing and boasts far more power than casual users will need.

  • Advantages: Every conceivable feature for every conceivable image editing job, including creating complex graphics from scratch. Available for PC or Mac.
  • Disadvantages: Expensive (though you can buy a subscription for just a month or two which might be enough for a single project). Steep learning curve. Requires a fairly powerful computer.

Canva Photo Editor

This photo editor is part of Canva, an easy-to-use, free online design program that deals with most of the design needs for common marketing tasks. You go to the website and do all of your editing online — there’s no software to install.

  • Advantages: All the features you’ll need to do the major image editing tasks, accessible from any web browser, easy to use and free. Part of the excellent Canva design program.
  • Disadvantages: You must be online when using it, fairly basic feature set.


This is Photoshop without the price tag.

  • Advantages: It’s free. It’s very powerful with enough features to satisfy professionals. If you need to create sophisticated images or extensively modify them, this is a tool that will be up to the job. And it will do all of the basics, too. Available for PC and Mac.
  • Disadvantages: Like Photoshop, GIMP has a steep learning curve.


Worth a look if you have a lot of images to manage. IrfanView is very powerful but, unlike PhotoShop or GIMP, has very few tools for creating images. It’s really the workhorse you’ll need if you find you’re having to frequently generate new versions of your images in new sizes and formats.

  • Advantages: It’s free. It has excellent batch processing (taking multiple images, applying a set of rules, and outputting new versions).
  • Disadvantages: A sparse, technical-looking interface. Windows only, no Mac version. Narrow feature set.

Microsoft Word

The later versions of MS Word include a very capable and easy-to-use picture editor. While it’s not suitable for professional image editing use, and has some limitations for ebook use, it might be all you need for simple jobs.

Use 96dpi as the picture resolution. When you’ve finished editing in MS Word’s picture editor, right-click the image and Save As Picture to select the format and save the image.

Click to view a video (4:11) showing basic image editing in MS Word

Tip: Save a version of your finished image in a high-resolution format.

Although you need to use smaller, lower resolution images today, it’s worth retaining a master copy of each image in the highest resolution available. This will make it easier to meet the requirements of each ebook retailer and, importantly, it future-proofs your book by making it easier to upgrade it when e-readers support high-resolution screens. The shift to more tablet-based e-reading devices has already driven a round of specification changes and this will continue to happen as specifications for e-reading gadgets rise. Remember to distinguish these master copies either by appending a word such as ‘master’ or ‘hi-res’ to the file name, or by keeping these versions in a separate folder.


Find out more about this topic on our Digital Publishing 101 useful resources site.

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