Print and digital: working with Adobe InDesign

For most print-centric (or so-called ‘legacy’) publishers, Adobe InDesign software is at the heart of their production process. For this reason, many publishers want a production system that will let them continue to work with InDesign, which is an excellent print production tool with a large pool of skilled designers, while producing the digital outputs demanded today. We’ll look at some of the most common options for an ‘Adobe-first’ production strategy.

Putting Adobe InDesign at the center of your production workflow

Adobe Indesign CS6Publishers are increasingly looking to generate ebooks from the same programs they use to create print editions.

This has several advantages including using existing staff, publishing in multiple formats, and integrating ebooks into the normal production workflow.

Adobe InDesign is the most widely-used professional publishing software. As well as producing print editions, it includes the ability to export a publication to EPUB format (including support of an expanding range of EPUB3 features).


Should you use InDesign for digital production?

Using Adobe InDesign as the core production tool makes a lot of sense for publishers who already have a big investment in InDesign. But it should be noted that for publishers without printed editions, or those planning a digital-first production environment, InDesign isn’t necessarily the best choice. Its print-centric approach makes it less suitable for digital production. Many of the new tools which we’ll look at will work much better producing, testing and managing digital files. There are also an increasing range of services which will produce print files from ebook or web sources.

Producing EPUB and Kindle ebooks directly from InDesign

InDesign’s ability to produce clean EPUB files has improved since it was first introduced in InDesign CS4. But the process is not as automated as the sales brochures would like you to believe. It requires careful styling and preparation and plenty of clean-up of the exported file so you’ll still find yourself poking around the HTML and CSS code to get it working well.

In its latest versions, Adobe has also improved the EPUB export by giving designers more EPUB-specific options at the layout stage to optimize images, type, styles and metadata for more accurate EPUB creation. InDesign styles can be mapped to the source manuscript mark up styles, and a process referred to as ’round-tripping’ can ensure that changes to the manuscript and production files can be kept in sync.

Kindle ebooks can be exported from InDesign using a free, Amazon-supplied ‘plugin’ (a small  program that runs inside InDesign) since InDesign doesn’t have native Kindle support. The same caveats apply to producing Kindle ebooks from InDesign: the raw output will probably need to be cleaned up before uploading to a commercial service (

Adobe Digital Publishing Suite (DPS)

Adobe DPSAdobe Digital Publishing Suite uses InDesign as its core production tool, but it’s a different tool, one which adds a range of additional production and distribution services aimed at producing books and magazines as apps, rather than as reflowable EPUB ebooks.

Adobe DPS lets designers using Adobe InDesign (version CS5 and above) create apps without having to write any program code. DPS can also looks after distribution of the completed apps to the iPad App Store for sale.

Adobe has its own e-reader app called Adobe Content Viewer to display the content that’s produced in its DPS format. It can’t be read using standard ebook readers or Adobe Reader for PDF files. Small publishers will most likely use the standard Adobe Content Viewer while larger publishers can have their own branded e-reader app.

Digital Publishing Suite is particularly well-suited to production and distribution of digital magazines. At the time of writing, only iPad apps are supported.

Here’s a video from Adobe that gives you an overview of how to produce and publish a publication app using Digital Publishing Suite (since updated to version CS6).

Other programs producing digital output from Adobe InDesign


Quark-LogoQuark is InDesign’s main rival as a professional page layout program and offered conversion to EPUB format in its latest version, QuarkXPress 9. There is no Kindle export but publishers can supply the EPUB file to Amazon for conversion to Kindle format.

QuarkXPress also has a cloud service called App Studio.  It converts Quark and InDesign files into HTML5 content and distributes that content through Apple and Android app stores.

App Studio offers similar functionality to Adobe Digital Publishing Suite but Quark’s approach is arguably better, using the industry standard HTML5 rather than the proprietary format used by Adobe.


Woodwing software integrates with Adobe InDesign to produce multiple digital formats for the web, tablets and e-readers from the same InDesign files. It supports a wider range of digital formats than Adobe DPS but can integrate with DPS to allow publication of apps through Adobe’s Content Viewer technology.

Typefi Publish

Typefi is another multi-format system that  integrates with InDesign. It can take marked up Microsoft Word or XML source documents and automate the production of richly-formatted books, ebooks, PDFs and web content.

Atomik Quantum Publisher (AQP)

AQP from UK developer EasyPress integrates with InDesign to produce multiple digital formats including EPUB. EasyPress also produces a range of XML and document workflow products for InDesign and QuarkXPress.

Inkling Habitat

Inkling is one of the new breed of online production tools, aiming at the textbook and illustrated book market with an advanced platform. We’ll look at Inkling in more detail shortly. Inkling can import InDesign files and convert them to its own format.


This Kobo-owned company produces high-end publishing tools, including InDesign plug-ins to produce ebooks, apps and web apps for book, magazine, and comic markets.


This InDesign plugin lets you create EPUB3 ebooks from within InDesign, then export them to EPUB3 files suitable for tablets or smartphones.


Professional-grade service, aims at graphical and interactive publications such as illustrated and children’s ebooks. Fixed-layout only, good multi-format and multi-language support. Imports InDesign files. Output formats include EPUB3, Kindle KF8 and apps for Android and iOS. Paid service (per-user subscription) with a free trial option.


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


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