Adobe InDesign CS6 and ebooks, round 1

I decided to put in some practice in creating ebooks, so near the second last week of May I tried to lay out something short (Ryan Kelln’s The Magic Fish) and make it into a couple of ebooks, specifically an accessible PDF and an EPUB.

This exercise turned out to highlight certain deficiencies in InDesign CS6 (or rather, technically speaking, InDesign CC), including some that are, apparently, in relation to one of its competitors.

Deficiencies in visual layout

For visual layout, I chose a 5"×8" format, which is one of the formats supported by CreateSpace and one which, presumably, would allow me to print mock-ups using an ordinary office printer. (The latter point would become relevant at the end of this post, when I tried to create a PDF file to print a copy of my mock-up.)

Manually kerning drop caps

[Screen capture of InDesign CS6, showing how the story text book must be broken up to kern the drop cap on the page]

The first problem encountered, ironically, had nothing to do with ebooks per se at all, but with manually kerning drop caps, something described on p. 153 of Book Typography: A Designer’s Manual by Mitchell & Wightman (2005).

As it turned out, in InDesign it is impossible to “kern” the drop caps, or at least not in the normal sense of the word. “Manual adjustment” in InDesign, as it turned out, is a rather involved process:

  1. resize the text frame so that only the drop cap is visible,
  2. thread the rest of the first line,
  3. thread the second line,
  4. thread the third line (assuming your drop cap spans three lines of text), and
  5. thread the rest of the story.

Obviously, if the first baseline of your original text frame is not offset by the “ascent,” creating all these extra text frames is going to be a hassle.

And if your story changes, you are out of luck but have to manually adjust all the drop caps plus every single line affected. Not that you wouldn’t have to readjust if actual kerning were available, but at least that should be less of a hassle than resizing all those text frames.

Flush zones

Apparently, QuarkXPress supports something called the “flush zone,” which enables designers to specify that the last line in a paragraph is typeset will be conditionally set justified.

This, apparently, is something that InDesign does not support. In a LinkedIn forum it has been mentioned that people who prefer Quark over InDesign often mentions typography as a reason, but this is the first time I have encounted an actual feature that has to do with typography which is obviously lacking in InDesign.

Accessible PDF bugs

Truncated style names

The third issue related to the PDF portion of the test concerns the mapping of paragraph styles to document structural breaks.

This is the first time I ran the “accessibility checks” on a PDF and got a “bookmark” error. So I looked that up and found out that because my PDF is more than 20 pages, I need bookmarks to help with the navigation, and the way I do that is to map paragraph or character styles to section breaks. However, when I chose the “Fix” option to do the mapping, I was presented with this:

[Screen capture of InDesign CS6, showing how the names of paragraph styles have been truncated. Listed under ‘Structure’ are Article, Author, Body_Text_Paragraph_, Document, Figure, Fine_print, folio__recto, and folio__verso.]

The style I want would be Body_Text_Paragraph_, except that there are two styles that begin with “Body Text Paragraph” and only one corresponds to a section break.

If the PDF export is going to truncate style names, we should never have been allowed to name styles using names more than 20 characters in the first place. This is awfully bad UI design.

Worse, after dismissing the dialog without doing anything, the status screen still flagged the “bookmarks” error as “fixed.” And when I wanted to actually try “fixing” it to see what happens, the “Fix” option is no longer there. I have to say, Acrobat Pro XI is also not a well designed piece of software.

Booklet bugs

Apparently, InDesign CS6 supports booklets. However, apparently, its Print Booklet function does not seem to work.

When I pressed the Print button from Print Booklets, I was summarily greeted with

The active document uses multiple page sizes. Print Booklet works only with documents that use a consistent page size.

The thing is, my document is precisely one that uses a consistent page size (namely 5"×8", from the CreateSpace specs); it is not using multiple page sizes at all.

If InDesign can’t even do such a simple thing as figuring out the page size of a document, how many more bugs are we talking about here? I don’t want to know.

Next: Fun with EPUB

Halfway into my PDF experiments, I tried generating an EPUB, which revealed yet more bugs.