This is probably the big news for InDesign CC 2014. Although there have been many improvements to Reflowable ePUBs, they are incremental. The ePUB FXL has the possibility of being almost revolutionary.
So, how big is this change?
It is very hard to show the differences because the layouts are so different. But, let’s look at two examples where I did the best I could to get the same content side by side. In this small-sized screen capture, the type in the fixed layout looks very light and small. If you click on the image to enlarge it, you will see the fixed layout is quite easy to read. We also have a header with an automatic page number. In contrast, the reflowable type is much tighter [less leading] and the line length is too long. I can increase the size of the type on the reflowable version, but then the graphics are even less tied to the copy. I can justify the reflowable version, whereas the fixed layout requires flush left at this point. It gets more interesting for the next capture. Here we see the benefits of the wider page. We can do a text wrap around the left half of an image very easily. In fact, I can curve it around the circle if I wish. Notice that the drop shadow works fine on the fixed graphic as does the paragraph rule and the three round corners of the frame. This ability to use fancy gradient rules and gradient fills is especially powerful in tables. The reflowable version cannot handle gradients at all unless I rasterize the text, image, or table.
So, how is this better than a PDF?
FXL is not necessarily better, but different. The iBooks Store and Kobo will both sell a fixed layout ePUB. They will not sell a PDF. Kindle and Nook should be able to handle InDesign’s FXL books sometime [soon]? Then they would be selling ePUB FXLs also. The issue is ePUB3 support. Other than that, PDFs are still superior to ePUBs for layout fidelity, the use of OpenType features, justified copy, and all the rest of typography which is eliminated by HTML. The main use for ePUB FXL at this point is probably children’s books. But they should work really well for training booklets, and you can include video and sound also.
Set up like print, with limitations
I found myself setting up as usual for print projects. However, this is HTML & CSS. Design your pages to fit a tablet—basically 600×800 pixels, or that proportion.
- Facing pages, but do you really want them? In my opinion, no. Single non-facing pages may be a good idea, but facing pages work well also. The question is whether they will work for the reader or not.
- I make my margins quite small: they aren’t needed on an ePUB reader
- Make sure body copy is large enough: It is not resizable. So, it is your responsibility to make it readable: 9-12 words per line and readable fonts
- No justified copy: this may come in future versions, but for now they must place every word specifically on the page and justification can not be handled.
- All character vertical or horizontal scaling, width, and spacing adjustments must be eliminated: You can have no character scaling, no automatic glyph scaling in the Justification Options, no kerning, no tracking. If you do, the word spacing in your copy will be severely compromised.
- No OpenType features: No figure substitutions, ligatures, true small caps, ordinals, or any of the rest
- No gradients for strokes, fills, or type: Except for paragraph rules, table borders, and table cell fills in text frames, all other gradients must be in rasterized graphics. But then as we saw above, a dropped shadow works fine in iBooks.
- Master pages work well
- Make graphics higher resolution: if you can stand the increased file sizes. You really will need to use 150 dpi—72 dpi looks very crude [even though they look good in reflowable]. And yes, they’re Web graphics. This is HTML and CSS.
- No text or internal hyperlinks, yet! I can put a link on an object to a URL and that’s it for now. I’m certain the InDesign engineers are working hard on this issue. But nothing made it into this release.
Almost anything else works great! Just make the pages beautiful and easy to read—as always. InDesign CC 2014 writes good code that works really well. Just be careful and proof things well. After all this is version 1 of this capability.
For now this is Mac and iOS driven. On Windows the word and letter spacing do not work as well. But I saw this in an email today from a Windows power user and fixed layout designer: “the (FXL) export looks fine on Windows provided suitable web fonts are available. (There were terrible font issues on XP, but that is thankfully on its way out. Windows 7 and 8 manage fonts quite well.) The accuracy and quality of the HTML produced (regardless of reading system and OS) is far better than anything ePub publishers have been able to create or commission in the past.” But, in iBooks they are beautiful. There are good reports from people using Readium in the Chrome plug-in.