Friday, January 4, 2013

Kindle Fixed Layout Tutorial - Introduction

The following is the first part of a multi-part tutorial on making fixed layout ebooks specifically for the Kindle that I will be posting over the course of the next few weeks. These comprise portions of the introductory chapters of "How To Make Kindle Comics & Children's Books", a complete ebook tutorial on the subject of Kindle fixed layout formatting. I will be posting selected bits from the first sections of the book, up to and including the step-by-step creation of an image-only fixed layout ebook in Kindle format for comic books and graphic novels.

The remaining sections covering the addition of Panel View and Region Zoom functions - including a full line-by-line breakdown of the Advanced Template - will not be posted here, in part because I have already provided a basic functional overview of the Region Magnification feature here and here, and due to the amount of work involved I'd like to get a little compensation for my efforts in the form of ebook sales.

The new tutorial covers every aspect of producing KF8 fixed layout files from start to finish in a step-by-step approach, and also includes links to two newly revised fixed layout templates for your use in starting your own projects. The published tutorial will also be updated as Amazon adds new functionality to the Kindle platform (such as full audio and video support), with buyers of the ebook receiving free downloads and notification of all future updates. You can purchase it from the links below or in the menu above.

Posting this here is also something of a beta test. Blogging a book has become an effective - and strategic - practice that allows for author-reader interaction prior to a book's official publication, giving both sides time to work out bugs and polish up the prose, helping to improve the final product. So any feedback you have to offer will be seriously considered and heartily appreciated.


Comics and graphic novels, as well as many illustrated children's books and non-fiction works, contain complex layouts and graphic elements, such as full-bleed images and text wrapping, that require special formatting not available in standard "reflowable" formats. These "reflowable" ebooks allow users to resize text and margins, and even change the font or background color. Conversely, "fixed-layout" content is... well... "fixed," displayed exactly as the ebook creator made it.

And while all those reflowable features are one of the things that make ebooks truly unique, graphic design is an art form, with a long and illustrious history of development. Fixed layouts allow that art to be preserved. This tutorial explains how to create fixed layout ebooks for the Kindle platform. It does not delve into reflowable formatting, nor creating fixed layout files for other platforms such as Nook or iBooks. Kindle ebooks are unique in the way they're made, and in this tutorial you'll learn how that's done.

Fixed layout formatting supports "full-bleed" artwork (i.e. edge-to-edge with no margins), as well as the layering of multiple elements on top of one another, using a basic set of HTML and CSS for styling and placement, as well as a bit of Kindle-specific code for features such as Panel View (Kindle's image zoom feature). You don't need to know very much code to make an ebook work, but, of course, the more you do know, the more complex your design can be. In this tutorial I'll explain all you need to create layouts as simple or complex as you like.

With the introduction of the full-color Kindle Fire e-reader in November of 2011, Amazon also released a new ebook format known as Kindle Format 8, or KF8 for short, as the successor of the preceding Mobi 7 format. KF8 includes many new features, including fixed-layout capability for creating image-heavy ebooks with text overlays, as well as text and image zoom, much of it based on proprietary code that only Kindle apps and devices can read. Initially only the Fire could read KF8, but in recent months the format has been rolled out to nearly all of the Kindle line of apps and devices.
This ebook provides a step-by-step tutorial for producing fixed-layout ebooks formatted for Kindle devices and apps with KF8 support. All Kindle devices from the third generation forward now support this format (inc. Kindle Keyboard and Touch, but not Kindle 1 or 2), as well as all updated Kindle apps for PC, Mac and Android.

Kindle for iOS is a special case at present, since it requires fixed layout files in .azw format - the newest iteration of KF8 - which cannot be transferred manually to the Kindle app without damaging the file (transfer via email results in conversion to reflowable format, and file managers like Dropbox or DiskAid either do not recognize the file or have no Kindle file association), and thus cannot be tested during production. However, the Kindle iPad app does support KF8 fixed layouts with full-page images and region magnification functions, and these will be available to users who purchase and download the ebook directly from Amazon.

Ironically, the Kindle for iOS app is the only Kindle reader that currently supports audio and video, making it pointless to produce Kindle ebooks with these features at the present time. Therefore, this tutorial does not currently cover those functions, although it will be updated at such time as Amazon decides to make them available on a majority of their devices. For those interested, the Kindle Publishing Guidelines has details on their creation.

The ebook edition of this tutorial uses reflowable formatting, so that all Kindle apps and devices can open it. It has images placed in between the blocks of text (not behind them), so that they flow along with the text in any display size. You can make image-only ebooks with reflowable formatting, but there will be a large white margin around the outside that will reduce the size of the useable image area. To remove it you must use fixed layout formatting.

You must decide for yourself if fixed layout or reflowable is the right choice for your project. In general, if it can be formatted as reflowable without losing important aspects of the design it probably should be, since fixed layout removes many features ebook readers like, such as font resizing. But for image-based ebooks like comics and graphic novels fixed layout is really the only choice.

NOTE: Only the introductory portion of this tutorial in posted here. The full 286 page guidebook is now available from the link below:


The definitive guide to the Kindle fixed layout format, this fully revised and expanded tutorial will take you line-by-line through two working templates, including both the content and support files, as well as all layout and functionality features, explaining in painstaking detail what each element is for, and what your options are in every instance. Also included in the ebook is a code to download both templates for free!
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