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Kindle Fixed Layout Tutorial, Part 1

Introduction

The following is the first part of a multi-part tutorial on making fixed layout ebooks specifically for the Kindle. These comprise abridged portions of the introductory chapters of "How To Make Kindle Comics & Children's Books", a complete ebook manual on the subject of Kindle fixed layout formatting. The sections posted here consist of selected excerpts from the opening portion of the book, up to and including the step-by-step creation of an image-only fixed layout ebook in Kindle format, but without some of the extended discussions found in the published book.

For more information concerning the details of each aspect, as well as extensive sections on creating complex layouts with layers and interactive content, please read the book. There you will find additional sections covering such topics as Panel View and Region Magnification for zoom functionality - including a full line-by-line breakdown of the Advanced Template that is not posted here. However, a basic functional overview of the Region Magnification feature is provided as a bonus for your use.

The tutorial here covers each aspect of producing basic KF8 fixed layout files from start to finish in a step-by-step approach, and includes much of the code snippets you will need, or run across, in undertaking such a project. To aid you further, you will find two fixed layout templates on the Resources page- the Simple Template for image-only ebooks, and the more Advanced Template for those who need more features. Both of these templates, as well as the tutorials here, will be updated as Amazon adds new functionality to the Kindle platform (such as full audio and video support), with buyers of the full formatting guidebook from this website receiving notification of all future updates.

Much of this tutorial was posted first on the blog as something of a beta test, and while some of it has been updated in the intervening years, some of it is now outdated, or has been developed in far greater detail in the published book. 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. Thus some of what you find here is in essence the working draft for the published book.

What Is Fixed Layout?

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 in itself, with a long and illustrious history of development. Fixed layouts allow that art to be preserved, and in the digital medium, even enhanced. 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 (for the latter, you can find a full tutorial here). Kindle ebooks are unique in the way they're made, and in this tutorial you'll learn just how that's done.

Fixed layout formatting supports "full-bleed" artwork (that is, images that span the page from edge-to-edge with no outer 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.

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.

The KF8 Format

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 guide 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 KF8 files cannot be transferred manually to the iOS app with all their fixed layout features present. Until recently, in fact, all fixed layouts were converted to reflowable files during transfer, since only the older Mobi7 portion was actually transferred.

However, with the release in June 2013 of Kindle Previewer 2.9, KF8 files can for the first time be successfully transferred to iOS devices using the new iOS compatible .azk file that Previewer produces when using the "Kindle for iOS" setting. Unfortunately, some layout elements are still not rendered correctly, and magnification features do not function at all. Thus fixed layout ebooks cannot be tested accurately on the iOS platform during production. Be sure to watch for updates, though, as Amazon are always working to improve the process, of which these publishing tools are a vital part.

That said, the Kindle for iOS app does, in fact, support KF8 fixed layouts with full-page images and region magnification functions, and these will be available to users who download the ebook via the Kindle for iOS app once it is available to purchase. If you produce a title that is fully functional on a Kindle device or the Android app, you should feel fairly confident that it will also work correctly on an iOS device.

You should, of course, always test the file by downloading it to an iPad or iPhone from Amazon once it is available for sale. If there are errors you can fix them and upload a new file. This is the only viable solution at present.

Ironically, the older mobi7 format on the Kindle for iOS app is the only Kindle platform that currently supports audio and video, making it essentially pointless to produce Kindle ebooks with these features at this 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.

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