Doctoring e-documents

Date:26 October 2012 Tags:,

Q I want to read PDFs and Word documents on my e-reader, but when I transfer them to the device, they end up tiny and illegible. Is there a way to format my documents to make them more readable?

A The trick to making your documents co-operate with your e-reader is getting them to act as if they had reflowable layouts like e-books. The reason you can easily change an e-book’s font and size is because its format – ePub, often, or Amazon’s proprietary KF8 – allows the layout to change based on the screen, much as Web sites do. In other words, the text can reflow so the layout is relative to the size of the screen, not a hypothetical piece of paper. Because word-processing documents and PDFs are formatted for a specific page size, they can’t do that. So, when you put a PDF meant to be printed on your e-reader, it acts as if the screen is a piece of paper and the text ends up tiny.

The specific fix depends on the type of e-reader you have, but you’ll probably need to use a word-processing and reformatting program, such as Calibre, a free application created by developer Kovid Goyal, to get your document e-ready. Calibre imports documents and does its best to lay them out for your specific device.

If you’re just trying to get a bunch of documents onto your e-reader quickly and you don’t mind a few layout oddities, Calibre should be good enough. But if you’re not satisfied by the program’s guesswork, you’ll have to format the text yourself using a word-processing program such as Microsoft Word.

Using the software, change the paper size to match the e-reader screen, place manual page breaks where you want them, and choose a good font – Gentium Book Basic, size 12, works well, and the font is available for free in Google’s webfonts database. (Kindle offers an e-mail-based service to do this reformatting for you, but formatting manually will work too.) Once you’ve reformatted your document manually to fit your e-reader screen, save it as a PDF. It won’t be reflowable, but it will fit your e-reader exactly because you’ve already done the formatting for your specific screen. Overall, the process isn’t quite as simple as an automated tool such as Calibre or Kindle’s converter, but after you’ve done it once, you can save the template to make the process easier the next time.

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