Designing a PDF

Started by JimLotFP, June 13, 2009, 08:40:28 AM

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I just finished layouts and putting together a couple copies of my latest project (fantasy adventure) to send to overseas distributors (Eero, I haven't forgotten your message and you'll certainly get a copy for inspection closer to release date). Now it's time to set up the pdf version.

I don't buy pdfs, and I have no idea what the average pdf buyer out there wants or expects in a pdf product.

Portrait or Landscape configuration?

Font size?

Resolution of the artwork?

Final file sizes?

All I know is that I want to have my stuff available as a pdf.  I have the means to create pdfs. I figure I should offer both letter and A4 formatted versions and bookmark all the sections and encounter areas. Beyond that... no idea.

Any links or resources or advice?


There are two things that I would absolutely require from any PDF that I would spend money on.

First, I need the ability to copy and paste text.  Some PDFs disable this functionality in various ways and I hate it.  If I want to use a stat-block in tonight's game, I want to be able to copy and paste that stat-block into a "notes" file for me to print out and have in front of me during the game.  Having to re-type information I already have in digital format is absurd.  An argument some people make for this lack of functionality is that it somehow thwarts unauthorized copying.  This is even more absurd.  It should go without saying, too, that I should be able to search within the PDF.

Second, bookmarks.  Major headings (sections and chapters) should be available in the bookmark list.  Bonus points for sub-headings and points of interest under the major headings.

Other than that, remember why people buy PDFs in the first place.  Yes, they can be cheaper, but ultimately someone who chooses to get a PDF is willing to sacrifice having a printed copy in their hands for the benefits of having it in digital format.  Anything that robs the PDF or these benefits is likely to make people unhappy.

Just my drunken mutterings.


First, you should buy some PDFs.  It's never a good idea to try to sell a product that you wouldn't buy.  Also, you need to see what you like in other PDFs and incorporate that into your own.

Steve Jackson Games seems to get what PDFs are about, so you might want to try buying one or two of theirs and seeing what the good features are there.  If you don't want to commit to something GURPS specific, you might grab GURPS Mysteries, which is a good general guide for playing in a mystery game.  Their Dungeon Fantasy and Action lines are both good, although generally pretty GURPS specific.

Sorcerer also makes very good use of the format, although the book is very different from the Steve Jackson products.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management


I buy tons of PDFs. I've even created the bare bones of a rating system for them. I try to avoid all the problems it mentions in PDFs I make. If you want a sample, one such PDF you can download freely is When Autochthon Dreams.

One thing my rating system doesn't mention is background. I don't care about this, because I almost never print my PDFs, but many gaming PDFs use ornate, mostly greyscale backgrounds in their books. If you have these backgrounds in a PDF and you want to print that PDF on something like an inkjet printer, your cost of printing just went way up, because ink will be covering the whole surface of every page. This really irritates some people.
What I think about. What I make.

David Artman

Lots of good advice so far. I'll just expand upon one and toss out a few more ideas.

Quote from: Vordark on June 13, 2009, 11:55:36 PMMajor headings (sections and chapters) should be available in the bookmark list.  Bonus points for sub-headings and points of interest under the major headings.
If Styles are used correctly in the source file, the PDF Distiller can be set to include any Style as a heading, at any (arbitrary) level. A few mouse clicks.
As with Wordman's advice about grayscale backgrounds, so with tons of color (though MOST folks know how to tell their color printers to print color in grayscale).
If you have any forms in the book, make them active forms in the PDF, printable and savable. Not too tricky, if you follow Adobe's tutorials/help or look at existing forms/templates.
Adjust your Styles so that body text is san serif (headings aren't so relevant, so long as they are ALLCAPS, which is bad for a variety of reason, printed or digital). Easier to read on-screen.
I'm not so convinced switching to landscape is ideal, because there's something to be said for viewing two-up, which is tricky if already landscaped (i.e. you need two monitors or similar, or the text is VERY small).
Consider netbooks in your font size selections. They're becoming popular at the table, and their screens are WEE little things. The more your game requires frequent reference (i.e. charts and tables and stat blocks), the easier to read and scan it must be.

My 2¢--I am a marginal consumer of PDFs, being an Old Fart who wants to hold his game book.
Designer - GLASS, Icehouse Games
Editor - Perfect, Passages


When I do a pdf, I pretty much go all-out. Even though everything I do is designed to be printed, every role-playing pdf I produce will have the table of contents, index and every internal page reference hyperlinked. Plus, all major headings and subheadings are bookmarked and I go out of my way to avoid heavy ink coverage on pages. When someone decides to print your 200 page pdf, you want them to not cry too much over the toner/ink expense.

In addition, I'll have a color version pdf and a version with all the colors turned into decently contrasted grayscales. A lot of folks do not take this into account, and do not realize that certain color combinations turn into the same gray level (like when you print a color page on a mono laser printer). For instance, an RGB of 252-124-0 and 197-157-40 are quite different colors (ugly ones, btw), but are virtually identical if you turn RGB into grayscale (try it in Photoshop). Not everyone has a color printer...

Like I said, I design things to be printed, but I also figure many people now (and especially in the future) may want to just view the game on screen. Related to this, I'm sort of disappointed in the Kindle DX. It does not support zooming on pdfs, and the screen is just this much too small to properly show an 8.5 x 11 page, even if the Kindle DX does trim the outer margins correctly. A portrait screen of 13" diagonal is I think what we need to make the portable game library optimal...