I am currently writing a book intended for print (POD) and eBook (PDF/ePub displayed on different devices, including iPads). I use InDesign (CS4) to create the book. The book uses colors for the tables (rows in alternating colors). Looking at the book on different computers (or rather: differently calibrated screens) shows that on some screens a very light color is shown as white (which looks ugly) and others are distorted (e.g., too much cyan).

Without going into color management, are there resources (e.g., recommendations for minimum color values)/formatting helps/color schemes freely available to ensure a more or less consistent look?

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    It will even get funnier when you print it. Then you switch from RGB to CYMK. If your monitor is not calibrated your colors will look different on printed paper. Besides the color temperature which can change the colors to warmer and colder tones, you should know that there are (at least) three different kind of transistors for TFT panels, each with different color fidelity. More or less consistent will not get easy. Good luck. Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 14:22
  • Thank you ... hmm, that is why I was hoping for some kind of "safe corridor" of colors to use, or simply some CYMK values to use that have been tested. I use different colors for 6 chapters (green, blue, yellow, orange, red, blue-violet) which require 3 tones each (light cell, darker cell, border) and thus provide a high likelihood that some colors are off in a bad way. Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 16:05

3 Answers 3


epub (as well as kindle) are subsets of HTML. So, in essence, there's no difference between reading an e-book on a tablet and reading a webpage on a computer -- and you get some of the same problems. Color shifts between different computers has been plaguing web developers since the start.

I don't have inDesign, so I can't tell you where to go exactly, but here are some things to try:

  • Set the color palette to be "web safe". I know you can set your GIFs in indesign to be websafe, but I don't know about the rest. If it takes you all the way back to the old school 256 color scheme, it may not work for you, though.
  • Reduce the bit-depth of your color palette. Initially, ipad was supposed to have a 24-bit color depth, but everyone's complaining online that it doesn't seem to. So, start stepping that down. In fact, if I were you, I'd step it down as far as possible while still getting the same effect. Every device renders just a little bit differently, so you want to go for the lowest common denominator.
  • I believe bit-depth is where it's at, but if that doesn't help, start turning off features and reducing other settings that add complexity to the color rendering.
  • Change your colors. There are some colors that just won't display the same, no matter what you do. Others render consistently across devices. So, play around with other color sets if reducing complexity doesn't help.

It all revolves around quality - you want less, not more. If you have inDesign, then I'm sure you also have a really high end monitor to use it on. Tablets are not high end displays (with the possible exception of iPad 3) -- you have to target the low end.

One more thing to throw into the mix:
Remember that e-ink devices are black & white, so you'll want to make sure it works in grey-scale too.

I just noticed from one of your comments that you're using CYMK. That's for printing, not displays. Set it to RGB instead. This alone may fix your problem.

  • There are a lot of points here, and I guess this is the answer I set as accepted. Although I had hoped for an answer what you wrote in the last bullet point "Change your colors." -- that was the point -- to what values? However, next line is the definitive answer: "It all revolves around quality - you want less, not more.". I do not think that it is possible anymore to do both with one file. I've got a character limit here, so I post another answer to sum up what I have learned, but first thank you for the answer. (BTW, I had set it to sRGB when exporting for the webversion, but good point.) Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 17:55

I know a couple of people who have encountered this problem as well, and the way they addressed it was to convert all their charts to images. They generally had better luck in seeing the colors rendered properly when they did this. However, that introduced another issue in that the screen sizes for different e-readers, from Smartphones to Tablets to Computers, could cause distortions in the images. However, since most e-readers will allow you to increase the size of an image to beyond the normal width of the screen, this turned out to be a more acceptable solution for them.

  • Hmm, interesting solution, however, it will not work for me. I have too many tables to convert them all in graphics and it would prevent text selection (something I am keen on having/offering). But I keep this solution in mind, thank you. Commented Mar 23, 2012 at 16:07

Just to sum up what I have learned in the meantime: It is not possible for the kind of book I wrote to do a print and an ePub-eBook version with the same document. Reason being is that the print version (and an PDF Version viewed on an iPad or similar device) uses tables and a range of colors that look stunning on a medium to large display (and hopefully also in print, will take a while), but the hardware of ePub devices is too limited to achieve it there.

It's like the old days with Netscape, Explorer, and Oracle -- only worse. Tables look awful unless you format them manually (InDesign does not export them with formatting), and using a colored table-style does not make sense on a small device (screen too small for the tables to look good with this kind of margin effect and some device offer no color, i.e., the information value vanishes).

So the best solution is to create an own ePub version -- removing any color, replacing the tables (and the need for a color scheme) with bullet point lists, and keeping to basic formatting. But doing both with one file is -- I think -- not possible for the formatting I have used, it would only cripple the print version/PDF ebook version.

Another problem is the formatting of the InDesign file itself -- there is a great guide to use InDesign for ePub creation here (unfortunately in German), e.g., the text has to be on continuous flow (it was not).

So, I think the answer is -- there is no need for such a color scheme if ePub is included, because you can never be sure that the reader is using a device that can display any color. If going for print/PDF ebook and ePub, with complex formatting you might have to create two versions of it.

@Moderator: Not sure, should I have written this as an addendum to my question? Or not at all?

  • Multiple versions for different publishing mediums is definitely the way to go. I kind of assumed you were, and that you were just trying get them to look the same, for exactly the reason you point out here -- epub flows, paper don't. Your decision to make the book look differently as well depending on medium is a wise one. After all, you want to play to each medium's strengths.
    – Patches
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 19:57
  • Also, as a heads up: if you decide to put it out on Amazon's kindle as well, you'll need another version for that. I helped one fellow I know e-publish his novel. I had to branched his source doc into 2 versions -- one for amazon, the other for smashwords (epub). The big differences are in how they handle the table of contents, and how the chapter breaks are indicated.
    – Patches
    Commented Mar 30, 2012 at 20:02
  • Thank you for the advice -- Winston Churchill apparently once said: "Writing a book is an adventure: to begin with it is a toy and amusement; then it becomes a master, and than it becomes a tyrant; and the last phase is just as you are about to be reconciled to your servitude – you kill the monster and fling him to the public." With self-publishing I get the impression that the book comes back as Zombie, turning the writing process in an episode of Resident Evil ... still, very interesting process. Commented Mar 31, 2012 at 12:54

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