Designing, Creating, and Submitting Print Ready Digital Files

In this article, you will learn more about designing and creating interior and cover files based on Lightning Source's file requirements. 


Design software programs such as Adobe, InDesign, Photoshop, and Quark are used for projects such as book layouts and cover design.



Designing the physical appearance of your book is a crucial step in the development of your manuscript. Before your book is ready to be printed, its pages must be sized according to the printer’s specifications.

If you were to examine a published book, you’ll notice that there’s more than just text on every page—page numbers, chapter headings, sections of text, photos, illustrations, page headings with the title and an author name—these elements are all added during the design phase. Not only should a reader be able to understand the content you’ve written, but they should also be able to identify where they currently are in your book and be able to clearly see where distinct sections begin and end.

This is also an ideal time to add supplementary content to your book, including a copyright page, dedication page, table of contents, acknowledgments page, references section, and glossary. 

The best way to ensure that the visual appearance of your pages encourages smooth reading is to hire a professional graphic designer. The designer’s primary function is to mold your manuscript from a shapeless text block into an attractively presented, well-organized set of bindable pages. An experienced designer can also give informed recommendations on font choices, line length, spacing, and page margin width, all of which have a massive impact on your book’s readability.



If this is the first time producing a digital interior file for Lightning Source (or the first time in a while), please take a moment to review our submission standards and best practices.

Interior file requirements:


-- Black and white Interior Books:

-- Color Interior Books:

-- Perforated Color Interior Books:

  • Interior files must be uploaded as a separate file from the cover
  • Use single-page format (1-up per page)
  • Do not include crop, registration, or printer marks
  • All fonts must be embedded
  • The final page should be blank. If there is no blank page, we’ll add one for you.
  • Margins must be a minimum of 0.5” (13mm) from the final trim size on all sides. This includes page numbers and non-bleeding text and art. We allow for a 1/16” (0.0625 in / 2 mm) variance in printing. If text/ images are too close to the trim edges, they could be cut in the printing and binding process.
  • Gutter Margin(no ink area):
    • 125” (3mm) is recommended on the binding side of the interior
    • Saddle stitch books (anything less than 48 pgs) do not require gutter margins
  • Bleed: B&W and Color interior – Full 0.125” (3mm) past final trim size, except on bind/spine side
  • Spot Colors: B&W interior – Do not include spot colors or ICC profiles and all images should be converted to grayscale
  • Color interior: Must include CMYK images at/72ppi or higher. 300ppi is recommended. CMYK value should not exceed 240%. Elements should not be built in “Registration”. All spot colors with/without transparencies must be converted to CMYK.
  • For revisions, the entire file must be re-uploaded. Partial pages cannot be accepted.

Create a Lightning Source Compliant PDF

We recommend using PDF/X-1a:2001: or PDF/X-3:2002: for all files submitted.
PDF/X-1a:2001: allows CMYK and/or spot colors*
PDF/X-3:2002: allows CMYK, RGB*, or spot colors*
These file types are designed to provide a reliable and stable PDF for printing purposes. They require all fonts to be embedded and to flatten transparency (this is important for effects such as drop shadows to render correctly).
*Spot colors, RGB, and ICC profiles can produce unexpected color results when printing. Any dissatisfaction with color shift will be the publisher's responsibility to correct.

Below are instructions for creating a Lightning Source-compliant PDF file from various applications.

-- InDesign:

-- Quark:

-- Microsoft Word:

Microsoft Word

Microsoft Word is a word processing software commonly used for creating basic documents such as letters, school papers, tests, and quizzes. Because Word is a word processing software, there can be many issues when using the program for book layout.

For example, it can be difficult to control graphics and text flow, and the positioning of your book's content may skew when you save the word document as a different file type (such as PDF). Another common issue with Word is that it converts colors to RGB, and Lightning Source requires that files are submitted in CMYK.

In addition to color, text, and layout issues, Word’s default page size is 8.5 x 11 (standard letter size). Many publishers mistakenly create their interior pages at this default size, even when the intended trim size is smaller. Doing so will result in a printed book with text cut off on the top or on all sides.

Lightning Source accepts PDF files made from Word, but no technical support for Word is offered as it is not designed for book layout. If you are using Word and need further information, we recommend consulting a graphic designer or Microsoft Support. 

MS Word Italic and Bold Fonts

In some* versions of Word, using the quick options for italicizing and bolding a font (indicated by the “I” and “B” in the toolbar), rather than using the actual italic or bold version of a font, can cause the font to be unstable and lead to unexpected outcomes when printed. *When choosing the “I” or “B” in the toolbar in newer versions of Word,  Word will automatically change to the true italic or bold version of the font when it’s available.

How to tell if the wrong version is used: “AGaramondPro-Regular” is the regular version of a font. When the quick tool for italics is used, the name of the font becomes, “AGaramondPro-Regular, Italic”. The true italicized version of the font is named, “AGaramondPro-Italic,” and does not contain, “Regular”.



As the outside shell of your book, the cover overwhelmingly determines a potential reader’s first impression. Like it or not, people do judge books by their covers. Professional graphic designers possess the skills and experience to turn your vision of a book cover into reality.

Covers also provide a great deal of functional information. Items to consider including on your book's cover:

  • Synopsis on the back, ideally with positive marketing blurbs alongside it
  • An author photo with accompanying bio
  • The list price for paperback titles should be displayed on the back cover
  • Hardcovers display the list price on one of the inside flaps of the dust jacket

Cover files are to be submitted as a full spread—back cover, spine, and front cover, with bleed. Lightning Source provides a free cover template customized to your book’s particular size, specs, and spine width, upon which you lay out your cover spread before uploading. The Cover template generator is available here for you to download and through your Lightning Source account under the HELP tab.

Review the Requirements

  • To ensure accuracy, use our custom cover template generator tool. Simply fill in the required fields and a custom template will be emailed to you.
  • The cover file must be uploaded as a separate PDF from the interior.
  • Barcodes are mandatory on the back of all covers. 100% black only and placed on a white box/background.
  • Resolution:300ppi
  • Printed Line Screen:175 visual equivalent
  • Color Space: CMYK
  • Bleed:125” (3mm) on all four sides except hardcover files, which require a 0.625” (16mm) wrap
  • Type safety:25” (6mm) minimum on all sides
  • Spine Type Safety:
  • For page counts below 48, spine text is not available
  • Spines 0.35” and larger – 0.0625” (2mm) left/right sides
  • Spines smaller than 0.35” – 0.03125” (1mm) left/right sides 
  • Text that is 24 pt. or below, please use 100% black only
  • All spot colors with/without transparencies must be converted to CMYK
  • Books with a page count below 48 pages cannot contain spine text

Layout & Design Your Cover in the Custom Template 

Publishers and designers experience fewer issues when using the templates to build the final version of their cover.

If using a PDF template:

The cover template generator should be used if using any program other than InDesign. Cover artwork cannot be placed on the template directly in Acrobat. If this is done, and not saved properly, all of the elements placed in Acrobat will drop out when processed and the file will be rejected.

If you are not using a “Graphic Design Program” (InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, Quark), then instructions for using the cover template can vary based on the program you are using. In most cases, the PDF can be used as an image. It can be placed in the background as an image, and the cover created over it. The barcode is part of the cover template PDF in this case, and you will either have to place a barcode of your own or crop the template down to just the barcode. You can, of course, submit it without a barcode and we will place one in the lower right corner of the back cover, at no cost.

The PDF sent to publishers via the cover template generator is high resolution (300 PPI) at a specific size. Just because a program allows the template to be used, it does not guarantee that the program used will open it at the correct size and resolution, or save it at the correct size and resolution.

 If you are using Photoshop, you may refer to our File Creation Guide, which has specific instructions about opening the PDF in Photoshop. 

Formatting a Barcode

Barcodes should be built to the following specifications to ensure successful processing: - black only (0 Cyan / 0 Magenta / 0 Yellow / 100 Black) - placed over a white box/background - vector graphic or high-quality rasterized barcode Barcodes are mandatory on all POD covers. Barcodes from the template can be moved as needed, however, they should not be re-sized. Some larger bookstores, such as Barnes and Noble, require the price of the book to be in the barcode if it is to be sold in their stores but, this requirement is not necessary for books sold through their website.

Barcodes that do not scan will either be rejected or replaced.


How to open our template

Photoshop - Opening PDF & EPS Templates in CS2 and Newer
Photoshop - Opening PDF Duplex Templates in CS2 and Newer
Quark - Opening PDF & EPS Templates in Quark

How to use our template:

-- Perfect Bound Book Template - Simplex

-- Perfect Bound Book Template - Duplex

-- Case Bound Book Template - Case Bound (case laminate) covers can have the most variation between the template and the bound book. The case laminate cover template contains two areas that must be taken into consideration when designing the cover, the hinge (gutter) and the wrap. Case laminate cover templates display a 0.5 in / 13mm hinge area where the spine board is connected to the front and back cover boards. On the bound book, this area will be pliable and have a slight indention. Make sure there are no important design elements in the hinge area. Case laminate templates also indicate a 0.625 in / 15mm wrap area. This outer area wraps around the cover boards to the inside cover and the inside of the cover is covered with white end sheets.

With these areas in mind, there are two ways to approach the case laminate cover design. One approach is to center the front cover from the spine edge to the outside edge of the cover board (including the hinge area). The other approach is to center the cover elements on the front cover boards (the pink safe area on the templates). This will center the cover elements on the front and back cover boards. The eproof and marketing image assumes this second approach and will only show the area within the boundaries of the cover boards. This is visually different than the bound book, which includes the hinge area.

-- Dust Jacket Template


Create a Lightning Source Compliant PDF from Your Custom Template 

Below are instructions for creating a Lightning Source-compliant PDF file from various applications:

Windows and Macintosh*:

  • InDesign - The InDesign template will only open in InDesign. Please refer to the "Cover Set Up" section of the File Creation Guide for instructions.
  • Quark

* Macintosh screenshots are shown in some documentation but the overall information may vary slightly from current Windows versions.


Review Your PDF File for Accuracy

Once you have created the PDFs, you will want to review them. Often overlooked, this is a very important step in the process. Please open and review your newly created files to ensure that all elements are present and properly represented in your PDF prior to submitting it for printing. Incomplete or incorrect digital files will put your project behind schedule and could add charges to your account.

How to review your PDF prior to uploading (click to print instructions)


Uploading Your Interior and Cover Files

Once you have the PDFs created for your interior and cover files and they have been reviewed, it’s time to upload the files to your Lightning Source account.

Note: The upload area is in the publisher’s password-protected account. If you are a Designer who does not have access to this area, you may:

  1. Request for the publisher to email you a direct link to the upload area for this title (you will need a different link for each title needing to be uploaded).
  2. Supply the publisher with the PDF file and the publisher can upload the file from their account.
  3. Request the username and password of the publisher’s account.


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