Putting Pictures in your Smashwords EBook


The first thing to remember when building a document to submit to Smashwords is that they have a file size limit of 10MB. Also, before anything else, you MUST have a good idea of how to use your word processor (in this case Word but others can be used) to understand some of what I’m talking about. If you don’t know how to use your program, go dabble a bit and come back.

The old Smashwords Style Guide says, “If your file is greater than 5MB, users of Word 2003 and later can use Word’s awesome Compress feature, which will dramatically reduce the file size without visibly harming quality. Simply right-mouse click on an image, click Format Picture, and then click the Compress button. Next, click the All pictures in document radio button, then click Web/Screen (selects the 96dpi compression), then click OK.” They have since revised the Style Guide so I don’t know if that holds true. I do know people still believe this, so….

But even before I came to Smashwords as one of the formatters on their little list, I had found the following:

  1. Compress does work, but it doesn’t compress as much as you sometimes think it should.
  2. Compress can ruin the quality of your images – and it won’t show until after it’s been run through the Meatgrinder or you print it on paper.
  3. Setting your pictures to grayscale in the same dialogue box often can INCREASE the size of your document.

So what do you do when you have a document for Smashwords that’s refusing to lose weight without quality? In this article, I’m going to address how I handle images for a Smashwords document step for step.

Step 0 – Have a good image editing program.

Microsoft Paint won’t cut it, by the way. Smashwords suggests Paint (http://www.getpaint.net/) or Picasa (http://picasa.google.com) because they’re both affordable (read: free). Although I hear it’s no longer being developed, I also suggest Gimp (http://www.gimp.org/), which is also free. I personally prefer Paintshop Pro, which I’ve been using since before Photoshop was emperor. (And if you want to spend money on it, it runs an average of $80, depending on where you find it at.)

If you do use an open domain (free) image editing program, I highly encourage you to drop a small donation of $5 or so to the developers (if they take them) as a thank you for the blood, sweat and tears they donated so that you can sweat some blood and tears of your own.

Step 1 – Check your image sizes

Okay you’ve got your editing software and you’ve… this is very important… opened it. Good. Now, the next step is to go back to your folder containing the images and look at your image sizes. You can do this in a lot of ways. The quickest way is to right click on each and check properties. I personally like to keep my folder settings on detail; all I have to do then is read the folder.

If all of your images are high quality, full color beauties and your Word document size is still under the limit: great! Skip to step 4.

If this isn’t the case then you have some work to do. I start with the largest file-sized images and work my way down one by one, checking things in the Word document as I go. The less I have to edit and compress, the cheaper the formatting cost for you.

Step 2 – Resize

This next part was common sense, right? Of course it was. Open the largest image in your software and resize it to the following dimensions:

  • 5” width maximum – keep aspect ration turned on
  • 6.90” height maximum – keep aspect ration turned on
  • 72 to 100 dpi
  • These sizes are so your image can be universal to ALL ereader screens. Newer ereaders have larger screens, but not everyone has thrown their reliable Nook Touch away. You want your audience to be as large as possible.

It’s important to note here that even when your document is under the size limit, if your images are above this height you’re likely to run into problems with images bleeding off of the reader screen. Not to mention a potential autovetter error. So make sure you images are all correct!

If you don’t understand what that means, I’m afraid I won’t be able to help you much. What I can tell you is the following:

I open my document in Paintshop Pro. At the top of my menu bar I click the tab that reads “Image”, go down to “Image Resize” to open a dialogue window. I make sure the setting “lock aspect ratio” is checked.

I make sure my resolution setting is no less than 72 dpi. Usually I will pick 100 dpi. If I were formatting a color epub strictly for Nook Color or the Kindle Fire, I’d pick 150 dpi and go to around 6 x 9. (Although I don’t recommend you go too high! I have found out by trial and error that large resolution pictures shrunk to tiny screen sizes can lose quality and be a little hard to read.)

Then I choose the width first. If the image is less than 5” wide but over 6.9” long, I will reduce the height and ignore the width. Otherwise, I tell the program to reduce the image to 5” wide. Some programs will then predict how tall your image is going to be under that setting. If so, check it! If compressing your image to 5” wide doesn’t bring its length under 6.9”, you have to tell the program to change the length to 6.9” instead.

*IMPORTANT: setting your image to 7″ long can actually trick an ereader into thinking your picture takes up two pages. That can cause problems in your document.

Set your compression level. In Paintshop, I do that when I hit “save as” to open the save dialogue window. I click a little button labeled “options” to open that dialogue and slide my compression level anywhere from 10 to 20. The lower the compression, the smaller your image BUT the more image quality you lose so don’t go beyond 20! I try to keep my compression as close to 1 as possible, but there are often times I can’t do that.

If your image is in color, you can try keeping it in color to start with.

Save your image under a different name. Do NOT save over your originals! You may have to revisit them to try compression again. Never compress the image you’ve already compressed, or you’re likely to end up with a very ugly mess.

You can save as jpg or png. Smashwords states that png seems to have the best results. If my image has words on it, I might save as a tif with layers turned on or a PSD because of the following step. Your final image that goes into your document needs to be a jpg or png.

Step 3 – Does your Image have text on it?

If your image is a comic or just something simple that reads “feel good about yourself,” the next important thing to ask is if it’s going to be readable on a tiny screen. They’re making ereaders bigger and bigger these days, which makes me think we should just go back to reading giant tomes written by monks at this stage. Despite that many people read eBooks on a small screen such – gasp! – their smart phone. To make your document universal, you have to keep those tiny sizes in mind.

To test, tell your image editor to view the image at a small size such as 20%. When you get your image looking about 3 to 4” wide on your screen see if you can read it. If you can’t, chances are it won’t be able to be read on an ereader. You’re going to have to fix that.

I can’t tell you how to do text without writing an entirely new article. If you’re someone who has put the text on your images, you’re hopefully someone who already has a glimmer of how to fix it. My advice is: make the font a big bigger. Try a different font: some fonts are easy to read at one size and just impossible at another. Increase your kerning: spacing out your letters can also help.

Save your image as per the instructions in step 2.

Step 4 – Reinsert into Word

Go to your Smashwords document, find the image in question or where you want it to be, and insert your new image. From the Smashwords Style Guide, “No floating images: Do not use floating images (if you can click on the image and drag it, it’s floating) because your image may appear in unpredictable places after the conversion. To anchor floating images, right mouse click on the image, then click Format Picture, then click Layout, then click In Line With Text, then click save, then click Word’s center button.”

If you remember the old HTML web pages from the early 90’s with divider bar pictures in-between paragraphs, that’s the style we’re going for. It’s crude, but it works. And it can be very pretty if done well.

If you tell Word to resize your image, that’s not going to work. That autovetter is a cold, uncaring program and won’t pay attention. So when you insert you want the image at 100% so you know for sure what you’re working with.

Step 5  Check your Word document size

Save your Word document. Go to the folder it’s contained in and check it’s size.

Are you below the limit already? Congratulations! Move to Step 6.

You’re not below the limit? Alas, it’s time for you to pick the next biggest image in the folder, go back to step 2 and go through the process all over again.

If you’re done the process to all of your images and your document is still above the limit, check to see how far above the limit it is. If it’s VERY far above this next step may not work and you’re going to have to decide if you need all of your images or if there’s a way to break up your book into sequels without breaking Smashword’s guidelines.

If it’s not that far above, then the next step is to turn your images Grayscale.

Step 6 – Grayscale

I don’t recommend going Grayscale for the following reasons:

  1. Color looks better on my black and white Nook screen as well as my husband’s BeBook,  my first gen Kindle, and f course my color Nextbook2. =^-~ It  stands to reason it looks better on other such screens.
  2. Furthermore, a lot of the newer readers have gone to color.
  3. I was fighting to keep things in color before that happened, as a matter of fact, because some people have turned their notebook laptops into large ereader machines (I know I did), and those are color.
  4. Some people just read while sitting at their desk.
  5. Not to mention the color of smart phones.
  6. There are a lot of reasons to try to stick to color.

If you do have to make the grayscale choice, I recommend you pick and choose various images that might already look grayscale but are compressed in color first. Then decide if all of your images have to be grayscale or if you can stylistically get away with just a few.

Reopen your compressed image in your image editor and tell the editor to make it a grayscale document. In Paintshop I do this by clicking the Image tab and selecting grayscale from my dropdown menu.

Note: Desaturate does not do exactly the same thing. If you’re tempted to use this command to get a grayscale image, your image will still retain a lot of information that using Grayscale won’t keep. Grayscale produces a smaller image in size.

Now save. When you save, your editor may tell you that it has to save the image with so many bytes of color. That’s okay. Hit yes, move on.

Now go back to step 3. Do this until you have a document that’s the size you want it to be. When that happens, you’re either ready for me to format the rest… or you’re ready for uploading to Smashwords if you have the rest done yourself.

Step 7 – A tip for when you upload to Smashwords:

From the Smashwords Style Guide: “If the images are critical to your book, then when you publish your book uncheck the checkbox eBook option for “Plain Text” because photos and charts don’t translate into plain text. If the images are a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have, then go ahead and allow the Plain Text option.”

If you don’t know what that means, you will.

It should also be noted that the PalmDoc format is really another format for plain text. I’ve yet to put a file through Smashwords and have the PalmDoc feature keep the illustrations within. But if that works for you, you have my envy and blessing.

FINAL NOTE: And after reading *all that*, a quick way to get your images the size you need is to resize them in Word, save your file as a filtered html document, and then edit your document in an html editor before reopening in Word. However, this doesn’t guarantee your images are going to look good. They will always be knocked down to 72 dpi and sometimes can come out a little grainy!

Good luck with your image editing!


This article was last updated March 9, 2014. If this was helpful to you in any way, please consider buying the author a thank-you glass of soda. Just send a donation to death @ apocalypsewriters.com or kausha @ hotmail.com.

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