How to convert PDF files to ePub files to read on your iPad with iBooks

by Ross McKillop on April 5, 2010

iPad

This tutorial will guide you through the process of converting PDF files so that they can be read in iBooks, the iPad application.

Update: you can now read PDF files directly in iBooks, without having to convert them to .epub or any other format. See this tutorial for a quick overview of how to add PDF files to iBooks to read on your iPad, iPhone or iPod Touch.

This tutorial will remain up just in case someone wants to create an .epub of their PDF.

iBooks uses an ebook format called ePub. Using a free converter application (and ebook manager) called calibre you can quickly convert PDF (and other file formats) to .epub files, which you can then transfer to your iPad for reading in iBooks. This tutorial will take you step by step through the entire process.

  1. Start out by finding a PDF you want to convert. In this example I used The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (which btw is free in the iTunes Book Store – but it’s a PDF I had handy, so that’s why I’m using it).
  2. Download and install calibre. It comes in versions for Windows, OS X and Linux. The interface is very slightly different in each version (not much). The screenshots in this tutorial are from the OS X version – but Windows users should have no problem at all following along.
  3. Once installed, open calibre. The first time you run calibre it will take you through a quick setup. The first thing you’ll want to do is specify your ‘ebooks’ folder. This is the location you’ll save your .epub files. Click the Change button.

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  5. Select the folder you want to save all of your ePub files in.

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  7. Back at the Welcome screen, click the Continue button.

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  9. Select Apple from the Manufacturers list, and iPhone/iTouch + Stanza from the Devices list. Click Continue.

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  11. You can ignore the information on this screen and click Continue. Or if you’re interested, give it a read. With that said, enabling Turn on the content server will not help us out.

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  13. Now you’re at the main calibre interface. Click the Add books button in the top-left corner of the window.

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  15. Navigate to a PDF file that you want to convert to an .epub file. Select it and click Open.

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  17. Now click the small ‘arrow’ next to the Edit meta information and select Download metadata and cover files.

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  19. calibre will now download additional information about your PDF/ebook – if it can find it. If it’s an eBook (as a .pdf), you may need to manually enter the book title and author name if it isn’t present when you load it into calibre initially.

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  21. When it finds the additional meta data and a book cover, it will appear in the bottom pane of the calibre window.

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  23. Now we’ll start the actual conversion process. Make sure your PDF file is selected in the main list of books, and then click the small arrow next to the Convert E-books button. From the list that will appear, select Convert individually

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  25. You’ll be prompted with a “summary” window prior to calibre making the final conversion. Click the OK button.

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  27. Depending on the size of your PDF/eBook the conversion process will vary. It took less than 10 seconds to convert my 200 page PDF. If you’re using a Mac and have growl installed, you’ll get a window notifying you that the conversion has finished.
  28. And now in the folder you specified way back in step #3 will contain an .epub version of your PDF. This is the file we’ll upload to your iPad.

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  30. Connect your iPad to your Mac or PC, and launch iTunes. From the iTunes menu select File -> Add to Library…

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  32. Navigate to your newly created .epub file, select it and click Choose.

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  34. The new .epub file will now appear in the Books section of iTunes.

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  36. If you sync all your Books to your iPad, select your iPad in iTunes and select the Books tab. After confirming your new .epub book is listed, click the Sync button.

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  38. Now launch iBooks on your iPad. There it is! From PDF to ePub and into iBooks.

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  • aznhomie06

    Thanks for the information this helps out alot :D

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Wonder if one could convert a .pdf, then upload it to a website for download by iPad customers.

  • john

    This works, but the dictionary feature does not.

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  • ixchelmala

    This is the best, straight forward How-To I’ve read on this process!!!! Thank you so much!!!

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    @ixchelma –

    Awesome, glad it helped :)

  • GBrock

    I’ve tried… but it’s strange… because it brakes the lines! A phrase is interrupted in the middle.. do you know how to change it?

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    GBrock – depending on the PDF, there may be some formatting “issues” on the coverted ePub. I’ve converted about 15 PDF’s now, and 2 of them had minor issues in formatting. Nothing that stopped me from being able to read the book, but a couple of odd line-breaks and short pages.

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    I still want to know if you can upload the completed change to a website so others can download it to their iPad!

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Pete –

    Of course you can. Then whoever downloaded the .epub file would just have to follow steps #17-21 in this tutorial to copy it to their iPad.

    If you want people to be able to download the file *directly* to their iPad (ie. from their iPad browser) – I see no reason why it wouldn’t work, but I’m not sure if it would auto-load iBooks after the download or what would happen. I’ll give it a try later tonight and let you know!

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Ross,

    Thank you for your reply! I look forward to your results. :) If it works, email me if you ever get the time. I’ve got a great idea!

    Pete

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  • Satoshi Nakajima

    What’s the benefit of converting PDF to ePub? There are many PDF reader apps for iPad – such as my own CloudReaders, which is absolutely free and no ad (http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/cloud-readers/id363484920?mt=8).

    If there is something special iBook offers, I really would like to know

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Satoshi –

    So that you can have those books in your iBooks collection, rather than scattered in folders etc. But, there are PDF files that don’t convert very well (vector graphics and tables I find issues with more often) – so I DO have PDF’s on my iPad, I just prefer ePub.

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  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Keeping in mind that I’m a total, non-techie, what’s the .opf file that gets spit out when you convert a .pdf?

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Pete – There’s an .opf file as well as the .epub file after you’re done the conversion?

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Right, Ross. When I open the folder after conversion, there’s an .epub file, and an .opf file that show.

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Pete – I googled it and found out what an .opf file is (see this if you haven’t already) – but I can’t see how it relates to importing epubs to iBooks, or why calibre is creating that file too. Of all the PDF files I’ve converted (over 30 now) I haven’t had calibre create a .opf to go along w/ the .epub even once. I went to the calibre support site and briefly looked around, but didn’t immediately see anything that explained it. I’ll look in more detail later.

    With all of that said, I personally would try (and will – if it happens to me) to import the converted file while the .opf was around, importing after I had deleted or moved the opf – and for sure I’d open the .opf file in a text editor to see exactly what data it contains.

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Pete – didn’t work. The ebook (public domain) I uploaded is here. If you click that link in Safari on an iPad, it says “Download Failed – Safari cannot download this file”.

    Ross

  • Troy

    Let’s say I have a complete book that I want to convert to .epub form so that everyone can read it, but I want it broken up into chapters and create a table of contents for it as well. Are there any tutorials on how to do that? From what I’m reading online, I might would have to convert the file to HTML first and then add some kind of code called XPath that I am not familiar with. Do you know an easier way of how to do this, or know of a place to find a Idiot’s tutorial?

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  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Ross,

    Okay.. the .opf file contains the book information. (Title, author name, summary.) So no biggie as far as I can see.

    I’ve uploaded an old report I converted to .epub to my website. I’m thinking it could be downloaded to your desktop, THEN loaded to the iPad, iPhone or iPod, but I don’t own any of them.

    If anyone wants to try: http://www.hotsheetgold.com/iPad-Test.htm

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  • Lex

    cool man, this is what I am looking for.

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Ross, and anyone else interested..

    I’m still trying to figure out a way to make my .pdf products available not only to buyers of such documents, but also to owners of iPads, iPod Touch, etc.

    This is one last try and available to anyone that wants to check it out if they will just PLEASE take the time to tell me, “yes, it works” or, “no, it doesn’t work”.

    http://www.hotsheetgold.com/iPad-Test.htm

    Just follow the instructions. :>)

    Thanks.

  • Ross

    Pete –

    It works. I can download your file, unzip it, load the epub onto my iPad and read it in iBooks.

  • Auksis

    I have question about converted pdf files to epub:
    Would these files available for all ipad users via iBooks, or will I only see these files – so if I make some private document, would it be only for private reading?!

  • Ross

    Auksis –

    I don’t quite understand the question, could you rephrase it? Thanks!

  • Auksis

    ok, i will try again..
    so from there I can convert pdf file to epub file..
    Then I put it into my ipad in ibooks…
    would my created file will be only for me – no one would see it?!

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Ross,

    Thank you so much for your help! This opens up a whole new area of sales for my .pdf products!

    Pete

  • http://vos.hotsheetgold.com Pete

    Auksis,

    The procedure that Ross has outlined allows you to take a pdf file on YOUR computer, convert it to an .epub file, and load it into YOUR iPad. I don’t have access to your iPad, so how would I know what you have on it?

    In a word, NO. To make it available to others you’d have to upload it to your website and then offer it to others.

  • Auksis

    thx.. i’m new in ipad things so i’m just learning.. :)
    thx again.. :) )

  • Chris

    The one PDF I was interested in converting didn’t even come close to working properly. It has various formatting errors and the text is so jumbled up as to be unreadable.

    Guess I’ll have to wait for an alternative method.

  • Shadab

    Hey do you think if this method will work and more importantly, produce technical (mathematical/physics related) books in a way that it is readable, or do you suggest me to stick to pdf reader? For example, how about this book (its a free to distribute book so don’t worry about copyright and stuff..)

    http://www.math.dartmouth.edu/~prob/prob/prob.pdf

    I need to read through ebooks in pdf format on my laptop, and so i am planning to buy an iPad, if you can help me out with this it will be really helpful for me take a decision. :)

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  • http://qtp.blogspot.com Sachin

    very helpful….thanks a lot

  • Westie

    For formatting issues: first save the PDF file as a text file. Then open with Word or text editor and format properly. Line breaks are because Calibre is reading them as paragraph breaks, I think. Then either use Calibre to convert your text file or use Aspose for Word (free Word extension). There is also a free epub editor called Sigil that let’s you do this directly to the epub file just not as pretty as Word. But you can insert pictures or vector graphics that you have copied from the PDF and saved as jpegs with it.

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  • Zik

    Nice article you have there. However, how am I supposed to delete the page numbers between the pages. When I alter the size of the text, the page number often go wonky. O,o?

  • Rodney

    still couldn’t convert my CHM book to ePUB

  • Vouchka

    bonjour,

    merci beaucoup pour le tutorial Caibre.
    Cependant, je cherche depuis un moment un logiciel qui permettrait d’améliorer la mise en page entre pdf et epub, car souvent, en format epub sur ma liseuse, il y a des sauts de lignes inutiles, des sauts de page bizarre, des espaces etc…la mise en page est très moyenne.

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  • Gp

    Hey Ross thanks ton mate. U ve said u use PDFs too. I’m new to apple products.. How do u transfer PDFs to iPad n which is a decent PDF reader available.
    Cheers

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  • http://www.michaelbrein.com Michael Brein

    Apple just announced yesterday that it will support PDFs directly in iBooks, so there should be a way to upload and sell PDFs to the new separate PDF iBookstore. They say they’ll soon be announcing how. My question remains as to whether or not you’ll be able to navigate embedded links within PDF books sold this way.

  • Barbara

    I’m trying to add a PDF to Calibre, but the Adding screen just says “Adding…” forever. What’s going on?

  • Barbara

    Eventually I get the message “The add books process seems to have hung. Try restarting calibre and adding the books in smaller increments, until you find the problem book.” I’m only trying to add one PDF (23.3 MB).

  • Toxa

    iBooks reads PDF directly no conversion is needed. just drag them into your iTunes Books section, and syc, that’s it! It shows up on your iPad’s iBooks app (look for PDFs button on top)

  • Ross

    Toxa –

    You’re absolutely right. But that method to read PDFs on your iPad/iPod Touch/iPhone didn’t exist in iBooks until 2 days ago. This tutorial was created for people who wanted to put ebooks in iBooks BEFORE you could read PDFs without having to convert them.

    Cheers!

  • DN

    One reason to convert to ePub instead of leaving it as a PDF is that as an ePub you can increase the font size. You need to use the iBooks zoom function on a PDF making it much more a pain to read.

    At least in any tests I have done.

  • Jerry

    I tried this and I had huge problems with the conversion because of page layout, I must be formated to fit the standard 5X7 if it is not and the doucument has indents or special characters, hold on to your seat it will require tons of hours of editing to get it to read properly. The PDF format can not have any special characters, such as bullets, indents, and even some pictures cause it to go crazy. I worked hours on trying to make it work.

  • erika

    um.. im trying to do it but my books tab doesnt have for actual books, just for audiobooks.. what should i do?

  • Gopi

    How to get proper TOC (Table of Contents) in .epub file? After converting PDF, it did not create proper table of contents and also no images are being displayed. Huh………..

  • Karen

    Thanks helped alot Thanks for sharing

  • Yamba

    Cheers

  • Jeff Tropeano

    Will this method work for PDF files that are images of pages, instead of actual text of the book?

  • Marco

    I have calibre and use it for my nook, but I’ve tried to convert several PDFs and it always seems to have a problem with multi-column formats. Even the help function says that multi-column formated PDFs are not supported. Is there another way to convert multi-column PDFs to ePub?

  • poaise

    How to Convert PDF to ePub for Your iPad?here is a step.
    http://www.dvdtoipads.com/guide/pdf-to-epub.html

  • e-rik

    I tried calibre with a pdf file generated from inDesign with a 3 column layout. It made a complete mess out of it.

  • Thomas Nye

    Hi, I’m very new to the iPad world so please be gentle lol
    My question is this; will calibre convert my Sony ereader files to pub? I have a lot of books for my Sony ereader that I’d like to put on my iPad also!
    thanks in advance

  • Lauren

    Does this same process apply to someone who has a Kobo Ereader. Without of course using the Itunes?

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  • Mott

    I am trying to convert a book I wrote into epub. It has a lot of photos and when I try to convert the PDF to e pub, it gets all the formatting wrong. How do I resolve this?

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Mott – you don’t, really. Converting to epub is still pretty new (as epub didn’t become REALLY popular until iBooks/the iPad). Images in particular are generally not converted very well – the formatting will often change, very much for the worse. I expect more and more programs, both free and paid, to add features and really start to work on reliable and accurate PDF to EPUB software.

  • http://www.ipad-converter-mac.org/ ipad converter mac

    thanks for sharing this information, I have found it for a long time , as an ipad user , I was troubled in convert pdf files to epub format .

  • http://www.rhymeplease.com Lionel

    Have tried for 2 days (about 10 hours) a number of times to convert a PDF file (part of my self published book) to epub.
    It didnt pick up the tabs, word wrap was shocking and now Ive given up and looking for an alternative.

  • http://www.simplehelp.net Ross McKillop

    Lionel – there’s some paid software out there that will probably do a better job. Since ePub has only recently become much more widely used (thanks Apple) – the conversion software is still a bit behind. I expect it will catch up/become much better in the near future.

  • http://www.rhymeplease.com Lionel

    Thanks for your comments, Ross. However, I also converted my sample into various other formats including RTF and text and tried to get Calibre to convert them into txt and Mobi (which Calibre claims it can do). Each resulted in the same hash. Yes, looks like it might be a case of “you only get what you pay for” – in this case, paid nothing (except for many hours of my time) and got nothing in return.

  • Steph

    Fantastic!!!! Works like a dream thanks to your easy to follow instructions!

  • http://slrman.wordpress.com James Smith João Pessoa, Brazil

    One thing you should know is that ePub totally hoses the formatting of anything written in a different format. So if their are any graphics with the text, they will be somewhere other than where they started.

    Why Apple selected such a horrible format for the iPad is a mystery. It’s one more reason I don’t have an iPad and have not permitted anything I write to be on that device.

    If you don’t believe this, convert anything you have in any format to ePub and see what happens to the format.

  • Ton-chan

    Is there a way to convert epub to pdf?

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  • Natoma

    Thanks for the guide! It was very helpful, while I don’t mind the pdf’s, it drives me nuts that there are, more often than not, no book covers, and it takes forever to find the book I want. There are also features in iBooks that can not be used on the pdf’s. All in all, worth the few minutes it takes to convert.

    I do have a question though, once the file is converted, it creates many sub files such as the cover.jpg etc. Can I delete those now?

  • Mark Mankewitz

    Fantastic! Thanks for the guide. Really helpful! I really love the way how it converted the PDF document I downloaded from the web with almost total fidelity. The ability to synchronise to my iPhone through iTunes is totally perfect. Everything including the book cover converted and synchronised without a single problem.

    I really love my iPhone, iPad and MacBook Pro. They’re really fantastic at what they do. The main advantage as I see it of converting a PDF document into ePUB format is the ability to adjust font sizes in iBooks on the fly. This plus the easily readability of the book is a total win for Calibre.

  • johann

    thank you. This worked perfectly to get my microsoft word converted to PDF document on my ipad 2.

  • bhaskar

    thanks dude…….i worked

  • bhaskar

    thanks dude….

  • AMANDA

    Nice small program I tried it for a pdf files and did the job!!!

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  • Bruce

    This instruction does exactly what it says it does. It does cover a PDF into a EPUB file so that the iPad can read it. However, one thing all people needs to know is that once the PDF is converted, it will not hold on to its original design. All the font style will be stripped and the images will be moved base on the order of information. If you just want to “READ” the text as information do this process. If you are expecting to maintain the nice design of the PDF avoid this process because you’ll be wasting your time.

  • Morenforlove123

    Wow, this program rocks. it works like a charm. i have converted a lot of PDF documents into epub, and they are read great on my iPad 2. Thanks for sharing such a great tip. Nice work.

  • Autie Author

    Calibre’s useless. I just attempted to create an ebook out of a story I wrote using an HTML file as it recommends, and all the quotation marks disappeared. I mean, how am I supposed to put an ebook out there in which no one knows what’s dialogue and what isn’t, huh?

  • betul

    at the moment İ am using another computer which İ cannot sync with my ipad.İs it possible to send epub files as an attachement to my mail so that İ can open it in my ipad rather than sycncronising thanks

  • Sammy

    Thanks man, you really saved my balls there.

  • Marcos Moran

    Thanks a bunch!

  • nps

    I converted an PDF into epub. It did not converted properly and was messy. So I first converted PDF into html file and converted. So that epub was properly converted and opening in EPub viewer in tool itself. But when sent to Ibook, it was not opening and throwing message ‘Book not loaded because requested resource is missing.

  • mimi

    it worked! Thanks a bunch!

  • Amerilia

    Hi, I know that. I have the same experience with you when I use VeryPDF PDF to ePub Converter. After conversion, the epub format is really bad and it loses many tables ,chart in the output epub file. I consult some people who know this problem and I get the answer that epub file format reflows, so it can be read well on the small device. But PDF format is famous for its layout but they can not be compatible well.

  • Deepak RD

    Even though iBooks now supports pdf, it doesn’t match the reading experience of an epub on iPad.

    Excellent reference. Thanks a million.

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  • Harshavardhan Saravanan

    DUDE!! everyone is familiar with these… I dont know how to convert a complex pdf file into an epub document without the change in alignments of images, borders etc..