View Full Version : Ebook Maps

02-10-2012, 04:05 PM
Had a question via PM about maps for ebooks. I can only relate my own experience & thoughts on the matter, so here it is.

SCOPE -- There are two initial approaches: designing for some specific sort of reader, or designing for "all" readers. If you target a specific reader, such as the Kindle 3 or iBooks on the iPad, then your design parameters depend entirely on that reader. But I think most projects are going to want to be viewable on a range of readers, and so we must pitch more or less toward the lowest common denominator.

DEVICES -- First, let me throw out the iPhone (yes, it's an ebook reader! One of my friends read an entire novel on his ... well, okay, Android phone, but you get the point), because the phone screens are small, maybe around 300 pixels or so, and if you design for that low a resolution you've kinda screwed yourself, and who reads books on phones anyway except for my crazy friend? So let's just go with the ereader hardware and software. The hardware includes Kindle, Nook, and such e-ink clones; the software includes iBooks on the iPad, various other proggies and apps such as Kindle Reader, Adobe Digital Editions (ADE), Nook for PC (a piece of stinking shyte, imho), etc.

FORMATS -- Next, let me throw out PDF entirely, because that's not "ebook." I mean here only Epub, Mobi (the "old" Amazon format: azw, prc), and KF8 (the "new" Amazon format). Not interested in other kinds of ebooks.

LCD -- The lowest common denominator for those formats on those devices is grayscale at about 500x666 pixels, portrait orientation. Why grayscale? because there's no color e-ink yet (maybe a year out). Why 500x666? because though most e-ink readers are 600x800, usually they impose margins around the edge, and their downsampling of images is nothing like Photoshop or even Firefox/Chrome ... you get nasty jaggedly downsamples, looking like cheap GIF shrinks. So, to avoid getting downsampled, use 500x666, which is proportionally the same aspect ratio as 600x800. And why portrait orientation? because that's the default orientation, and people are brainless and don't even know that you can change to landscape ... and nobody reads in landscape anyway! so you don't want to make people turn their ereaders sideways all the time ... and it's really difficult to turn a laptop sideways, or a desktop-PC monitor, for those who are reading on software readers instead of e-ink devices. Thus, the lowest common denominator: grayscale 500x666 portrait.

TYPE -- Next up is the problem of fonts. You can only go so small. E-ink devices are usually higher pixel density than computer monitors: your computer screen (where you're designing your map!) is probably not much greater than 72dpi, but (roughly) the iPad is 130dpi and the Nook & Kindle are 170dpi -- much smaller pixels. What looks fine on your compy will be a tiny squinty "omhygodimgettin'old" mess. Because every font is different in its point size and clarity, the only way to find your smallest readable type size is to experiment: make an image with various sozes of your font(s), put that image in an ebook, and look at it on your Kindle or Nook. It will loook huge on your computer screen, and you'll be tempted to shrink it down; don't do it! or, go ahead and do it, and run your test again. I'd love to tell you to use only san-serif fonts, but of course we can't always use the fonts we want. Remember this, though: the fonts that come on the Kindle, and especially its default font, Caecilia, are chosen because they are legible on e-ink screens: not a lot of stroke-width variation, no fine pointy serifs, etc.

TROUBLE -- Now, I don't know about you, but I try my damnedest to follow the "north is up" rule at all times. Some maps will want to be landscape with north at the top. What will you do? I don't know what you'll do ... shrink the map? cut it into left & right pieces? offer a reduced "overview" map and then one or more zoom-in detail maps? Every project will have its own unique demands, so I can offer no help on that point.

GRAYS -- Lastly is the matter of levels of gray. Again, every reader is different, but in general we only have a handful of levels of gray to play with. E-ink doesn't display nearly as cleanly as LED pixels Refreshes are a problem, with ghosting. I suggest using as few levels of gray as you can get away with. Small gradations such as drop-shadows will probably be fine; the larger you get, the more problems you'll have. If you want to indicate ocean depth or terrain elevations with smooth gradients instead of boundaried steps (e.g. one shade every 10 meters), it might look like crap on an e-ink device. There is no substitute for testing.

In closing, let me say this: ebook technology is in its infancy, and standards (as usual in the digital world) are sketchy at best. Test on the major devices -- Kindle, Nook, iBooks -- and as many others as you & your friends & netbuds can get your hands on. When it comes time to compromise (and it will!), compromise in favor of the major devices. It's better to make a map that looks good on a Kindle and really junky on a Cybook, than to make the map look mediocre on both. I mean really, who owns a Cybook?

02-10-2012, 06:46 PM
LOL, I love your writing style! I hadn't even thought of this yet so it's nice to have it in mind before I need to attempt it. Thanks for posting these tidbits you seem to have discovered along the way :).

02-10-2012, 08:16 PM
For what it's worth, I do most of my reading on an ipod touch.. I've powered through most of my stephen king collection that way, and moved on. so reading a whole novle like that is nothing new to me ;)

Though I will say, in ibooks at least, you do need to remember that there's no way to zoom in for more detail, you're stuck with a single static unresizeable image. This has made some books annoying because they they have actual maps in them and referring to them as you go would certainly help - but not when they're so small you' can't make anything out besides the overal shape.

I would use an ipad for reading (the wife loves hers, but i can't afford 2 right now), but when it comes to text, i can read on the pod quite well. but for maps I need to move to the computer.

02-11-2012, 03:03 AM
Yes, this article addresses a very important issue. I do most of my reading on a Kindle 3 and while the resizing does not seem *as* bad as you describe it (or perhaps the maps are just set to 500 x 666), the issue of legibility is exactly as bad. Images are tiny and the texts tinier. In a book on the history of ancient Egypt the labels are, at a quick guess, displayed in point 4. Barely legible, you might think - not so. Professional print of black and white is usually around 600 dpi, even your desktop printer easily hits 300 dpi. At 175 the Kindle screen relies on anti-aliasing to help display details that small - which means the little text is blurry.

I would think that it's therefore important to use a font where the individual glyphs are hard to mix up - no pretty geometric fonts, no extra light fonts. What you want is a nice, fattish font with visible ascenders and descenders and possibly serifs to distinguish c's and e's, old-style a's and other stuff.


P.S. - and let me just say I'm very satisfied with my Kindle despite this shortcoming :P

02-11-2012, 01:14 PM
I've come to find that while I LOVE LOVE LOVE my kindle...(e-ink, not tablet)...It's not a very good device for reference-type reading. I love plowing through novels, but I would never want to do any study-reading or reference-reading on it. That's what real books and tablets/laptops are for.

This is a great write-up though.

02-11-2012, 01:59 PM
Interesting post. I've got to say, probably because I've spent my entire life in graphic design for print, that your points are counter to how I've learned to use fonts, grayscale, etc. I've also got to mention that I'm 49 years old and my eyes are nothing like they were ten/twenty years ago, and I don't have any kind of Ebook technology, nor expect to ever have such a device.

Regarding fonts. The fact the serif fonts are more difficult to read in Ebook format is really a factor in lack of technology for crisper text or resolution. in the print world the larger the text, the fancier you can get, but also san-serif fonts are easy to read in large scale. The smaller you go (in print) the more likely you'll want to use serif fonts, because serif fonts are much easier to read (in print.) Having all straight stroke letters, at a small size and in a wall of text forcers the reader to really concentrate in recognition of what letter is what. Had you used a serif font, at a small size, due to ease of recognition, you don't have to concentrate to read, only requiring a quick glance to recognize the letters and words. The point being using san-serif fonts for ease of reading is counter to reality, except that technology and lack of resolution forces the opposite to be true.

I know the PDF is out for Ebooks, but since I don't have an Ebook and will unlikely get one, its the only thing I can compare to reading electronic documents. Reading PDFs, IMO, sucks holy hell. I lose track of where I'm at, and find myself reading the same sentences twice. I'd much rather have a real book in my hands then to even read a PDF. I can't imagine reading an entire novel in electronic format, it would either drive me nuts or make blinder than I already am.

Regarding your point on portrait versus landscape format. I am in total agreement with you. I've read graphics newsletters in the past, and a few RPG supplement PDFs in landscape format. Many of them use 3 columns of text in landscape mode. Because PDF will let me zoom in close to just a portion of a single column of text, so I can actually read the damn thing, I find myself regularly getting to the bottom of the second column of text then forwarding to the next page, and the writing loses continuity - because I skipped reading athe third column, not even realizing it was there. Landscape formatting seems a usable format, but truly, we've all become accustomed to portrait layout for reading that landscape shouldn't even be an option - humans weren't made to read in landscape format, at least nothing more than a single page of text (like a sign). If it's to be read like a book, make it portrait.

That's about all I have to say on the subject.

02-11-2012, 03:50 PM
I've come to find that while I LOVE LOVE LOVE my kindle...(e-ink, not tablet)...It's not a very good device for reference-type reading. I love plowing through novels, but I would never want to do any study-reading or reference-reading on it. That's what real books and tablets/laptops are for.

This is a great write-up though.

I'm 110% with Robbie here! - Looks at Jax :)

Seriously, I am. The kindle is great for reading novels (particularly novels you are only going to read once) and has solved the bookcase shortage problem in our house, but when it comes to reference books nothing beats dead tree.

I can't imagine reading an entire novel in electronic format, it would either drive me nuts or make blinder than I already am.

I was exactly like GP until about late last year when my wife and mother in law both got kindles and I started to use them. Until then my main arguments against the kindle:

a. A real book has a physical geography a kindle doesn't.
b. If you lose / drop / ruin a real book it doesn't break / it's cheaper to replace.
c. A real book doesn't require batteries.
d. I don't need to carry 500 books with me, I only need the one I'm reading at the time.

What I found with the Kindle is that you can change the font size on the screen so it can be easier to read than a book for oldies (late forties like GP) like me whose eyes are going. For novels I've found: Geography and pictures don't matter / are not there. The kindle battery has a very long recharge life. I actually like having the choice of what to read. ...so I'm a convert.

ps (bad nettiquette) but, it's sans serif not san-serif.

02-11-2012, 04:05 PM
P.S. - the kindle actually supports both serif and sans serif versions of its font and I tend to run with a condensed serif font because it gets closer to the novels I remember from my littledom.

02-11-2012, 04:14 PM
ravells....you little instigator you....LOL

I am a kindle convert (had a 3 week vacation and didn't want to haul a backpack of books) and I now love my kindle but the few novels that had maps in the front were pretty useless due to illegibility. Hence, this is an important issue for us to consider.

02-12-2012, 02:33 PM
iBooks does have a zoom feature. Some other readers/apps do, too ... but not all, so it's "lowest common denominator" time: make sure your maps re readable at 1:1 pixel display.

I should clarify: by "zoom-in map" I meant a small section cut from the master overview map, and enlarged .. ."zoomed-in."

02-12-2012, 02:37 PM
ps (bad nettiquette) but, it's sans serif not san-serif.As if that were my only tpyo.

02-17-2012, 11:46 PM
toff... an excellent, excellent article by the way but I have a couple of questions...
I am working on a Map - War of 1812, of an early battle along the Lake Ontario shore, centering at Sackets Harbor, NY.
This book is being written and illustrated for Kindle and Smashwords. My hope in illustrating the map, is to keep the location names very legible and clear yet protect the look and feel of a map created in that era by using a font similar to those used in that era on maps.
1] Can I use a font that is not Kindle's default Caecillia? Will the Kindle read any font used?
2] Do you [or anyone] know of a particular early Nineteenth Century font with serifs that does read fine on Kindles, or is this quest a lost cause?
3] I don't have a eBook reader to try out fonts, but if I did... that's something that can be done without actually submitting a publication - put an image in an eBook and look at it? I am not very familiar with eBooks as I read tons of dl books directly on my computer. Any advice directed my way would be greatly appreciated!

Thank you... Nancy - writemor

02-28-2012, 04:40 AM
I would appreciate anyone's ideas on this... My questions follow...

I want to use the following fonts [or a combination of these] on my eBook map in an attempt to keep the look of the 1812 period:

TT - Handwriting Draft Free Version - in title and title date
O - Lucinda Calligraphy - on map - locations
TT - Mayflower Antique - title date
TT - Handwriting Draft Free Version - in title
TT - ChopinScript - in title
TT - OldStyle Small Caps - on map - locations

1] Can I mix TT and O fonts on the same map [intended for an eBook]?
2] ChopinScript of course is a script. Is this a no-no for eBooks since it has some swirly ends to the capitals?
3] ... I forgot what it was... hum...

Thank you sincerely!
Nancy - writemor

02-28-2012, 08:43 PM
I'd love to see the map when you're done with it!

The method I suggest above uses simple grayscale JPG for any map. Therefore, font formats are not an issue, because they will all be rasterized. You can use any fonts you want -- even a script -- as long as you test them and they look good on a e-reader. The smaller the fonts are, the more chance that they'll become illegible. Sorry, but I know of know way around the necessary step of looking at your map on actual e-reader devices. Find a friend with an e-reader ... or go prowl ebay! They are getting cheap. Yes, you can make a map, embed it into an otherwise-empty ebook, and then open the ebook on your reader. This is the method I use.

(fyi, "Kindle" is a series of hardware, and "Smashwords" is a publisher -- apples & oranges.)

02-28-2012, 08:47 PM
One more note: Mobi (the prevailing Kindle format, for now) does not support fonts AT ALL. Period. You cannot specify fonts, end of story. The e-reader has some fonts for the user to choose from, but the e-book creator cannot make one font or the other display where he wants them.

(Of course, for a JPG map, that's irrelevant! :) )

02-29-2012, 07:23 AM
Thank you for this excellent reply. I think I understand. Let me dwell on it today.
Nancy - writemor

03-31-2012, 09:52 PM

I finished drawing the War of 1812 map free hand and then located an individual that could help me to recreate it in Photoshop. It is now an almost completed project [will finish tomorrow - move a few things]. I created this map for an author mentor friend of mine as an internal map illustration for for her newest book to come out soon. This black line drawing is being presented as an eBook first, published by Smashwords, aimed at the Kindle eReader [and others, I suppose?] - secondly as a print book through CreateSpace - both to be out by summer. Though I gave her the map for free, she informs me that as the map illustrator, I will retain the copyright and can do what I wish with it. I will be happy to post it here, but feel compelled to do so only after her 2 books are released to the public. Thank you so much for the great help. This discussion has not only helped me with this specific map project, but has also opened up my eyes to new avenues in e-publishing my own children's books I am currently illustrating [with color this time].

What eReader[s] do you use to check/view your current works-in-progress? Any particular reason why?

Thank you!
Nancy - writemor

04-01-2012, 01:49 PM
This is a great, very informative thread. I don't have an e-reader myself but they do seem pretty cool. There's still just something I like about holding a book in my hands that's holding me back.

04-02-2012, 01:19 AM
I read on my iPhone (I actually like the backlight, especially if you switch to dark background/white text). I converted because I now can have hundreds of books with me wherever I am ... and I am ALWAYS reading something or other, so that's a handy thing to have! The ONLY thing that sucks is the general lack of maps. But some publishers have gotten smart about that too. Witness the fact that the maps for A Dance With Dragons (song of ice and fire book 5) are available for view/download from the publisher's site.

04-14-2012, 08:44 PM
What eReader[s] do you use to check/view your current works-in-progress? Any particular reason why?I use a Nook Touch and a Kindle 3 (now called Kindle Keyboard), because those are the two hardware ereaders that I own.

Ereader hardware is evolving fast, as all electronic devices do. There can be no real long-term planning. I'd say that within a decade we will have full-color, self-illuminated, hi-resolution e-ink devices. B&N just released a self-illume Nook (yes, e-ink, not LCD) and Apple's new iPad has a high-res screen called Retina. Soon all these features will be combined. Our 500x666 grayscale maps will look ... um, if we designed them well, they'll still look OK, I guess.

Attached, with permission from the publisher, is the original map from Jack Vance's Showboat World, and my recreation for the ebook edition. The original is arguably more artful, but it simply won't convert well to ebook form; thus the need to recreate. Attached also, a zip with Epub- and Mobi-formatted ebooks with the two maps in them. Open it up on your Nook or Kindle and take a look, and compare!

@ Gidde, I amend my statement to "Who reads books with maps on a phone, anyway?"

@ Cereth, it's not as if I've thrown out all my paper books! But ereaders and ebooks are cheap now! Try it! Worst case, you can sell it on eBay.

04-15-2012, 08:53 AM
Fantastic Job! That will be MUCH easier to see on a reader/phone :)

04-15-2012, 12:12 PM
I'd love to see that map on a phone ... hmm, who do I know who has an iPhone?
Seriously, phone screens are so small, I doubt the map will be legible.
If I were designing the map for legibility on a phone, I'd cut it into sections and add a wide-scale overview map (a simplified version of the map shown above).

04-19-2012, 04:28 AM
Thanks for all the tips guys. I have just finished a very nice map for a mates books and converted it all to vector for scaling etc, but it has become apparent that the *ahem* "not really great" resolution of various eBook formats is going to be an issue and I am going to have to do a revised, MUCH simplified version. To be honest, I was a bit taken aback at how pathetic the resolution is. I would be very interested to see how Apple's entry into the educational textbook market will shake things up with their Retina display. A lot of other computer/monitor companies are moving towards that as well.

It seems to me that most people don't mind reading books on their iPad despite the supposed benefits of eInk.

04-20-2012, 03:40 PM
Just had look at Toffs maps on my kindle. His is definitely the clearer although it looks like it's just font size which is the main issue.

04-21-2012, 10:37 AM
Just had look at Toffs maps on my kindle. His is definitely the clearer although it looks like it's just font size which is the main issue.
"Main" issue, yes, I'll agree, but I'll extend the comment thus: a map symbol is in essence the same thing as a word -- an optical mark meant to be "read." Map symbols that get too small to be read are as much of a problem as words too small to be read. On the sample map above, it was largely a matter of font size. But that's just for that map. It's usually not as simple a matter as just making the font size larger. One of the tricks that comes in handy, if you can use it -- and I did, on that sample map -- is to abandon scale* and redistribute features to fit better across the available space, so packing more stuff onto the map, or at least not having to delete anything because there's no room.

Opinion: are the elevation marks too light on Kindle or Nook? They look great on an LED screen but on an e-ink screen the gamma seems to be different and the slopes & hills are kinda faded out, to my eye.

* (In my defense, there was almost no scale data in the book itself, and the original map was not to scale either.)

04-21-2012, 10:41 AM
I'd love to see that map on a phone ... hmm, who do I know who has an iPhone?
Seriously, phone screens are so small, I doubt the map will be legible.
If I were designing the map for legibility on a phone, I'd cut it into sections and add a wide-scale overview map (a simplified version of the map shown above).

Little late on my response here, but really there's no need to modify it for the phone if it's already done for the reader. I imagine most people who read on their phone are just as used to zooming and panning around an image on it as I am, and as long as it's not actually sized for the phone (which would be horrible. it's just too small), one can zoom and pan and see everything just fine.