How to Convert PDF to ePub File for an eBook Reader

I recently purchased a copy of John Shaw's eBook called John Shaw's Digital Processing, A Personal Workflow using Lightroom 2 and Photoshop CS4 (a great book if you are a photographer looking for some insight into post-processing and the digital workflow process, well worth he $25) hoping I would be able to convert it to an ePub file and read it in iBooks on my iPad. I was able to convert his previous eBook, John Shaw's Photoshop Field Guide, but have just about given up on his new one, the structure of the PDF looks to be just too complicated to convert, but I am going to use his two eBooks as the example since one will convert and one won't.

I have searched long and hard for a how-to on converting PDF files to ePub files so you can read them in iBooks or a variety of eBook readers, and have found almost no consolidated information, so here it is.  There are several reasons why converting PDF files to an ePub file is not the easiest thing to do, and they often seem to error out or format improperly. This how-to guide is written for the intention of taking a PDF eBook (or any PDF file) for loading it into iBooks in iTunes for use on your iPad, but the same process can be used for most all eBook readers.

Some Basic PDF Info

All PDF's are not made the same.  They all have different formatting, some have images, some are just plain text, some are print screen save-as files, you can basically take anything you can see or print on the Internet and turn it into a PDF.  The reason is most everyone everywhere can read a PDF, and most have the free version Adobe PDF reader (at this writing the current version is Adobe Reader 9.3.2).

Because these files can be created by almost any means, often they do not make the greatest, prettiest looking, eBooks, and it is not an exact science to get a PDF to an ePub file, even harder to get it to look nice on your eBook reader. Your final outcome is going to depend on how the file was created in the first place, not something you have control over most of the time.  Some PDF files because of their structure will never be able to be converted to an ePub file and you will have to look at alternatives like a good PDF reader like Goodreader on the iPad.

Ways to Convert PDF's to ePub Using ePub2Go or Stanza

Once you have your PDF file you want to convert, you can try the quickest and easiest PDF to ePub converter first, and if that doesn't work, then move on to the next alternative.  First thing to try is a site called ePub2Go.  This is basically the ONLY online PDF to ePub conversion tool you can access for free and without downloading another stand alone app or program.

Step 1 :: ePub2Go The process is pretty simple, just click the link the pdf is on my computer then let them convert the file.  Once it's finished just click on view or save it on my computer and your done.

If you get finished with the conversion and you get an error message you pretty much have to move on at this point.  You can get a variety of errors like the screen shot below.  That is just one of the error message you could get, but once you get that, you won't be able to convert the file using ePub2Go.

Step 2 :: Stanza The next thing to try would be to download a free copy of Stanza by Lexcycle (download available for Windows or Mac), a great generic type eBook reader, and convert the file using the desktop app or program. Stanza has moved their main product line to the mobile eBook reader but they have a great conversion tool in the desktop app.

After you download and install the program it will prompt you to open a file.  Just open your preferred PDF file. You will probably need to adjust the number of columns and on larger screens, depending on how the PDF is created, it may or may not look formatted properly, but this will be similar to your final ePub output file.

Next just go to the file menu and choose --> file --> export book as --> ePub.  You can also see there are a host of options available to convert the PDF to a Kindle file and many others.  If that works, great, if it doesn't, you are quickly running out of options.  Stanza also has a tutorial on how to convert files as well that is very helpful.

Step 3 :: Adobe Acrobat / HTML / Word / Plain Text If step 1 or 2 doesn't work then you are left with trying to manipulate the file into behaving properly enough to do a conversion, but even that may not work at this point, this is the last ditch effort before you have to just stick with reading the PDF.

If you have Adobe Acrobat (not the free reader but the full version of Acrobat) you can export the PDF as a variety of file types (but not an ePub).  Many times you can export a file as an HTML file and fix the issues the PDF had that caused the conversion to ePub error and then try step 1 or step 2 above after you have corrected the problem.  Explaining how to correct the file in HTML is beyond the scope of this article but it's often easy to see where the conversion is getting hung.

In the case of my above issues with Shaw's newest eBook, I tried to export it as a Word Doc, RTF, HTML, and Plain Text and due to the complexity of the PDF it just wasn't feasible to convert the file in a readable format.  In that case, I am going to just pull it over to my iPad using Goodreader and read it as a PDF.

I was surprised how few PDF to ePub file converters were really available.  I did leave off several paid for programs that convert these file types but most of them just use the same process as step 1 and 2 above and I really wouldn't pay for the programs myself.  You can get a PDF to ePub Converter trial from CNET, PDFtoEPUB from DNAML Software, or PDF to ePub from DONGSOFT, but all are pricy alternatives after the trial runs out.

Coming up I will finish this article with taking the new ePub file you have created (or the PDF that you couldn't get converted) and showing how to load it into iBooks using iTunes.  How do you convert your PDF's?