A Better PDF Reading Experience on the Kindle

The Kindle 3 provides one of the best electronic reading experiences as of right now. Sure, it can’t beat other electronic devices out there in terms of what the device is capable of but many people seem to forget that the Kindle is a dedicated eBook reading device first and foremost. One of the feature that many users seem to love and hate at the same time is the ability for the Kindle 3 to load PDF documents. Since PDF documents are still widely used in today’s world, it only made sense that one of the most popular eBook reading devices out there on the market be able to handle these types of documents. Well, it can. However, the PDF reading experience on the Kindle 3 is far from perfect. Far, far from it in fact. With a little leg work though, the experience can be somewhat improved.

The Problem

The main problem with reading PDF documents on the Kindle is very simple to understand: the document was not meant to be read on such a small screen! Simply put, think of each page of your PDF document as an image, rather than a page of words (such as an eBook, for example). That “image” is pretty much always bigger in size than what the Kindle’s screen can display for you. Therefore, in order to fit the entire page/image on the screen, it must shrink it. This creates a very uncomfortable setting because now, the actual words on that image are a lot smaller (sometimes beyond readable in portrait mode) when compared to reading it on your PC.

Kindle’s Native Solution

The Kindle does give you a few native options to improve the PDF reading experience but it’s still not good enough for many users, including myself. However, by using these alternatives rather than third-party solutions (which I’ll go over next), you get to retain the look and feel of the original PDF document as much as possible. This is very important if your document includes pictures, tables, graphs and any other styling elements within it. Basically speaking, the more complicated your PDF file, the more you want to stay away from performing any kind of conversion on it. Therefore, go over some of these obvious tips first to see if it can help improve your reading experience.

Options
    • Enabling landscape mode. This is the simplest and best native solution offered by the Kindle. By going landscape mode, you have more screen estate going from left to right but you sacrifice height. Landscape mode helps give your PDF document a little more breathing room, sort of speaking. If your document has two to three reading columns a page, enabling landscape mode can definitely help a lot.
    • Setting the darkest contrast. This is an option that I pretty much always enable every time I try to read a PDF document on my Kindle natively. The default option leaves the text very light in color (light gray). Having to squint your eyes to read the small words adds to the problem. By setting the contrast level to the “darkest” option, the words should appear much more black in coloring and much more crisp/sharp as well.
    • Zooming. This is pretty much the deal breaker as many users can tell you. By default, the PDF will fit to your Kindle screen (showing the entire page). However, once you venture into a different view by zooming in (150%, 200%, 300%, Actual Size) , your Kindle screen will be separated into several quadrants (see picture below for a simple example of what I mean). So, you first read quadrant 1. You reach the end of the text for quadrant 1 so in order to continue reading the sentence (yes, I said sentence), you move to quadrant 2. Once finish there, you return back to quadrant 1 and continue with the process. After you finish reading the text from both quadrant 1 and 2, you move on to quadrant 3 and 4, etc. You use the navigational buttons to switch quadrants and let me tell you, it is a big pain to read a document using this method. Basically, you have to switch between quadrants half a dozen time just to finish reading a sentence! It’s total madness. Sure, the text will be a lot bigger when zooming in, obviously, but the reading experience has been hampered to the point that I’m not even sure how on earth anyone can enable zooming to read a full PDF document.
Zooming

 

Converting Your PDF for Text-Reflow

A recent comment by a user reminded me that Amazon offers a free PDF conversion service for all Kindle members. You basically attach your PDF to an email, type “Convert” in the subject line and Amazon will do the conversion for you. Find more information on how to perform this simple feat by going over this article. Depending on your preferences, you may want to use this method by default when doing PDF conversions and failing back to Mobipocket if things don’t go right or vice-versa. The choice is up to you. Just know that you have other options at your disposal!

The biggest problem with reading a PDF on the Kindle is that you cannot control the text size as how you could when reading an eBook bought from the Kindle store, for example. Being able to re-size the text is called text reflow. Without this feature when reading a PDF document on your Kindle, you either have to tough it out and read the text as is (enabling landscape mode and the darkest contrast option is pretty much all you have) or you have to zoom in, which as I have pointed out above, is a complete waste of time.

Good news, however, is that there is a method to convert your PDF document into a text-reflowable document. This allows you to change the text size in the document just as how you could with an eBook. By doing so, you don’t have to worry about zooming into the document or setting the contrast. You’re basically turning your PDF file into an eBook. In my opinion, there’s one big advantage and one big disadvantage on performing this conversion. On the positive side, you no longer have to zoom in to be able to read the text. On the negative side, depending on how your original PDF document was formatted, you could end up with a document that is stripped of some pictures, charts, or any other element that couldn’t be converted into text form or extracted from the document itself. As I said earlier, the more complicated your document, the more chances of the conversion process going awry. The tool that we are going to use is called Mobipocket eBook Creator. It is free to use and best of all, hardly any configuration is needed to perform the conversion.

You can download Mobipocket eBook Creator from here. Just make sure you are downloading the publisher’s edition.

Start it up after installation and you’ll land on the homepage.

Main

Under the Import an Existing File section, select the Adobe PDF link. Click on the Browse button to locate the PDF document you will be converting. Also note the output folder location. By default, this will be your Documents folder. Hit the Import button.

Browse

Mobipocket Creator will then begin importing your document (do not worry, your original PDF file will be untouched). More importantly, it will extract any images it can find within it. You can head over to the My Publications folder within Documents to check it out. Once the document has been imported, we still need to convert it for our Kindle device. Before doing so, Mobicreator Creator allows you to edit a few data pieces about your document file. You can change the cover image, create a table of content, along with editing the eBook’s own metadata such as publisher, author and description.

Data

I find it usually unnecessary to edit anything. When you are ready for the conversion, select your PDF file and press the Build button on the top toolbar. The next window allows you to choose any compression or encryption options if necessary. The defaults should suffice. Finally, hit the gray Build button to kick off the process.

Build

You can now either manually browse to the output folder location or hit the OK button within Mobipocket Creator (the default option of “Open folder containing eBook” should have been selected). Once inside the folder, you should see a bunch of files along with all the extracted pictures. What you are looking for is the file with the .PRC extension. There should only be one. Connect your Kindle to your PC and import this PRC file to it. The file should then be added to your library! Open the document and you should notice that it can now be controlled just like a regular eBook.

Output

Please understand that PDF documents can have a very complicated structure. Therefore, if you will be performing any kind of conversions on them, results will vary depending on what it is you are trying to accomplish. In other words, nothing is perfect. Your converted document may have text reflow available but there may be little to many spelling errors and whatnot. Many images may be preserved but other elements such as tables, graphs and other types of picture file may be lost or displayed very weirdly when reading on the Kindle.
There are definitely other ways of converting your PDF documents to your Kindle but I found the Mobipocket Creator method to be the most simplest, fastest, and hassle-free. If your main goal is to be able to resize the text within the PDF on your Kindle, definitely give this a try. If anyone has even a better way to convert PDF documents, please share your ideas in the comments section below!
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Comments

  1. Here is a free ebook tool for you.

    You can easily convert your ebook from epub to pdf,epub to mobi, epub to kindle, etc.

    Free Online Converter / EPUB Converter

    http://www.epubconverter.com/

    It provides you with the best mobi to epub converting experience.

  2. G. T. M. says:

    Oops, never mind! I just figured out I had to open the Kindle on my PC then add the new prc file manually to the Documents folder. It works now, great! Now I can sit on the beach and read my work files…
    Thanks for your helpful blog!
    GTM

    • Awesome! Thanks for reading and I’m glad you found the article helpful. Enjoy the beach!

    • Hallyseccn says:

      So far, at least, the actual Kindle and Kindle PC only seem to let me open one book at a time. Open as in display it, I should qualify that. Open via bookmark, there seems to be the possibility of having the whole library that way. Thus on a Kindle, to switch books, it’s Home, cursor to the book, hit enter, and it’s up . I never embed typefaces even though I technically *could* in the EPUB format. But there are definitely some things I like in EPUB. If I have a tall, narrow image that needs to be included I can run the text around the side of in it an EPUB. from Vibosoft mobi to ePub tool: http://www.vibosoft.com/ebook/convert-mobi-to-epub-mac-win.html

  3. G. T. M. says:

    Hello,
    I went through all the steps, no problems, but when I search for the item, it doesn’t show up. I tried re-loading it to the Kindles, and it says a copy already exists, but I can’t find it in my library. What do I do now please?
    GTM

  4. Here is a free ebook conversion tool for you.
    You can easily convert your ebook from kindle to pdf.

    Free Online Ebook Converter
    http://www.ebookconverter.net/

    It provides you with the best kindle to pdf converting experience.

    • Hey Saul. I find that online converter seriously lacking. In fact I couldn’t get it to work at all! The whole point of my article is to provide a better PDF reading experience on the Kindle. Therefore, it’s necessary to convert from PDF to either .mobi or .azw and not from a Kindle format to PDF. Out of the six PDF documents I’ve tried to convert, not one of them successfully converted. All I got was an error.

  5. The above information is very useful to convert plain (text only, no formatting) PDF. Images are converted without problems. But for my purpose, that is to convert physics books containing many equations, this method (and Amazon.com method) is not working as expected.

    Too bad, I am stuck with PDF format.

    I am considering to order the DX version with larger screen…

    • Yups, that’s the problem with reading PDFs on the Kindle e-ink devices. The DX definitely will help with the bigger screen. However, upon looking at some videos on Youtube, I still see that the words might still appear small when you have a multi-column PDF file. For PDFs with a single column (including images), everything looks very good. Just wanted you to be aware of that. I definitely urge you to check out Youtube for reviews of the Kindle DX, especially when it comes to reading PDFs.

      For $379 though, I would personally opt for a tablet instead. You probably can pick up an iPad 2 (since the new iPad is out) or another similar Android tablet for cheap . It really is uncomfortable though when reading on an e-ink display for a while and then have to transition back to LCD. Anyways, that’s just my opinion. With a tablet, I can do so much more than I could with just a Kindle, assuming you’re not just using it only for reading documents. But the price is pretty high up there so in my opinion, it’s a much better option to go for a tablet. If you do get the DX, I would love to hear your thoughts on it afterwards.

  6. Oddly, I can’t find the screen w/ the settings that you show under “Kindle’s Native Solution.”

    • Hey Jordan…You have to press the ‘Aa’ keyboard button on your Kindle to get the options screen. This is the same button you would use to change the text size when reading an eBook. At the time I wrote this article, I was using the Kindle Keyboard. I don’t have the new Kindle model so I don’t know how to access that similar screen on those devices.

      • I’m using the Kindle Touch. I’ve never seen that screen.

        What commenting system are you using on your blog? The faces are quite amusing.

        • WoW…I am glad you made this comment because if it weren’t for it, I would never have found out that the new Kindle Touch does not support loading PDF documents in landscape mode! The only thing you can configure is the contrast setting and zooming. Please watch this Youtube video. The reviewer says you need to tap the top of the Kindle screen in order to get to the menu options. However, the only thing you can really set is the contrast level. | http://youtu.be/okPW9eD4K2U

          The comment system I am using is the built-in and default system for WordPress. The faces you are seeing is called Wavatar and it is a neat feature where it can generate a different face for users based on their email address. Because everyone has a different email address, every person should have a different face! If you use your same email address on another WordPress blog comment whereas the admin enabled Wavatar, the same face you see here should be shown as well.

  7. I was turning blind reading small and smaller letter pdf, you just saved my life or at least a huge head ache.
    Thanks a lot!!

    • Your welcome! Glad this article could be of help. Please help spread the word around if you know of anyone else who can benefit from this conversion process!

  8. the guidelines mentioned for conversion is quite appreciating thanks, but the real fact comes when we go along with conversion, it was very pathetic, we wasted a lot of time converting them, at last professionals out there at http://www.ebookconversion.com/, we were encouraged thanx for them.

  9. Try k2pdfopt for optimizing PDFs for a kindle.  It’s simple to use (fully automatic) and free.  Google it and check the examples.

    • Thanks for the suggestion Willus. I’m assuming you’re the creator of the program? I’ll definitely check it out and even write a review about it if I find it to my liking.

  10. why wdnt you just email the pdf to “yourname”@free.kindle.com with “convert” in subject line, and get the converted document in native kindle format delivered via wifi to your kindle?

    • You’re correct, Amazon does offer a free PDF conversion service for all Kindle members as stated in your comment. I mentioned it in my Kindle 3 review but somehow, I forgot to mention it here, which mattered more! I have personally tried it out but I still prefer the Mobipocket method because it’s much less error-prone, at least for the PDF’s I tried converting.
      However, now that you have brought it to my attention, I will go ahead and make the changes in the article. The more options a user have, the better chance of them having a better converted PDF file. Thanks.

  11. Awesome! Glad to know you found it useful! Be sure to spread the word around if you have friends and colleagues who can benefit from this as well!

  12. Just wanted to follow up – this worked "great!!!" Soooo much easier to read the .pdf files on my Kindle now! This has allowed me to study while traveling, and I can't thank you enough for sharing this information. :)

  13. Bojco

    I'm a little confused. Are you trying to convert from HTML to PRC? If so, in Mobipocket Creator, there is a link to import from an existing HTML file. After the conversion process, go to the output folder and you should have the resulting .PRC file to load in your Kindle. If you are looking for the HTML file from a converted PDF eBook, then it should also reside in the output folder after conversion. I hope that answers your question. If not, let me know and I'll see what I can do.

    As for Calibre, I'm mostly using it to convert from the ePub format to .Mobi. For the most part I've had success with it but many other times, it messes up the word structure similar to what you have experienced. That's why converting documents from one format to another is such a hassle but I guess we have no choice. Until the day the Kindle will support every format out there, it's going to be an on-going struggle!

  14. Yeah quick question. Where do i choose the output format (html, mobi, etc.) of the file i want to convert, because i am trying to convert my pdf book in html format and then convert that file into a kindle format? Otherwise i tried converting one pdf ebook into prc. format and it worked far better that lets say, calibre, which made a mess of the sentences.

  15. Sarah

    Your welcome! Hope this works out for you. As long as your PDF is not multi-column, I think Mobipocket Creator will be able to help you out. No more squinting eyes! YAY!

  16. Thank you so much for this information!! I'm a student and have to read .pdf's on the road using my Kindle – I'm really excited to give this a try!! Thanks again! :)

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