EPUB vs. PDF – Which is right for you?

vPrompt’s document conversion services can produce beautifully rendered documents in a variety of formats.  This guide will provide some guidance as to the pros and cons of the popular PDF (Portable Document Format) and EPUB (Electronic Publication) formats.
[topic]What is a PDF?[/topic]
PDF FormatThe Portable Document Format (PDF) is a file format that has been evolving since 1991. It is primarily used to reproduce documents in a manner independent of software, hardware, and operating systems.

Every individual PDF file includes a complete description of the document’s layout including the text, fonts, graphics, and other information needed to display it. This allows the document to look exactly the same on a Windows PC or a Mac or on any kind of tablet.

PDF remained a proprietary format, controlled by Adobe, until it was formally released as an open standard in 2008, and published by the International Organization for Standardization as ISO 32000-1:2008. In 2008, Adobe published a Public Patent License to ISO 32000-1 granting royalty-free rights for all patents owned by Adobe that are necessary to make, use, sell and distribute PDF compliant software tools.
[topic]What is an EPUB?[/topic]
EPUB FormatEPUB (short for electronic publication) is a free and open e-book standard by the International Digital Publishing Forum (IDPF). EPUB became an official standard of the IDPF in September 2007, superseding the older Open eBook standard.

EPUB is designed for reflowable content, meaning that an EPUB reader can optimize text for a particular display device no matter its size or dimensions. EPUB also supports fixed-layout content like a PDF. The format is intended as a single format that publishers and conversion houses can use in-house, as well as for distribution and sale. It supersedes the Open eBook standard.

The IDPF summarizes EPUB this way: “EPUB is an interchange and delivery format for digital publications, based on XML and Web Standards. An EPUB Publication can be thought of as a reliable packaging of Web content that represents a digital book, magazine, or other type of publication, and able to distributed for online and offline consumption.


For very specific types of publications such as text books and technical manuals that contain tables and diagrams, the rigid structure of a PDF provides an excellent reading experience for most users on a screen sized for a computer, laptop, or large tablet.  The documents that are more text oriented and will be read on a variety of screens ranging from a mobile phone to a desktop PC will look best if distributed as an EPUB format file.

Because the EPUB format is based on both XML and Web Standards, it can be relatively easily used to produce PDF’s on the fly while the opposite is not true.  Most organizations would benefit by keeping source materials in the EPUB format.

Even if your documents go back decades and are in formats that are now nearing obsolescence, vPrompt can help you by converting them into a more modern format like EPUB that will stand the test of time.