Thoughts on branding, design, writing and life by Kevin Potts. Established 2003.

PDF Magazines

The PDF publishing platform is more viable than ever, and the design world has been recently introduced to two new design magazines that come exclusively in the format.

While the idea of PDF magazine publishing was popular in the dot-com era across a variety of markets, the brief launches of yesteryear failed as quickly their publishers’ business models.

At the time, Acrobat lacked any kind of accessibility features, and its multimedia support was limited at best. Also, high-speed bandwidth was rare in the household, and people balked at clogging their dial-up connection with multi-meg downloads, especially for a digitized version of a publication they would have to print out anyway just to read. But technology has finally caught up with the idea, and the limitations of the past have been left behind. The superior functionality and accessibility of Acrobat 6 make the publishing platform more viable than ever, especially with prolific high-speed internet access, larger and brighter monitors and users’ general acceptance of reading things on screen.

All that being said, the design world has been recently introduced to two new design magazines that come exclusively in PDF format.

The first, Design In-Flight, is an absolute treat. $3 buys you almost fifty pages of ad-free content. The writing overall is excellent, and the debut issue features articles on branding, blogs and web standards by authors such as Armand Vit and Carole Guevin. The content is complemented by custom illustrations and photography. The overall design utilizes elegant, conservative typography and generous white space that facilitates reading, even on screen. The PDF is also optimized for maximum accessibility. (Design In-Flight is published quarterly by Andy Arikawa. Individual issues cost $3, and a four-issue subscription is $10.)

The second, InDesign Magazine, is more product focused. It covers all things InDesign, from news and reviews to a wealth of tutorials and tricks. Since I am a bit of an ID evangelist, I was anxious to grab the free trial issue, and have not been disappointed. In only one issue, there are featured pieces about building a varnish plate, transparency, text wrapping and scripting, not to mention columns interviewing designers using InDesign and several product reviews. While I find the overall design lacking, with a floaty, inconsistent feel and a truly terrible font used in headlines, the content is great. (InDesign Magazine is published bi-monthly by CreativePro. A charter subscription is $59; full subscription is $79.)

Both these publications are a valuable addition to any designer’s library. I find them both easier to read printed out, which may or may not be the goal of the publishers, but they are both stuffed with content that rivals their perfect-bound brethren.

commentary + criticism

John Y

wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

While on the topic, The 37th Frame, an excellent photography newsletter, just switched over to a PDF-only format as well.

It, too, is free of adverts.


wrote the following on Thursday December 30, 2004

Another really interesting PDF mag I discovered is Graphic Exchange:

This one is a bit more “technical” in that it uses the medium to the max—it’s a 98 MB download, requires Acrobat 6 and expands to full screen, not to mention tons of interactivity like embedded Quicktime.

This is one example of a magazine that is built for the screen. DIF and InDesign Mag could easily be swapped over to the press, but GX would require a complete rethinking.

Lucas Maxwell

wrote the following on Wednesday July 30, 2008

Why bother with PDF mags when you have things like this available?

Modern Design

wrote the following on Thursday August 7, 2008

There are many options for online magazines nowadays, with flash and the like, but you can’t beat a nicely designed PDF magazine with great content:

It’s all about the content!