How To Fix Your Ingram Spark PDF – With Free PDF Fix Download

Ingram Spark PDF IssuesFor many reasons, some authors decide to forgo the most popular path of publishing with Amazon’s Createspace and use the popular service at Ingram Spark/Lightning Source. However, the PDF guidelines given do not fully prepare an author for troubleshooting, and state that each time an author has to re-upload the file because it’s not correct, they will be charged $25. So it’s really important to get this right first time.

There is in fact nothing wrong with the way that Ingram Spark need you to present your file. The trouble is that you need to learn the professional way of presenting a PDF, and that’s why many people have bemoaned the process. That’s why when you choose to use this service, you need to be aware it’s going to require a steep learning curve, and you may want to hire a professional instead to format your interior.

The main thing to remember is that Ingram Spark is completely automated. There is no human checking your upload. This means one mistake, and you’ll be rejected.

And in case you really just want a quick fix, you can get a free download of a Preflight Preset for Adobe Acrobat XI at the end of this post, where I have created an autofix to analyze, fix, and save your PDF with all of these issues (except margins and bleeds) done with a click of the mouse.

So here’s what’s going on:

Why PDFs?

Since the time I trained as a digital designer in the late 90s, PDFs have been used for mostly every sort of printable. Physical ink on physical paper means understanding ink pigments, densities, and typesetting. As the digital age has marched on, we still have to consider these issues for the hardcopy version of our book, and also for some concerns in e-book publishing also.

How Do I Prepare My PDF to Ingram/Lightning Source Standards?

There are some basic requirements set out in the File Creation Guide that usually get PDFs rejected if they are not followed:

  1. Must be PDF/X 2001 or 2003
  2. Must use the SWOP coated profile
  3. Must be Grayscale color mode for interiors, CMYK for covers
  4. Must be 300 dpi for images and 106 lpi for text
  5. Should turn off ICC Color Profiles
  6. Must be set to 240% TAC/TIC
  7. All fonts must be embedded (Under 14pt size will not embed if you use Standard settings in your PDF)
  8. Margins must be set to Ingram specifications

1. What is a PDF?

A PDF is a Portable Document Format. The purpose of a PDF is to create a “flight” package. Imagine you are putting everything into a suitcase and flying it in a plane over to the printer, as a portable way of carrying all the fonts, colors, images, and content in one go. This is a patent backed by ISO, the International Organization for Standardization,  an independent, non-governmental organization, who provide common standards internationally.  This means PDFs are internationally recognized and standardized for use globally.

What is a PDF/X?

There are various subsets of standards for PDFs, all given various letter names. The one that authors should be bothered with come under PDF/X as described by ISO:

“PDF/X (since 2001 – series of ISO 15929 and ISO 15930 standards) – a.k.a. “PDF for Exchange” – for the Graphic technology – Prepress digital data exchange – (working in ISO Technical committee 130), based on PDF 1.3, PDF 1.4 and later also PDF 1.6.”

You need to use the oldest type of PDF setting with Ingram, which means your document can be read by even the oldest PDF readers, that is, the standards from 2001 – 2002. So you need to use PDF/X-1a:2001 or PDF/X-3:2002.

“PDF/X‑1a (2001 and 2003) (Acrobat Pro)

PDF/X‑1a requires all fonts to be embedded, the appropriate PDF bounding boxes to be specified, and color to appear as CMYK, spot colors, or both. Compliant files must contain information describing the printing condition for which they are prepared. PDF files created with PDF/X‑1a compliance can be opened in Acrobat 4.0 and Acrobat Reader 4.0 and later.

PDF/X‑1a uses PDF 1.3, downsamples color and grayscale images to 300 ppi and monochrome images to 1200 ppi. It embeds subsets of all fonts, creates untagged PDFs, and flattens transparency using the High Resolution setting.”


The PDF/X1‑a:2003 and PDF/X‑3 (2003) presets are placed on your computer during installation. However, they aren’t available until you move them from the Extras folder to the Settings folder.

2. SWOP Profile and Color Mode Information

What is SWOP?

Luckily for us, PDF/X in Adobe has the preset profile that encompasses all of those standards called “US Web Coated SWOP.”  This is the standard CMYK profile you need to use for Ingram, and mostly (see below) everything will be set for you.

Specifications for Web Offset Publications, abbreviated to SWOP, with the preset usually called “US SWOP Coated” is a set of specifications to ensure standards for consistency in printed materials in the USA and beyond, including legibility, design concerns, and constraining ink to 300% mix of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black, known as CMYK,  instead of 100% of four inks totaling 400%.

However, you need to force these limits down manually even further for Ingram Spark, because 300% is too much “TAC/TIC” for Ingram papers and inks. They want 240%. See below for TAC/TIC info.

Also, make sure you don’t use any spot colors, i.e. fancy inks like gold and silver. These will mean a delay in your proof, and can cause your PDF to be rejected.

3. CMYK/Grayscale

What is CMYK/RGB?

RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue, and when mixed produces white light. This color mode is only used for screen-based coloring. Do not use this for print!

CMYK stands for Cyan (light blue), Magenta (dark pink), Yellow, and Key (Black, used at a high density “true” black as a key to measure all other shades against), and when mixed, produces black, and must be used for print-based materials, including Ingram

Dots of these colors are printed onto the page to create varying shades of every other color in a “moire,” that is, a cluster of dots. These create your image or type on a page. Depending on how many dots there are per square inch, the quality is high or low. This is referred to as DPI (see below for more on DPI).

Here is a photo showing the color differences between screen and print, and why you should not use RGB for print – when converted to CMYK, colors will be dull and muddy on print, so you must convert before printing or else this will happen:


What is Grayscale?

Grayscale is black and white. Using a scale of gray, hence the name, the black ink is printed on the page to create the image or text print. This is the mode you need to use for interior files for Ingram Spark, and indeed for most PDF interiors of any book.

Covers/Color PDF Exports

Before you export your document to PDF, you have to ensure all your images are 300DPI and saved at the size they are in your document. This will help them be clear and a good resolution.

You will also have to make sure your color profile is set to CMYK, not RGB. If you leave your colors in RGB, it is likely the colors will be wrong in the final print. David Blatner and Claudia McCue go into incredible detail about this over at InDesign Secrets with a handy guide.

To start a design in CMYK do the following:

Adobe Photoshop

  1. Go to File > New
  2. Set image size, then choose “CMYK Color” from the Color Mode drop-down menu. Set at least 300 pixels/inch resolution

Adobe Illustrator

  1. Click File > New…
  2. Go to “Advanced” at the bottom of the window
  3. Select CMYK in Color Mode

If you’ve already designed in RGB, you can covert using these methods:

Adobe Illustrator

  1. Click Edit > Assign Profile
  2. Choose “Profile” and in the dropdown select “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2

Adobe InDesign

Adobe InDesign’s default is CMYK.  However, you do need to check that your working CMYK profile is set to U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2:

  1. Click Edit > Convert to Profile…
  2. Click “Destination Space” and choose U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) V2 in the CMYK Profile dropdown.

Adobe Photoshop

  1. Go to Edit > Convert to Profile…
  2. In “Destination Space” select “U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2*

*Remember: you will have to set the % of the TAC/TIC manually.

4. DPI

What is DPI?

Dots Per Inch measures the density of ink dots on your page. For digital images, i.e. on screens only, you can use 72DPI for computers, which is screen resolution, and 150DPI for smart devices. So you should use 150DPI for all ebook images these days to be sure.

For Ingram PDFs, you must set this to the print resolution, which is 300DPI (300 dots per inch of paper).

What is PPI?

Don’t worry about this one. But here’s a definition:

“Pixels per inch (PPI) or pixels per centimeter (PPCM) is a measurement of the pixel density (resolution) of an electronic image device, such as a computer monitor or television display, or image digitizing device such as a camera or image scanner.” (Wikipedia)

What is LPI?

This just means Lines Per Inch, and is the equivalent screen measurement. Here’s a handy table for comparison:

Printer Screen Resolution
300 dpi 60 lpi 120 ppi

5. What is ICC Color Profile?

The International Color Consortium is an association of around 60 companies that are involved in print media. According to Wikipedia, “Aside from members of the photography, printing, and painting industry, new members from several different industries include MathWorks, Nokia, Sony Corporation, and Signazon.com.”

You must turn off all ICC color profile management when submitting a PDF to Ingram.

6. 240% TAC/TIC

This is all to do with ink hitting paper at Ingram Spark.

What is saturation?

When you drop ink onto a piece of paper, the ink saturates the paper at a certain rate, given how much ink you force into the paper. This can be done by pressure with the press. You need to specify this to Ingram’s standard for their calibrations of their printing press, which is covered in the SWOP profile recommended, but you manually have to set the TAC/TIC, because you are customizing a setting that does not exist in the SWOP specific to Ingram needs.

What is paper density?

The paper you use might be more glossy, which requires more ink pressed into it, or more matt and porous, with the extremes between glossy photo paper (less porous) and tissue paper (most porous).  As you know, if you tried to mop up ink with a photo, you would soak very little. Using a tissue soaks up immediately. This means that more porous papers require less ink for the same effect. Ingram paper is able to cope with the settings in their guide. Following these settings will mean your ink will soak into the paper at the correct rate.

What is TAC/TIC?

Total Area Coverage/Total Ink Coverage has to be set to 240% for Ingram. This means that the amount of ink is being forced down even further than the SWOP profile. In Acrobat Pro, you can do this by going to Tools > Output Preview > Total Area Coverage to set the custom %. The reason this is important is that ink being put on the page in excess of 240% can cause color issues and muddying of browns and greens in particular. David Blatner at InDesign Secrets discusses this in more detail here, especially pertaining to Ingram Spark specs.

7. How To Embed Fonts

Embedding a font means you are putting that font inside the suitcase of the PDF so that when it “takes flight” the font will print as you wanted it to. If you don’t do this, a default font will print in its place. Here is an example (I made it up, not a real book: designed in five minutes purely for this article), with the embedded font on the left and unembedded, replaced font on the right. As you can see, it comes out really badly when the font gets replaced:

Cover with embedded fonts
Cover with embedded fonts in PDF – looks great on printing
Cover without embedded fonts - fonts replaced with default font
Cover without embedded fonts – fonts replaced with default font, looks terrible

Watch this video from Adobe on how to embed your fonts.

8. Setting Margins for Ingram PDFs

Another easy way to get rejected is to forget to set the margin on the export of your PDF. If you don’t set the margin correctly, your book will not print correctly inside the area specified. With Ingram Spark, you need to create a margin and bleed.

Bleeds and Trims

A bleed is so-called because it is the area traditionally known as the margin for ink to bleed into the paper, making a fuzzy edge. This isn’t so important for interiors, but blocks of color such as cover prints need to be trimmed to get rid of the fuzzy edges, which is why you have to allow for this with images. Ingram Spark do say they are not worried about black and white interiors having a bleed, but covers have to have one. This photo shows what “bleed” looks like, and the trim line would cut through that fuzziness for a straight color edge, therefore images must overlap the side of the page. Note: A trim will happen with your interior too, so whatever happens, employ that margin. I won’t reinvent the wheel, because the Ingram Spark guide is more than helpful explaining how their templates work on P.14 of the guide.

Line-color-bleeding photo
Picture: “Line-color-bleeding”. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikipedia









You must allow for a margin of at least 0.5″ (13 mm) on all sides. If you don’t the file will be rejected. This handy image from Casey Printing shows each line you should consider when making your PDF:



Now that you have some idea of what this all means, you should be able to figure out what you need to do with your own document with Ingram Spark’s chart showing bleed size on Page 9 of their guide:

Page 9 of Ingram Spark Guide
Page 9 of Ingram Spark Guide


A Free Preflight Profile for Acrobat XI – Autofix!

Finally, here’s a free Ingram Spark Preflight Profile to use with Acrobat XI that uses all the settings above, that I made myself, so you can just check your file in a few clicks. I wish Ingram Spark would make this happen themselves, but I’ve taken my best shot at covering most of the bases for setting your PDF to get it passed. Disclaimer: You’ll need to check it over to make sure everything is covered off after you use the tool.

You can download it here

It warns you if anything is wrong with your PDF for Ingram Spark (except for margins because they depend on your book size, so I left that out) and fixes anything that needs fixing, and sets your color and PDF type for you automatically.  If you want to test it out, download the file and then:

  1. Do one of the following:
    • In the Preflight dialog box, choose Import Preflight Profile from the Options menu.
    • In the Preflight Edit Profile dialog box, click the Import icon
  2. Locate the preflight package file (.kfp extension), and click Open. The profile appears in the Profiles list in the Imported Profiles group.
  3. (Optional) If the profile is locked, choose Unlocked from the pop-up menu in the Preflight Edit Profile dialog box. You can edit a profile after it is unlocked.
  4. (Optional) If prompted, enter the password.
You can also import a preflight profile by dragging the file to the Acrobat window or Acrobat application icon.
Using the Profile
Make yourself a PDF of the file you want to use, making sure you have done this with the correct template and margins set by Ingram.
Go to Edit>Preflight:
Adobe Preflight









Then you will be shown a box like this. Choose INGRAM as the profile you want to use:

Ingram Preflight

Then click “Analyze and Fix.” Save the file when prompted. You will be given a box telling you what has been fixed, or what needs fixing:

Analyze and Fix box









Good luck with all!

This article is published with thanks to author Anna Castle.

  • InklingBooks

    Great advice. I would, however add that the choice isn’t CreateSpace OR Ingram Spark. I do both, although as a publisher I release through Lightning Source rather than Ingram Spark. They get the same PDF for the interior and a slightly different one for the cover. The spine size is slightly different.

    Why both? Ingram Spark feeds into the Ingram distribution chain, which not only reaches almost all U.S. bookstores, including those who’d never buy from an Amazon affiliate, it also prints and distributes in the UK, Europe, and Australia, saving time and shipping costs.

    The key reason for publishing with CreateSpace is that may mean a quicker shipping for Amazon customers and a bit larger payment for an author/publisher. CreateSpace pays a little more for each Amazon sale than authors get for an Ingram POD sale, so releasing through CreateSpace always makes sense. Do both to maximize your income.

    On the other hand, Amazon’s Kindle bookstore always pays less than an iBookstore sale due to Amazon’s inflated download fee for ebooks priced from $2.99 to $9.99. And outside that price range, Amazon pays only half what Apple pays (35% v. 70%). For ebooks, savvy authors publish on both platforms but drive as many of their sales to the iBookstore as possible. That’s particularly true if your ebook is priced under $2.99 or over $9.99.

    • Lightning Source is Ingram. Same issues occur.

  • GMR926

    I want to use your preflight but I do not own Acrobat XI. It seems that Adobe if offering Acrobat DC. Does your preflight work with DC?

    Thanks for your time and this article!

    • It should do – give it a try and let me know! Cate

      • GMR926

        Thanks for responding Cate 🙂 I will give it a try and post what happens.

        • It seems for DC you should do this:

          Open the PDF and choose Tools > Print Production > Preflight in the right pane.

  • Clean Humor & Funny

    Hi, we are about to publish our first children’s book. DO you have a release of the preflight without the grayscale interior change? We have 18 color illustrations/ Thanks!

    • You’d have to speak to Ingram – their rules state “Must be Grayscale color mode for interiors, CMYK for covers” so it probably requires a special request.

  • Gaby

    Hi, this is a great article. Thank you for all the research you put into this

    I have recently published a coloring book with CS on letter format, and am now looking into publishing the same book on IS to reach international bookstores. My question is this: As far as I know, CS doesn’t allow writers to select an A4 trim, but IS does. As I will be buying my own ISBN to publish this book on IS, is there a way to publish the book on both companies using the same ISBN? I would prefer my book to be just on A4 throughout all platforms, but I don’t know if this is possible. Thanks

    • CS do 8.5 x 11 inches, (21.59 x 27.94 centimeters) so if you can bear to resize a little, and we are talking centimeters (0.59 x 1.76 cm difference) you’d be better off going for CS in my opinion because A4 format is not going to go down well anywhere but the UK. However, if do want to do this, yes, you can, as long as you format two different books entirely to each vendor’s standards. Sounds like a nightmare to me! Also be careful not to mix sales going to the same place as books will appear slightly different in paper and tone quality. Best think on it! 🙂

  • Eric Hustvedt

    Very helpful. I am stuck at “effective ink coverage is above 245%” (though it appears it is only at 246% or slightly higher) “8 matches on 8 pages”, and “Total coverage for rich black is too high” “57 matches on 43 pages”. My basic question, since I have no images, is there a setting (or settings) in the InDesign file or the created Acrobat where I can avoid dealing with one or both of these problems altogether. Ironically, I have an — intentional — light gray background in some of my InDesign frames, but these don’t seem to be a problem. Sorry if I’m in the wrong classroom!

    • Right classroom! OK, so you need to do the thing I say above about TAC TIC – point 6…You have to instruct the printer to use less ink. I am guessing you designed in InDesign? If so, that’s why. The PDF needs to be output with Ingram color profile settings, not just plain old CMYK, which will have a high black setting for ink sometimes. You can also try setting the document to LAB color mode, saving it, and then saving as U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2, in point 3 above if all else fails, but try saving as U.S. Web Coated (SWOP) v2 first.

      • Eric Hustvedt

        Thank you very much for helping to continue my education. I think it’s possible I’ve made the situation even more complicated than it needs to be. If running “fix and analyze” in your preset in Acrobat’s Preflight shows a trigger value of 245.77%, do I only need to go to the Output Preview, Select U.S. Web Coated SWOP v2 in the Simulation Profile Window, then Check the Total Area Coverage box and select 240? As I go up from 240, dark areas of a cover photo start showing up in green. Is this showing the ‘excess ink’ that would hit the paper if I didn’t reduce the TIC? (Also, any problem with checking the Simulate Overprinting box? “Page has overprint: yes”)

        Broader question, if you have time: what exactly is a simulation profile? How do we know how the IngramSpark process will treat the file? If I set the Simulation Profile Window to SWOP Coated 240% limit there doesn’t appear to be a need to use the TIC setting.

        Finally, I did follow your advice re: using LAB color mode setting in Photoshop to ‘cure’ the problem with the image that was giving me TIC issues. When I re-introduced it to InDesign, the Ink Manager showed reductions to .6/.4/.4/1.00 from a much higher total and I was able to create final file that cleared the Ingram Spark preset. So thank you very much for that. I know I can now get a file past the IngramSpark automated system. Unfortunately my designer was not happy with the changed look of the image, so I am back to you with another round above. The answer should help me with future projects. As a novice, I have been have trouble understanding what happens at what steps: 1) InDesign settings: 2) settings during the Save to Acrobat process; 3) Acrobat settings following running of the preset.