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PDF, HPub and .folio: Digital magazine formats compared

Team PaperLit


There are three main formats used to publish digital magazines: PDF, HPub and .folio. Choosing one or the other depends on what you want to achieve with your publication.


PDF, or Portable Document Format, is one of the formats used to create digital magazines. What’s great about PDF is that the file and all its elements cannot be modified or manipulated after it is saved or published. It doesn’t matter whether it is viewed on a browser, Adobe Acrobat Reader or on a mobile device. Everything will remain intact just as the designer wanted it.


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While it’s great from a design perspective (to some extent), its inviolable nature means it can’t adapt itself to be viewed optimally by the reader. Readers of PDF files will usually have to tilt their screen or manually zoom and navigate through a page to be able to digest the full content clearly.

Going back to the design aspects, if you intend to have a static file that doesn’t adapt to device sizes – maybe your magazine is perfectly readable anyway – then PDF would work. Using various digital publishing tools, you can still embed interactive content such as videos or sound clips into your PDF, which is a step up from a regular PDF file.


The .folio format allows you to publish dynamic content with features such as small purchase windows displayed on top of a free article or folio reset to a reader’s starting position. You can even create folios that allow content to adapt to fit the appropriate target device, such as an iPad or iPhone.

The .folio file format, just like PDF, also comes from Adobe Systems. It’s generally produced using Adobe DPS (Digital Publishing Suite) or InDesign, and it contains one or more digital publishing articles. It basically describes and packages collections of articles. The folio manifest contains the main XML structure. Each article is described by the assets used to render it, the metadata and a declarative syntax that represents its interactive contents.

It differs from a PDF, which is saved in a standard, fixed format, as the .folio allows the magazine to be viewed on multiple platforms. And since PDFs don’t adapt to the screen’s size, the .folio option provides a better viewing experience for your readers.

A .folio file comes in three forms. The first is the Fulfillment Form, which is also known as Multifile or Partially-Extracted Form where the .folio file consists of a single folio manifest and a group of ZIP files, one for each article. It could also contain an HTML Resources bundle which could be used as a common storage of resources used by the various articles within the .folio magazine file.

The second is the Exploded Form, which is the result of unpacking the Fulfillment Form .folio file into a computer or file system. The Exploded Form has a manifest file at the root of the local cache directory that has a collection of folders, each containing one article.

Finally, the Packaged Form is a result of packaging contents of the exploded form into one ZIP file while preserving all file paths.


The HPub format is based on HTML5 files, which means it’s closer to a website than a single, standalone file format like PDF. This means it provides you with the greatest flexibility in infusing your publication with interactive elements. Basically, whatever content that can be produced on websites can also be produced for your digital magazine by turning to HPub.

Unlike the two previous digital magazine formats which are backed by publishing technology giant Adobe, HPub was created by the much lesser known Baker Framework, which means you’ll come across it less. Nonetheless, it’s open source, as opposed to the highly proprietary PDF and .folio standards that are controlled by a single commercial entity.

The HPub format allows you to embed and insert videos, audio, dynamic animations, lossless text and more while maintaining a responsive design that allows your digital magazine to be viewed optimally whatever device it’s being viewed from.


The digital magazine formats above are some of the commonly used when publishing digital magazines. It’s important to know first what you want to achieve and how do you want the process of publishing your magazine to look like. Note also that your choice in format will depend on the software or applications you will use. So, be sure to factor all these when selecting the appropriate format for your digital magazine.