How to Read any Type of Document on the Kindle (Almost)

There are a few options for readers who want to convert PDFs or other non-supported files to the Kindle’s AZW format. Amazon’s recommended method is to email the file to your personal Kindle email address. It’s also possible for users to convert PDFs and other document types themselves using Mobipocket Creator or Stanza.

All of the above methods have the same flaw: AZW does not support the kind of advanced layout available in formats like PDF, and non-Latin fonts aren’t easy to convert. What if you need to review a complex legal form, or read a graphic novel, or one in Chinese? A hidden feature can help.

The Kindle has an undocumented picture-viewing mode that was first uncovered by Igor Skochinsky. Although the black and white E Ink screen is not especially good at displaying actual photographs, it is quite good at rendering line art and text.

Here’s how to do it, using PDF as an example. Note that unofficial features may be buggy and could damage your Kindle; proceed at your own risk.

  1. Convert the PDF to a series of images. Commercial versions of Acrobat should be able to do this in batch, but users of free readers may have to convert a page at a time. The Kindle can read JPEG, PNG and GIF; the latter two will work best. Because the picture-viewing application doesn’t support a table of contents, you’ll need to name the image files in ascending alphabetical or numeric order (e.g. “0001.jpg,” “0002.jpg,” etc.) For best results, resize the image to 600 x 800, the resolution of the Kindle screen.
  2. Connect the Kindle to your computer using the USB cable. Once connected, browse to the Kindle’s drive. If you have an SD card installed that will appear on your computer as well. The following procedure works on either the Kindle or the SD card. I prefer to do everything on the SD card — it feels safer.
  3. Create a folder called “pictures,” and a folder inside of that with the name of your “document.” Put the images in the document folder. Disconnect the Kindle from the PC. When you go to the Kindle’s home screen, nothing will have changed. This is where the secret feature comes in:
  4. Press Alt-Z from the home screen. Your book title should appear in the list.
  5. Click on the book title. It will open the first image. Use the normal Kindle next/previous buttons to page through the “book.” The picture viewer has menu options of its own to control the size of the image and how it’s rendered.


Credit: octopus pie

Of course because the “PDF” is really an image it’s not possible to search the document or rescale the fonts. Text-heavy PDFs should be converted in one of the recommended ways.

This same technique can be used to load image-based documents directly, such as comics. (Peeking inside the “pictures” folder after it’s been read by the Kindle reveals a file with the extension manga, suggesting that the picture viewer was intended to be used for this purpose).

It’s also possible to convert documents in Russian, Chinese or other non-Latin scripts this way. The Kindle does have support for embedded non-Latin fonts as part of its “Topaz” file format, but there are no tools for end-users that output Topaz.

(Screenshots courtesy the undocumented Alt-Shift-G feature, which saves to the root of the SD card.)

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