Uploading Unwatermarked PDFs to DTRPG

This entry is part 14 of 17 in the series Tutorials


After the spotlight on Shaintar I wrote a few weeks ago, I received quite a bit of feedback from people who had some misconceptions about DriveThruRPG’s system limitations. I’d like to clear up a few of them with today’s tutorial and walk you through the process of uploading a file to DTRPG without watermarks.

Much of the feedback I received was from other layout artists who, I presume, don’t often upload the final PDFs to DriveThru. Some of the feedback was from other publishers who, again I presume, don’t’ do layout work themselves.

I seem to be in a somewhat uncommon position where I do both. I realized that I have insight drawn from both sides of this issue; from the perspective of the publisher uploading the files and the layout person who puts them together. Whether you do one, the other, or both, I hope you can learn from this process.


#1: DriveThruRPG Requires Watermarks

Some of the feedback I received was that DTRPG requires a watermark. One publisher in particular mentioned they don’t use watermarks on books sold through their own web store, but their DTRPG files are watermarked because they couldn’t turn them off.

Thankfully for us, that isn’t the case. When we get to the tutorial, I’ll show you where the unobtrusive little checkbox is that controls whether or not your files receive the DRM treatment.

#2: DTRPG Doesn’t Allow Layered PDFs

Other respondents to my Shaintar spotlight mentioned that DTRPG doesn’t allow layered PDFs. Thankfully, again, that isn’t the case.

DTRPG allows files from many, many different formats and they allow PDFs to come in a variety of shapes and sizes. While it’s true that print products require a flattened (unlayered) document in the PDF-X/1a standard, files designed specifically for digital sales may include any of PDFs features.

Upload PDFs to DTRPG

Before we begin, you’ll need a OneBookShelf (DTRPG/RPGNow) publisher account. They’re free to set up, but doing that is beyond the scope of this tutorial.

You will need a file to upload and post for sale to the DriveThruRPG store. For today’s lesson, I’ll be uploading the newest product in my Alliterative Amusements line of Pathfinder Roleplaying Game-compatible products: Diviner’s Dissertation.

Note: For the remainder of this tutorial I’ll use DriveThruRPG (DTRPG) as the example, but these steps also apply to your RPGNow account. Uploading to one store will upload to the other as well.

Login to your Account

1. If you aren’t already, login to your DriveThruRPG account.

2. Click Publish in the top navigation bar. You’ll be taken to your Publisher Tools page.

3. Scroll down to the bottom of the page. If you have a publisher account, you’ll see a ton of links relating to publishing and selling with DTRPG.

Upload a New Book

Occasionally the text for the links DTRPG uses to set up files change, but they’re usually in the same general location. As of this writing, you will begin setting up a new product by….

1. Under Title Management select Set up a new Title.

You’re taken to a page to enter details for a new title. For the most part, these steps are pretty straightforward. I’ll only discuss a few topics in detail here.

Use a Template

If you’re publishing a product line, like the Alliterative Amusements line, it can be helpful to use DTRPG’s Template feature. Essentially, using a template allows you to automatically fill fields that will match from one product to the next.

1. Select the template you’d like to use from the drop-down menu.

2. Click Apply Template.

3. The form is auto-filled with the data from the template. Now you’ll only need to change the parts that are unique to this book.

Fill the Required Fields

Continue to fill all of the required fields for your product.

Stay alert for the option to turn off watermarks.

1. When you reach the Product File Information section, you’re getting close.

2. Under File Security you will have a couple of options:

Add watermark?         Add watermark

Disallow copy/paste?         No copy/paste

Disallow printing?         No printing

I recommend unchecking all of these boxes. Each one of them has an impact on accessibility.

Watermarks create strings of unintelligible numbers that a screen reader must read aloud after every page. Imagine how obnoxious it would be if you had to read “Your Name order number one billion two hundred thirty-four million five hundred sixty-seven thousand eight hundred ninety” before you could switch to the next page while reading. That’s exactly what a watermarked book will do when a screen reader attempts to read the book.

Disable Copy/Paste prevents users from copying strings of text from your book. This is not only a poor theft deterrent, it also inhibits screen readers used by blind users. Many text-to-speech programs copy a document’s text to the clipboard before reading that text aloud, and if copy/paste is disabled then the screen reader simply will not be able to parse the text. Period. 100% broken.

Disable Printing prevents a user from printing copies of the book (which may include your character sheet!) for their own personal use. Many users still prefer to do this because they either don’t have a tablet or laptop, they prefer not to use electronics at the game table, or they simply prefer the feel of paper in their hands. It would also be pretty costly for them to pirate your book by printing and distributing physical copies (since the expense is on them) so this theft deterrent really boggles me—what purpose does it serve other than to limit a file’s usefulness? A case could be made for this being poor accessibility as well, since certain users actually have more difficulty reading on screen than in print.

Consider your choices wisely. Do you want to limit your audience to only people who can read your PDF on screen without assistive technology and who have absolutely no desire to create their own custom character sheets or spell lists using the info in your book? If so, check these boxes. If you prefer a more open and accessible approach to publishing, uncheck them all.

Upload and Select File Format

1. When you finish filling out the fields on this page, click Save Title Data and Continue Preview Description at the bottom of the page.

2. Preview your product page, then click Save and Continue.

Upload Files

1. On the next screen, under the Upload Files heading, click the Upload Files button. You’ll be taken to a screen to upload your PDFs. This is also where you’ll set the option to tell users whether or not your PDF is watermarked.

2. Under the Add Files to Cart heading, click Select Files to Add.

3. Choose the files you want to upload from your computer. On the right-hand side of the page, you’ll see a progress indicator to show you where your files are at.

4. Under the Product File Type setting, you’ll have a dropdown list of options. The default is  Watermarked PDF, but that’s not your only choice.

This step is very important. DTRPG makes it possible to really confuse your customers if you don’t get this right.

This option is independent of the Add Watermark checkbox you (hopefully) unchecked in previous steps. It is possible, and confusing, for a publisher to select Watermarked PDF on this screen but still offer an unwatermarked PDF. Also, it’s possible to have a watermarked PDF because you didn’t uncheck the previous box) but to tell the user that it’s not watermarked because you don’t select the matching option here.

In short, this option has nothing to do with whether or not a file is actually watermarked. It’s just the option the customer sees on your product page.

5. Select PDF from the drop-down menu if you’re uploading a single, unwatermarked PDF. If you are uploading a different file format, select it from the list.

6. Click Set.

7. Under the Downloadable File Option Available For Sale? Header, click the Make Public button.

8. Click the Done Editing Files button at the bottom of the page.

If this is your first time uploading a product to DTRPG, it may take a couple of days for your file to be approved. If you’re not new to this gig, it should post within a few minutes.

Final Thoughts

Some of the steps may be confusing, but hopefully this helped clarify what you need to do to get an unwatermarked file available to DTRPG users. As for a layered PDF? There wasn’t anything special you needed to do; just make sure your file is layered and upload it using the steps above.

Hopefully this helped shed some light on some of the common misunderstandings publishers have about DTRPG’s file system. It can certainly be confusing, but with a bit of practice you’ll get the hang of it.

Diviner’s Dissertation Now on Sale

While writing this tutorial, I uploaded Alliterative Amusements: Diviner’s Dissertation to DTRPG. If you’d like to see the final product page, or if you’d like to show some support for this website by grabbing a copy, you can get it at the following link:
Alliterative Amusements: Diviner’s Dissertation at DriveThruRPG.


Thanks for reading along, and we’ll see you next week!


This post also appears on Indie+ and is covered by the Indie+ Community Standards.

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About Jacob Wood

Jacob founded Accessible Games because he wants to spread the joy of gaming to everyone, including people with disabilities. He is visually impaired and knows what it's like to need to adapt, and he brings two decades of gaming experience to the table.
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