How To Go Paperless With The Amazon Kindle (No, Not With Books)

How To Go Paperless With The Amazon Kindle (No, Not With Books)

Kindle In PocketHaving your PDF documents with you on the go can be extremely handy, and a growing way to do that is with a tablet. However, when I say tablet, I am not just talking about the usual suspects like the iPad, Android, or even the new Kindle Fire. Many people don’t realize that you can store and view PDF documents on a normal Kindle as well.

I picked up a Kindle 4 a few months ago, and while it has been fantastic for reading books, I wanted to see how it does with PDFs.

I’ll be using this Kindle in the examples below, but I believe the workflow is similar for most recent E Ink Kindles.

But First, A Note

I don’t want to give the impression that the E Ink Kindle is as good as, say, an iPad. For starters, there is only 1.25 GB available for user content. Additionally, the screen is not color[1], so your PDFs are not going to look as nice as on an iPad.

There are no “apps” in the modern sense of the word, so you are limited to the Kindle’s built-in ability to display PDFs, and finally, the screen is only 6", so you may need to do some zooming if you want to read a PDF closely.

Having said all that, PDF display works surprisingly well on the 6" E Ink Kindle 4, and the documents are very readable. The device is extremely light, and many people carry the Kindle with them anyways. Why not use it for going paperless?

There are two main ways to get your PDFs on the device:

  1. Connect via USB
  2. Send via Email

Copy PDFs To Kindle Via USB

The Kindle comes with a USB cable that is used for charging, but it can also be used to copy content over to the device. When I plug the Kindle into my computer, it mounts it as a drive[2].

Kindle Drive Mounted
Kindle Drive Mounted

The magic happens in the documents folder. In the Finder, take a PDF and drag it to that folder.

PDF In Kindle Documents Folder
PDF In Kindle Documents Folder

When you eject the Kindle from your computer, you should now see the PDF on the device.

Kindle PDF in List
Kindle PDF in List

You can view the PDF like any normal Kindle book, and it will display on the screen.

Kindle Display PDF on Screen
Kindle Display PDF on Screen

I am not sure if you can tell in this screenshot, but this PDF looks a bit faint on the Kindle screen. I chose that on purpose, and we’ll get into that in a bit.

Email PDFs To Kindle

Amazon has a great service whereby you can email documents to your Kindle’s email address (did you know it had one?), and the documents will appear on your device.

Find Your Kindle’s Email Address

The first thing you want to do is find your Kindle’s address. To do that, from the home screen, hit the Menu button, then choose Settings, then hit the next page button on the side.

You’ll see your Send-to-Kindle email address.

Send To Kindle Address
Send To Kindle Address

Note: Before you go crazy sending documents to yourself, you need to be careful of Amazon’s charges.

If you have a 3G Kindle and download your PDFs to your device over 3G, you will want to see Amazon’s Personal Document Fees. If you download over wi-fi, it is free.

To be safe, you will want to use the @free.kindle.com address. Let’s say your Kindle’s address is daniel_sedin@kindle.com. If you send your documents to daniel_sedin@free.kindle.com, it will only transfer them if you are connected to wi-fi, and you don’t have to worry about getting nailed with fees.

Make Sure You Are An Approved Sender

If your email address that you will send documents to is the same as your Amazon account, you can skip this step. If you are like me and have different addresses, you need to add your address as an approved Sender.

  • Go to Amazon.com
  • Click on Your Account at the top
  • Click on Manage Your Kindle under Digital Content
  • Click on Personal Document Settings on the left
  • Add yourself under Approved Personal Document E-mail List
Add Approved Kindle Address
Add Approved Kindle Address

Email Your Documents To Your Kindle

You can either attach PDFs directly to an email, or zip up a group of them and attach the zip file.

Don’t forget, if you are on 3G, make sure to send to your @free.kindle.com account to avoid nasty bills.

Email To Kindle
Email To Kindle

When you are connected to wi-fi, your document will appear on your Kindle ready to view.

Kindle Emailed PDF
Kindle Emailed PDF

If you have a long PDF that you want to read, you may find it nicer to have Amazon convert the PDF into the Kindle’s native format. Then it will be just like reading a normal Kindle book.

To do that, when you email the PDF in, put the word convert in the subject line. Amazon’s servers will then convert it to Kindle format before sending it to your device.

For more than you could possibly want to know about getting personal content onto your Kindle, check out Amazon’s help page.

Improving Reading

When you view a PDF on screen, it may be too faint or small to read. Hit the Menu button on the Kindle and then choose Zoom & Contrast. You can adjust the contrast to make the text darker, and adjust the zoom so that you can read it more comfortably.

Adjust Kindle Zoom and Contrast
Adjust Kindle Zoom and Contrast

Organize PDFs

The Kindle doesn’t have the concept of folders, but it does have Collections.

Amazon does a much more thorough job of going through this than I could, so check out their Organizing Your Kindle Content help page.

Searching

If your PDF is searchable, searching within the PDF does work.[3] Unfortunately, it does not appear that PDF files are included in the system-wide Kindle search. Too bad.

Conclusion

All-in-all, I was pleasantly surprised by my 6" Kindle’s ability as a PDF reader. I wouldn’t want to give up my iPad for it, but if I didn’t have one, it is a nice alternative. For $79 USD[4], it is pretty hard to beat.

Do you use your Kindle or other e-reader to store and read PDFs? Any tricks or workflows that I have missed? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.


  1. Obviously, that’s the point of an E Ink Kindle  ↩

  2. Screenshot is a Mac, but Windows should be the same.  ↩

  3. Although typing on that Nintendo-style keypad is not fun.  ↩

  4. $109 in Canada. We don’t have the option for ads.  ↩

About the Author

Brooks Duncan helps individuals and small businesses go paperless. He's been an accountant, a software developer, a manager in a very large corporation, and has run DocumentSnap since 2008. You can find Brooks on Twitter at @documentsnap or @brooksduncan. Thanks for stopping by.

Leave a Reply 4 comments

Use The Send To Kindle Desktop App To Copy PDFs To Your Device | Tips To Learn How To Go Paperless | DocumentSnap Paperless Blog - May 22, 2012 Reply

[…] have written before about how a Kindle can be a good device for going paperless. After all, if you are a reader, you might already have a Kindle with you, and it is a small and […]

stoutmtc - January 20, 2012 Reply

For those with older Kindles, you can find out your kindle e-mail address by going to amazon.com under "Your Kindle Account: Manage Your Devices."

    Brooks Duncan - January 20, 2012 Reply

    Thanks Meg!

Ina - January 17, 2012 Reply

For those with ipads, PDFs can be saved to ibooks as well.

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