Designing Your Book for Print

Book Designers

Designers know the idiosyncrasies of book design — standard sizes; acceptable gutters and margins; ink tolerance; treatment for elements such as footnotes, end notes, sidebars, pull quotes, titling, billeting, and features page counts and signatures; folios; and front and back matter. Book production is a craft requiring great skill. Why are there standards for these things? Because, as readers, we subconsciously expect books to appear a certain way — a way that enables our brain to easily process the information we are looking at.

Yes, you could probably buy a book on book design and learn how to produce a book. But, trust me, it is a slow and painful process. And, if you are not good at it, you’ll produce a disaster. You are gambling with the success of your book — and that means sales dollars. Leave it to a professional (Pneumatic!) while you concentrate your efforts on marketing your book.

Because book printing is very particular, it can be costly if you design a book that conflicts with prepress or press capability. Unless you understand book printing, you should let a designer or print buyer coordinate the printing for you. Book printing is specific with regard to sizes, page count, inks, photos, prepress, etc. Of course, you could spend a lot of time receiving an education about print from printers and salesmen and design a book that is printable. But wouldn’t you just rather tell us what you want and let us deliver the best creative printable solution for you?

Beware of Printers!

Many small printers who service self-publishing authors advertise “one-stop shopping” by offering “art and design services” at amazingly low prices in addition to printing. This is a marketing ploy to entice an author to use the print services. Usually, the printer has several cookie-cutter “styles” to choose from for the book’s interior and cover. Why on earth would any author want their book to look like other books? Obviously this method of design is not customized to a book’s content. Printers print; designers design; in many cases, a printer has purchased page layout software and hired someone who knows how to use it. But very little “design” goes into the development of the book. Mostly, it is a process of rehashing templates and changing colors. Design is especially critical when it comes to your book’s cover. Most of the cover “styles” available are merely a type styled title and a piece of clip art. In addition, these “styles” offer no marketing expertise pertaining to your subject. Good designers familiarize themselves with the content they are designing and employ their commercial know-how and marketing skills in conceptualizing and sculpting the product — at least Pneumatic Books does.

Standard Book Sizes for Trade

The following book sizes will cut your printing costs dramatically. Printers buy paper in bulk at certain sizes. Page size is contingent on the most economical fit for the paper that can also be accommodated on press. You can print a size different from those listed but it will cost extra for prepress and press adjustments. These sizes are categorized according to their most common markets.
• 4 .1/4″ x 7″ Mass Market
• 5. 1/2″ x 8 1/2″ Tradebook, Handbook or Fiction
• 6″ x 9″ Handbook, Tradebook, or Fiction
• 7″ x 9″ Manual, Textbook
• 7. 1/2″ x 9″ Giftbook, Art Book, Manual
• 8 .1/2″ x 11″ Manual, Textbook
• 9″ x 12″ + Coffee Table Book


The printing process works like this: your pages are photographed and “impositioned” or placed into a signature configuration. The negative, or film, of that signature is transferred to photosensitive paper, called blue lines, which are used to give you a dummy of your book for final approval. The cover is also color-separated and recomposed as a proof for your approval. After your sign off, the signature and cover film are transferred to metal printing plates. This whole process is termed Prepress and Make ready. Your pages are photographed from sharp laser printouts or they are processed digitally direct to film or sometimes plates. If you have many photos and special elements that require hi-resolution, you may want to have them scanned by a drum scanner and placed into the film at the prepress stage. Usually you can include them in your page layout software if you have powerful equipment, the right software, and the know-how. The prepress process can get complicated. You don’t want to make mistakes in preparing your files, because at this stage, corrections are extremely expensive. If you are producing a complicated layout, it is better to have an experienced professional production artist do it for you to ensure it is done correctly. If you do it yourself, ensure you provide all hi-res, corrected linked files and postscript fonts. True Type fonts are a no-no.


If you take a piece of paper and fold it into eighths, then cut off the top, right, and bottom folded sides, leaving the left outer fold, you have a signature. A signature is a large piece of film or paper that accommodates individual pages and, when folded, orders the pages sequentially. Depending on the size of the paper, signatures accommodate 4, 8, 16, 32, and sometimes 64 pages. Once printed, they are folded and gathered, bound and glued, trimmed, and voila, you have a book. Why am I telling you this? Well, your book’s page count must be divisible by 16 to be printed economically. A designer knows this and plans for it in the production of the book.


You don’t really need to know anything about presses except that there is a type of cheap printing for mass market books (like dime store novels) that is called a Cameron Belt Press. Unless that is the type of book you are doing, don’t have your book printed this way. The other two types of presses are web presses and sheet-fed presses. Your designer will select the best press for the job. The Pocket Pal details press information if you need to understand how they work.

P.O.D. (Print on Demand)

While we are talking of printing, there is another type of printing that is ideal for very short runs (25-500). It is digital printing. Basically, it is high-end copying. A digital file from a page layout program goes to a high-speed copier. The book is then bound by the machine by mechanical binding. Some shops offer perfect binding. It is very economical and wise if your are unsure of your marketing plans to move your book. Please call and consult us about this option.


After your book is printed it is finished — covered, bound, wrapped, and packed. There are a number of choices to make in these areas. You have several bindery options.
Perfect Bound
This is the most popular. The edges are roughed and a hot glue strip is applied. Then the cover is added. Perfect bound books lie flat. Perfect binding is economical.
Case Binding
This is hardback. Case binding is expensive and a more intricate process than other binding. It is appropriate for presentation copies and assured bestsellers. Many authors choose to case bind a few hundred copies.
Mechanical Binding
This is primarily used for short run Docu-Teching, or P.O.D (Print-On-Demand). It is basically spiral binding or rivet binding. It is acceptable for the office place but not the commercial book market.


Finishing is the catch-all process of book printing. It is lamination of your cover; embossing, foil stamping, and spot varnishing your cover; tipping in sheets or signatures to the book; shrink-wrapping; packing and stacking; and shipping or warehousing. Obviously, some of these options are related to the design of your book and cover and some are related to your decisions about distribution and fulfillment. The one thing you do want is film lamination of your cover. This protects your book from scuffing during shipping. Also, we recommend shrink wrapping in groups of 5 or ten to reduce the movement of the books during shipping. This protect the covers and enables you to protect surplus books in an opened box. It also helps you control your inventory.