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Book Printing: Helpful Advice for Page Numbering

Pages of a book being flipped to show the Page Numbering

Book Page Numbering

Page numbers have been an important component of printed books for centuries. This is because a logical numbering sequence provides a simple and foolproof system for navigating to certain pages or sections within a book.

Despite the important role book page numbers play, there are very few pagination rules that definitively govern their placement and appearance. This means that as long as a person reading the book can navigate successfully, just about any numbering scheme is acceptable. In other words, it's your book and you can format the page numbers any way you prefer.

Having said that, there are some recommended "best practices" to consider when formatting a book for print. So without further ado, below is a list of helpful guidelines for adding page numbers to your book's page layout.

Several pages of a book with red Page Numbers

Where to position the numbers on the pages -

There are several acceptable placements for book page numbers. As long as the page numbers are clear and consistent, the position you choose can be guided by your personal preference. Nevertheless, there are some practical considerations to take into account as well. These are outlined below…

Do not place page numbers too close to a trim line - first and foremost, it is important to be aware of the book's trim size so that page numbers do not risk being too close to the paper's edge after trimming. That will negatively affect the appearance of the finished book. In extreme cases, page numbers could even be partially or completely cut off during the final trim. So to be safe, it is best to make sure the page numbers are placed no closer than .25" from any trim line.

Avoid the inside margins - the inside margins are the page margins closest to the book's spine. Ideally, you should avoid placing page numbers near the inside margins. It is not only aesthetically unappealing, the reader has to open the book very wide to see the page numbers. This makes for an awkward and frustratingly slow process when attempting to locate specific pages.

The outside margins are a good choice - the outside margins are the page margins closest to the open edge of the book. Placing page numbers near the outside margins is a good choice because the book does not have to be opened very far to view the page numbers. This allows the page numbers to be located rather quickly. Reference books, manuals, and cookbooks are all examples of books that benefit from having the page numbers near the outside margins. This is because the users of these types of books usually just want to quickly pinpoint a specific page of interest to them. By the way, page numbers placed near the outside margins can either be placed at the top corner or the bottom corner of each page.

Centered page numbers are also a good choice - centering page numbers at the top or bottom of a book's pages is another good option. This offers a balanced look that is preferred by many. It is a popular choice for novels, fiction and non-fiction story books, and any other book where the pages are intended to be read in chronological order from cover to cover. Other than returning to the page where a reader left off, these types of books rarely have a need to locate a specific page by its page number. So unless you have a preference otherwise, these types of books have no real need to place the page numbers near the outside margins for faster indexing.

An open cookbook showing page number 33

Odd pages to the Right, Even pages to the Left -

Odd numbered pages (1, 3, 5, 7, etc.) should always appear on the right hand side of an open book and even numbered pages (2, 4, 6, 8, etc.) should always appear on the left hand side of an open book. This is a fundamental standard for all printed books. Most people know not to violate this rule because doing so would greatly diminish the professional appearance of the book.

Blank pages don't need to have a printed page number -

It is not uncommon for blank pages to appear within a printed book. Because new chapters or sections should always start on a right-hand page, the opposing left-hand page will be blank if the prior chapter or section ended on a right-hand page.

Blank pages, regardless of where they happen to appear, are still counted as a page in the book but they do not need a printed page number. After all, a blank page contains no content, so it will never be referenced. Thus, there is no need to identify it with a page number.

Page numbering conventions for the different parts of a book -

A printed book is made up of four main parts - cover, front matter, main content, and back matter. The cover is rarely considered part of a book's pagination and therefore needs no page numbers. Pagination for the other three parts is discussed below…

Front Matter - front matter refers to pages that appear before the main content. Also known as preliminary matter, the front matter is placed at the beginning of the book to provide information that helps set the stage for the main content.

The types of pages chosen to be included in the front matter varies from book to book, but pages commonly placed within this section include the title page, copyright page, dedication, table of contents, foreward, preface, acknowledgements, and introduction.

Because a book's front matter generally consists of only a few distinct pages, it is not really necessary that these pages be numbered. However, if certain sections of the front matter will be lengthy, or you generally just prefer to number the pages, the recommended method is to use lower case Roman numerals (i, ii, iii, iv, v, etc.) for the front matter.

That said, the table of contents does not usually receive a page number, nor do any of the pages preceding the table of contents require a page number. But again, this is a matter of personal preference.

Main Content - also known as the body of the book, this is where the bulk of the book's content appears. The main content is numbered using the common Arabic numbers of 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc.

The first page of the main content will be page number 1. The first page, and the first page of all subsequent chapters or sections within the book, should be placed so they appear on the right hand side of the open book. The right side of an open book is known as "Recto" and all odd numbered pages should appear on the right hand side.

The second page of the main content will be page number 2. This second page will appear on the left hand side of the open book, as will the second page of all subsequent chapters or sections throughout the book. The left side of an open book is known as "Verso" and all even numbered pages should appear on the left hand side.

If a chapter or section ends on the right hand side of the book, the very next page should be left blank. This will ensure the next chapter or section begins on the right hand side. This blank page will be counted in the book's main pagination sequence but it does not need to have a printed page number.

For example, let's say Chapter 5 ends on the right side of the book at page 67. Because Chapter 6 should begin on the right side of the book, the next page after page 67 will be on the left side of the book and it should be a blank page. Even though this blank page will be counted as page 68 in the book's page numbering sequence, it does not need to have a printed number. The next printed page number will be 69, which appears opposite the blank page and will be the first page of Chapter 6.

Back Matter - also known as end matter, back matter refers to pages that appear after the main content. Back matter includes any supplemental documentation or reference material needed to support the main content.

Just like front matter, the types of pages chosen to be part of the back matter will vary from book to book. Examples of content typically placed within the back matter includes the appendix, glossary, bibliography/references, index, and author biography.

Because the back matter will be referenced in the table of contents, it will need to have page numbers. The page numbering sequence of Arabic numerals used for the main content should simply continue on through the back matter.

Page of a Technical Manual

Special considerations for content that requires periodic updates -

Some types of books - particularly operational, instructional, and technical manuals - require periodic updates to remain current. Instead of using a traditional numbering system that runs chronologically throughout the entire book, these books are better served by assigning numbers to the various sections and then appending page numbers that start over at "1" for each section.

For example, the page numbers in section 1 could be 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, etc. The page numbers in section 2 could be 2-1, 2-2, 2-3. The page numbers in section 3 could be 3-1, 3-2, 3-3 and so on.

The benefit of this page numbering method is that a section or part of a section can be replaced without affected the page numbering order of any other section. Of course, this method works best for loose leaf pages secured with a binding method that allows for sheets to be easily added or removed, such as a ringed binder.

Even if the book is printed with a permanent binding style that doesn't allow page changes, this page numbering method is still beneficial because the artwork file can be easily updated for the next book printing without having to change the page numbers throughout the entire book.

Do you have an upcoming book project and need some help?

Whether you have a need for book printing or any other type of printing project, Color Vision is always ready to help! Just give us a call at 800-543-6299 to discuss your needs.

Or, use our Quote Request form to submit your specifications and we will email you a quote. As always, we look forward to assisting you!

Related Article: How to Provide an Accurate Page Count

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