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Book Printing: How the Margins of a Book enhance Readability

A person holding open a Perfect Bound book

Margins provide the blank space that surrounds the text and images on the pages of a book. Each page within a book has a top margin, a bottom margin, an outer margin, and an inner margin (see diagram). The inner margins are located where the pages join together and are sometimes referred to as the gutter margins.

A diagram showing the Margins of a Book

Book Margins are more important than you might realize

When it comes to book printing, the significance of page margins often goes unnoticed. However, these seemingly inconspicuous white spaces that surround a book's content actually contribute a great deal to the appearance and readability of a book.

As such, the thoughtful placement of margins actually plays a very important role in a book's overall success. That said, below are seven important attributes that margins contribute to the reading experience of a book.

1. Margins frame the content to improve focus and heighten reader engagement

Margins add white space around the perimeter of each page within a book. By framing the content in this manner, a clear boundary is established between the lines of text and the edges of the page. Much like a picture frame that surrounds a piece of artwork, this framing effect minimizes visual distractions and helps to focus the reader's concentration on the subject being presented. As a result, page margins lead to higher levels of engagement and comprehension.

A person holding an open book
Margins add white space around printed text to enhance the readability of the pages

2. Margins add a sense of balance and symmetry to a book's pages

Margins help to center the content on each page. This increases the aesthetics of the book by adding symmetry and balance, not only to each individual page but also to each spread of opposing pages. The white space achieved through the use of generous margins is very inviting. It adds a feeling of openness to the pages as well as providing a uniform flow throughout the book.

3. Margins reduce eye strain by providing a visual resting place

Packing too much information on a page without providing any visual breathing room can overwhelm the eyes, leading to strain and fatigue. Fortunately, the proper use of page margins provides ample white space between the printed content and the edges of the page. This acts as a sort of visual buffer to prevent the text from appearing too cramped while also giving the eyes a quick break at the end of each line. Having spacious margins greatly improves the ease at which a book can be read.

4. Margins provide a space for page numbers and other important design elements

In addition to the main content, books commonly incorporate various design elements on each page. For example, most pages within a book contain a page number. Page numbers provide a logical method for navigating a book's content. Likewise, running headers or footers are often placed on each page to identify the different chapters or sections within a book. The margins provide the space needed to display these important elements in a clear and consistent manner.

5. Margins allows the reader's hands to hold the book open without obstructing any text

Many books require the reader to continually hold the pages open in order to view the printed content. If the margins are too narrow, the hands will have to be frequently repositioned to keep from obstructing content as each page is read. Obviously, this constant hand shifting can become annoying and diminish the reading experience. However, this issue can be easily avoided by having sufficient margins. The margins allow the book to be held comfortably without any text being obscured by the thumbs or fingers.

6. Margins provide room for handwritten notes and annotations

Some readers like to occasionally add handwritten comments to the pages they are reading. These annotations help to aid comprehension and retention of the subject matter. For example, recipe books, study guides, procedural manuals, and self-help books often spur the need to add notes for future reference. By adding white space to each page, margins provide a convenient space for writing these remarks.

7. Margins give the pages a safe zone during production

During the manufacturing process, the pages of books will be trimmed down to the desired size. Since mechanical processes can incur vibrations or shifting that might affect a precise cut, it is important that printed content be placed well within a trim line. Otherwise there is the risk that some information will end up extremely close to the edge of the page after trimming, or even partially cut off. Needless to say, this will greatly affect the appearance of the book. However, by having adequate margins, a buffer zone is formed around the perimeter of the pages to help prevent the final trim from encroaching on the content.

An open book lying on a table
Margins add white space around printed images as well as text

A Word about Standard Page Margins

Though it seems there should be some absolute rules regarding margin sizes, there doesn't seem to be a standard that everyone agrees upon. If you consult 10 different sources, you will probably get 10 different responses. This is because margin sizes are often based on personal preference.

However, most printed books fall somewhere between 5.5" x 8.5" and 8.5" x 11". These books will generally have margins in the .5" to 1" range, with the margins becoming increasingly larger as the book dimensions increase.

In addition to the width and height dimensions, margins are also affected by the thickness of the book, specifically the inner margins. This is largely due to the curvature of the pages that occurs near the gutter on certain types of books, such as perfect bound books and hard cover books.

As a result, the width of the inner margins on these types of books will need to be increased slightly to keep content from being swallowed up by the gutter. Of course, this may be hard to visualize on a computer monitor when laying out the book because the pages will appear flat when viewed on the screen.

Best way to determine Margin size

The recommended method for determining margin size is to visit a bookstore or library and look at books that fall within the same genre as your book. Examine the ones that have the same width, height, and thickness (page count) that you are planning for your book. Then measure the margins of those books to see which margin sizes are the most prevalent…and the most appealing to you.

The top, bottom, and outer margins will be easy to measure. Just measure from the main body of the text to the edge of the page. Measuring the width of the inner margin will be a little trickier, however.

To calculate the width of the inner margins, first measure from the innermost edge of the text (the edge closest to where the pages are bound) to the very outer edge of the page. We'll call this measurement A. Then close the book and measure the width of the entire block of pages. We'll call this measurement B. The difference between A and B will be the width of the inner margin.

After exploring some similarly-sized books, you will get a good idea of the margin dimensions to use for your particular book project. By the way, it can be very tempting to use very narrow margins for your book because doing so may lower the page count somewhat, and possibly save money on the printing. However, margins that are too narrow can negatively affect the book's appearance and readability.

Since the success of your book will be determined by how well it meets the expectations of the intended audience, you don't want skimpy margins to diminish your audience's perception of an otherwise amazing book. Especially one you have worked so hard to create.

Color Vision is here to help!

Since 1984, Color Vision has been producing quality books at affordable prices. Because we have both digital and offset presses, we can print books in short, medium, or long production runs. We also offer a wide variety of printing, binding, and finishing options to help your book stand out from the crowd.

If you have an upcoming book project and would like to receive a quotation by email, please complete our Quote Request form. Or, if you prefer to discuss your project by phone, we can be reached at 800-543-6299.

As always, we hope to hear from you soon and look forward to assisting with your next book project!

Related Article: Helpful Advice for Page Numbering

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