This is part two of the new series on page layout from my new book, Self-Publishing With InDesign CC. We continue with two of the most important controls for readability.
To the left is
an example of bad design.
The body text is Berthold Baskerville Book 8/12, while the caption is Adobe Garamond Pro 6/7. So, no one can read it—too small. The columns are so narrow that there are only 7-9 words per line with the average closer to 7. So, even if their eyes were good enough to read it, it would be a tough slough. Plus, the leading is absurdly big.
But it looks classy, huh?
This seems to be too obvious, but many ruin their book here. The most common amateur mistake is to make margins too small. You can assume that you need to leave .5” margins, minimum—and that is tight in a book.
In addition, margins are often a large part of style. If you are trying for the elegant look of an old book, for example, you will need huge margins. There are many formulas, but here’s one you can try: 100% inside, 125% top, 150% outside, and 200% bottom (for example, 1.25” top; 1.5” outside; 2”” bottom; and 1” inside). “Look at all that empty paper. I can’t afford to waste that space!” It’s not wasted space, but room to breathe. You might want to keep some old books to remind yourself. Very high-priced products (or very cultured clients) commonly use designs with one inch to two inch margins or much more.
Extra-wide margins: If you are producing a book that will be studied—where readers will be taking notes—margins of a couple of inches (at least on the outside) are a real service to the reader. If you remember (and we will cover this in a bit) that the column width rarely goes much above four inches, you’ll find plenty of room in an 8” width.
Conversely, if you need to convey the maximization of your money—fundraising materials and the like—you need small margins, gutters, and a lot of rules and boxes. You need to fill every open white space, making the page look like everything is crammed in to save money. Even if it is not strictly true, readers will think it is. You need to understand these common reader preconceptions. Use them to help your designs.
The point to remember is: the smaller the margins, the cheaper the look.
Minimal professional standards: basically you want the margins to be large enough to engender trust. Most readers have a subconscious reaction to cheapness—making it synonymous with unreliability and many other negatives. You need to be careful to make your work look professional. It really helps your readers relax and open up.
For the new publisher: I would assume a three-quarter inch (.75”) margin as my minimum. The gutter margin (toward the spine of the book) should be at least an inch. The on-demand printers tend to cut slightly undersize and even half-inch margins can look very cheap and too tight for your work in the final delivered product.
Be very careful with your column choices. Your focus must be easy, comfortable readability. Generally, the more asymmetrical (off-center) and the more open you can lay out the piece, the better. Of course, you can go crazy and make things totally illegible. Modern style tends to be chaotic, splashy, and overly complex. But your innate taste and discretion should keep these tendencies in check. The problem, of course, is that taste and discretion have become rare. I know you are working hard to learn good taste and reduce that depressing trend. Thank you.
Column width: The first assumption is that you have column widths in good, readable range. Basically you are shooting for seven to eleven words per line. The formula I use for column width is very simple and gives you a good starting point for readability.
Here’s a practical rule of thumb that’s less complex than most:
40% of the body copy point size in inches
or the point size in centimeters
So, 10 point type works well in a column that is four inches or 10 cm wide. 12-point type may need nearly five inches (40% of twelve is 4.8”). This assumes a normal x-height of about 50% of the cap height or a third of point size. You actually need to count the number of words per line for a half dozen lines or more and average them out.
Adjust your margins to leave an appropriate column width: This can be tricky with smaller books. There is a real limit to the smallness of body copy type (about 8 point). This gives us problems with the smaller book sizes.
The normal body copy size is 10 point type with 12 point leading. I’ll talk about that elsewhere. But it is a fairly rigid norm. This normally requires a four inch column. For a five inch wide book, this only allows for half-inch margins on the sides. As mentioned that is very tight.
You can probably take the column down to 3.5” with no readability issues, but you dare not go more narrow than that—unless you use a condensed font (just keep the 9 to 10 words per line). On the other hand, an 8”x 10” book leaves you with four inches of margins. This is not a bad thing. One inch margins on all sides leaves you with an extra two inches for the gutter. This makes excellent room for a sidebar and to hold graphics up to six inches wide.
For two-column books: it should be easy to see that you need a page that is at least ten inches wide for any visual comfort. Books this wide become difficult to hold and read comfortably—no matter what you do. It is rarely a good solution (though adding a narrow sidebar can be a real benefit in an 8” wide book).
For a 6×9 book: my normal setup is .75” top/bottom and outside. I set the bottom or the top at an inch to leave a quarter inch to hold my page numbers. I use the resultant 1.25” inside margin to help keep the copy out of the gutter and make reading more comfortable.
For a low price workbook to help your students, a two-column letter-sized book might help: You can set it up with three-quarter inch outside and 1” inside margins, and two 4” columns with a quarter-inch gutter between the columns. This will enable you to convert a 200 page 6×9 book to eighty pages or less—enabling a cheap workbook for group studies. Make it spiral-bound to be even more useful.
If you’re not sure, make a dummy book & try to read it yourself