Imposing Order: Imposition and Printer's Spreads

Printer's spreads and reader's spreads for cards, newsletters, booklets

4-page booklet imposition
4-page booklet imposition.
In order to read, print out of order
Page 1, Page 2, Page 3, Page 4 ... that's the order in which we read a book or newsletter. But is that the way we print them? Not always.

Sometimes pages must be printed out of order. On this and subsequent pages take a look at some simple examples that demonstrate imposition or printer spreads -- the process of printing multiple pages on a piece of paper in such a way that when folded (and perhaps cut) they end up in proper 1, 2, 3, 4 order for readers.

See the first sidebar illustration (click on the image to bring up a slide show of all illustrations) of a simple 4 page booklet printed on letter-size paper (digest size - 2 pages per side) or 4 pages on an 11x17 page (typical size for an 8.5x11 newsletter, for example).

Add 4 more pages to that booklet and your page numbering changes as shown in the second illustration.

Software designed specifically for creating greeting cards often handles the page layout and printing automatically. However if you are using a graphics or page layout program that doesn't, see the third illustration for how you would layout a side-folding greeting card printed on 1 side of a letter-size paper.

Illustrations: 4-page | 8-page | Greeting Card

Next, look at an example of larger imposition layouts for commercial printing and get tips on saving money with careful imposition planning.

Commercial printers often use large sheets of paper that they fold, cut, and trim to the finished size. One of many possible ways of printing multiple pages is shown in the illustration on this page (or here. This example is a 16-page "sheetwise imposition" signature. One large sheet is printed with 8 pages on each side. The solid lines are for cutting. The dashed lines are where the paper is folded.

Once cut and folded the pages form a 16 page booklet or signature. Several such signatures may be assembled into the final book or other publication.

Plan for color and graphics with imposition knowledge
Knowing how commercial printers position your pages for printing can be an important planning factor when it comes to adding color and spreading graphics across a 2-page spread. As with any job, consult your printer early in the planning process to insure good results and to make sure that your job doesn't involve processes that your printer cannot handle.

  • Reduce the cost of adding a third color to a job
    Run black with blue on one side of the press sheet. Then run black with green on the other side. You may incur a slight extra charge for the color change but not as much as if you were mixing black, blue, and green all on one sheet and having to run each side through the press multiple times.
  • Reduce the cost of four-color process printing
    If planning a publication that mixes black and white with some four-color process illustrations -- plan all color so that it falls on one side of a press sheet or all within a single signature when the job consists of multiple signatures.
  • Print better color from your desktop
    Even for desktop printing, understanding imposition is important. Most inkjet papers are designed to produce best results on only one side. Need double sided documents? Plan your color for one side and black and white only for the second side.
  • Insure smooth page-to-page transition of photos and graphics
    When an image crosses the gutter (spreads across 2 pages) it may not align properly in the final assembled document. Plan graphics that cross the gutter for pages with a natural spread — i.e. no worry with exactly matching cut edges. For example, in our 16-page signature described above, a graphic crossing pages 10-11 would have a cut down the middle. Whereas, a graphic spread across pages 8-9 would have a fold, not a cut — less worry with proper alignment.

Next, visualize imposition with mock-ups and charts.

How do you get your pages — printed from your desktop or prepared for commercial printing — into the proper printing order? Some page layout programs do this automatically. Adobe Pagemaker has the 'Build Booklet' Addition and QuarkXPress has XTensions for imposition. Some word processing programs may be able to produce printer's spreads as well. Your service bureau or printer may have in-house software that will accept your postscript files and then create the properly positioned pages.

In the sidebar you'll find lists of imposition software for desktop printing or for prepress use.

  • Make a Mockup
    Even before you start designing the pages, cut up and assemble a tiny mockup of your book, newsletter, or booklet and number the pages so that you can see both the printing order and the reading order of your pages. This can be invaluable when planning use of color and placement of graphics.
  • Print Thumbnail Pages
    Whether printing from your desktop or using a commercial printer, create thumbnails of your publication. In fact, your printer may require a folded dummy or a signature sheet showing positioning of pages.
  • Check the Chart
    Print this handy chart that shows printer spreads and number sequences for 8, 16, 24, 32, and 48 page booklets.

TIP: The two page numbers that are imposed side-by-side always add up to 1 more than the total number of pages in the booklet. For example, in an 8-page booklet all pairs of pages add up to 9 [8+1,6+3].

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