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I am a web developer who now needs to create a brochure, so excuse me if fumble some terms.

It is a gatefold brochure and the requirement is that the central piece is as close to square as possible. I found a pretty good match - the US Legal size, but it is in imperial units.

But i live in Europe, and we have this strange system known as "metric". The *US Legal" in metric system is 355.6 x 215.9 mm (according to wikipedia). Which does not strike me as a good sign.

So, is there an European alternative to this US Legal paper size ? And do i even need to look for alternative ? ( maybe this size is common in EU too )

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I'm not clear why are you looking at this particular page size - why not use say 300mm x 150mm which would give you an exactly square centre panel? Are you trying to print it youself? Also, I am not sure that gatefold has an exact meaning so it may be good to clarify the construction. –  e100 Aug 30 '11 at 13:16
e100 and alan both have the right advice: unless there is a reason you need to use off-the shelf paper, a printer can trim your brochure to ANY size you require and the paper sizes are not relevant. –  horatio Aug 30 '11 at 14:07
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3 Answers

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Standard US and European paper sizes have different origins, both with deep historical roots, but you'll have a relatively hard (and relatively expensive) time finding US Legal paper stock in Europe or A4 in the US. Even in the US, the standard legal size is increasingly rare and much more expensive. The UK may still have "Foolscap", which was standard there when I was growing up, but I doubt you'll see that anywhere else.

A4, A3, etc., are all 1:1.414 (square root of 2), so that when you fold a sheet in half the result is in the same ratio. Makes for very easy design scaling, but doesn't lend itself to gatefold with a square center section.

I would suggest you go talk to a few local printers and find out what they recommend. Going to a non-standard size can increase cost significantly or can be no big deal, depending on the amount of waste from a press sheet. Many printers now gang run (put more than one customer's job on the same sheet of paper) using computer-aided imposition (the placement of artwork on the printing plate) to make maximum use of the available space. A friendly printer will advise you what overall size will be most cost-effective and how best to set up your artwork. They may even have a template that you can download.

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Alan pretty much summed it up. The only thing I'd like to add is that you could do your design on A3 paper (420 x 297mm 16 ½ x 11 ¾ ins), but do your design in the 8.5" x 14 US legal side. This does two things for you: You can print to all edges (bleed), and you get the square-center gate fold. It will be your printer's responsibility to trim the job accordingly (yes that will be more expensive than standard sheets without bleeds, but I doubt the cost difference would be prohibitive). –  Dawson Aug 28 '11 at 3:16
Not sure I quite understand: "you could do your design on A3 paper... but do your design in the 8.5" x 14 US legal side." Guess you mean the finished sheet would be 8.5" by 14", but surely when folded it'll be 8.5" x 7", which isn't square? –  e100 Aug 30 '11 at 17:13
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If you're getting this professionally printed on a press:

You don't need to worry too much about sheet size, the artwork will be printed on oversize sheets which are cut down to the required size after printing. Larger sizes will need to be run on larger presses, and may cost more but it's not going to be directly proportional. As per Alan's answer, speak to your printer on this.

The final artwork you supply should contain 'crop marks' - these indicate where the printed oversize sheet should be cut down to produce the finished page. Output of these marks is normally automated by your software.

If you're planning on printing it yourself on an office colour printer or similar:

Stick to metric sheets and trim after printing if you need to. You can't easily get US paper sizes from printer paper suppliers. In fact, you only really have a choice of A3 (420mm x 297mm) or A4 (297mm x 210mm).

(When I worked in a multinational organisation in the UK, we did have stocks of blank US Letter printer paper, but they were again cut down from metric.)

In either case:

A brochure which when folded becomes 210 mm square will fit conveniently into the many envelopes, wallet files and boxes designed to take A4, and when unfolded into A3; a 220mm square one will be significantly more incompatible. Also, you can print your drafts at full size on an A3 printer, although not if your artwork is intended to go right to the edge ("full bleed").

These may not be important considerations in your case, but they are examples of the sort of thing you should consider when deciding on artwork size.

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If you're getting it printed the printer will probably have a press that does slightly over A2 or A3 size (for example, a Heidelberg GTO52 will accept paper up to 52cm wide by 36cm high, about 20% longer and wider than an A3 sheet). Paper merchants can cut paper to size, but often the manufacturers supply paper in stand 'SRA' sizes that are slightly larger than the corresponding ISO 'A' size.

For example, SRA2 is 640mm x 450mm whereas A2 is 594mm x 420mm. SRA3 is 450mm x 320mm; ISO define various 'SRA' sizes for each corresponding 'A' size. Often it is cheaper to get the paper in these sizes because it can be bought pre-cut with minimal wastage.

If you want a square brochure with gate folded sides then the ratio of width to height you want will be 2:1 (twice as wide as it is high).

A little research on the cost of the paper may allow you to optimise the size of the brochure for stock that the printer can get a little more cheaply. If you can base your design on something that can be printed on standard stock then the paper may be a little cheaper. Find out how wide the press you intend to use will print (typically it will need a couple of centimetres each end for cut marks and such like).

For SRA3, you can expect to get at least 420mm (the width of A3) plus the excess. In this case, you could have a brochure that is 420x210. With SRA2 you could get something that is about 600x300. The printer's finishing people will just cut off the excess paper with a guillotine.

Alternatively, you can size the brochure to the press. In the case of the GTO52, the largest practical image you can print is a little under 50cm wide, with bleeds. This might allow you to make a brochure that is something like 48cm x 24cm open or 24cm x 24cm closed.

For a 2:1 width to height ratio you are unlikely to get an efficient custom cut from SRA0 unless you want to make your brochure quite small. You might be able to get 5x2 cut of 256 x 450 off a SRA0 sheet, from which you could print a final product around 42cm x 21cm. This would let you do your final square cut without too much wastage of the original paper stock.

Note that the paper cost will be significant for a large run, but for small print runs (say less than 10,000) the artwork and plates will dominate the costs, so busting a gut to economise on paper may be more trouble than it's worth.

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