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Are there existing words to describe the relative orientation of the front and back of a double sided piece of paper?

The four different cases I can think of can be explained with me holding a postcard with the front facing me, top facing upwards. To flip the postcard so the back is also facing upwards I need to:

  1. hold it on the left and right sides to flip it about the horizontal axis (like a Thaumatrope)
  2. hold it by the top left and bottom right corners to flip it about the "downward diagonal" axis
  3. hold it on the top and bottom sides to flip it about the vertical axis (like a common book/novel)
  4. hold it by the bottom left and top right corners to flip it about the "upward diagonal" axis

Any words I use for this would be totally convention- or culture-based, so I'd like to find any existing conventions before I invent one!

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  • Based on the accepted answer I decided to use the following terms: (1) "calendar" (2) "right-hand" (hold the paper with your right hand in the corner and rotate) (3) "book" (4) "left-hand" (as above, but with the left hand in the bottom left corner) — I think what I'm looking for here is pretty unique, thank you all for helping!
    – JP.
    6 hours ago

4 Answers 4

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Computer printers capable of printing on both sides of a single sheet of paper provide for your answer in the properties/options/settings panel.

When directing a printer to print both sides, the options are

  • Flip on long side
  • Flip on short side

This convention has been in use for so many years that I am unable to determine when it began, which is mostly irrelevant.

It's unambiguous and easily understood, unless one has a square sheet, at which point it's also irrelevant.

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  • I think the terms "left bound" and "top bound" are easier to understand as the document you are printing could be either landscape or portrait orientation.
    – Wolff
    Sep 21 at 15:11
  • Nice — that covers the "homoriented" cases, but (of course) printers don't cover the "heteroriented" cases (ie. where you'd have to rotate about a diagonal axis to keep the front & back upright). Of course these last two are the hard ones…
    – JP.
    Sep 22 at 9:40
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Readers flip "whatever" in a way so the copy can be read. If they flip it so copy can't be read, they rotate it so copy can be read.

Generally, orientation is referred to as Horizontal/Vertical... sometimes Landscape/Portrait. For production purposes, i.e. bindery, long/short edge is often used.

Typically if you have a layout, any layout, with copy to be read horizontally, readers flip the page on the vertical axis expecting copy on the next page to have the same horizontal orientation. (e.g. a book) This is most common. It doesn't really matter what orientation the page itself has. The copy orientation tells the reader how to hold the page and subsequently flip it. This is especially true if there is no bindery. Binding, in conjunction with copy orientation, can do a great deal to inform readers the orientation which something should be held.

For example... If you have a "calendar" style layout, bound at the top on the long edge but copy running horizontally parallel to the spine, then readers tend to flip on the horizontal axis upward, because that's intuitive.

Postcards can be flipped in any direction and don't necessarily adhere to the same inherent tendencies as full pages of copy. Mostly because flipping a postcard is a twist of the wrist... and depends a great deal on what direction that twist takes - could be either horizontal or vertical. You really can't predict how any postcard may be flipped. The same way you can't really predict which side of a postcard will be seen first.

No one holds anything by a corner and rotates it on a diagonal.

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  • Postcards can indeed be flipped in any direction; I'm asking how to describe the direction a postcard would need to be flipped (or, using your phrasing, where I'd need to hold it/put my wrist) for my flip to put both the front and back the right way up. We might say books have "vertical" double-sided relative orientation (because if I flip a book about the vertical axis, the words are the right way up). We might say a Thaumatrope has "horizontal" double-sided relative orientation (because the bird and cage, or flowers and vase, must be the same way up when flipped about the horizontal axis).
    – JP.
    Sep 21 at 10:18
  • If I flipped a Thaumatrope "vertically" then the flower and vase would be incorrectly aligned. If I flipped a book "horizontally" then the text would be the wrong way up. Postcards are slightly unique in that you can have a landscape "front" and a portrait "back" (which means sometimes you need to flip about a diagonal axis to keep any text upright). It may be that no words currently exist as shorthand for the relative orientation of a front and back of a piece of paper like this (like there is with binding) — but I thought I'd ask!
    – JP.
    Sep 21 at 10:20
  • @JP. "Work and turn" and "work and tumble" are phrases used in production to describe artwork which is 2-up and when printed, the print is either rotated or flipped after the first run in order to print the second run. While not really related to reading or user view, I could possibly see "work and tumble" being used to describe the landscape front and portrait back -- I'll stress again that it's not the traditional meaning of the phrase... but it's descriptive in a way that anyone familiar with it may understand the intent.
    – Scott
    Sep 21 at 10:48
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This answer is probably useless because these are terms used in another country and language. (But you asked or culture-based)

Allow me to illustrate two words that are used in Spanish in the printing industry.

A. Vuelta de Bandera This is something like Flag flip. It is rotating the paper on the vertical axis maintaining both "up" sides on the same border of the paper.

B. Vuelta de Campana Something like Bell flip Rotating the paper in the horizontal axis, making the upside of one face of the paper behind the bottom part of the other.

You can clearly see both analogies.

enter image description here


The orientation of the paper during printing depends on the machine. On sheetfed offset print, you always print "landscape" or on the long side because you have more anchor points.

This is regardless of the orientation of the design on the paper, so it is regardless of a "landscape" or "portrait" orientation on the design. I clearly make a distinction between design and paper.

enter image description here

But on some thick materials, you cut the sheet of paper in a way the fibers of the paper, are oriented horizontally so the paper can roll on the machine with less resistance. (Yes, the paper has an orientation even if the sheet is square)

enter image description here


In the end, the "Flag flip" or "Bell flip" are based mainly on how you flip the paper on a specific machine. You normally use the Flag flip, because you want to use the same side to "clamp" your paper. This small space can not be printed, so if you Bell flip it, you end with two sides "wasted" or not printed. (Not only that, but you also need 1 side as a reference for alignment)

enter image description here

On a home printer, you probably use more of a bell flip to maintain the orientations (again based on the orientation with the printer, not with the design)


When printing, no one rotates the paper diagonally, because this will produce a 90° rotation. If that is the way the design is, fine, but you minimize confusing variables when doing a process that could cost a lot of money.


On a final design, you could have some conventions. When the product has some binding you could think of a book vs a calendar.

And in overall life, you can think on horizontal and vertical.

I don't think it is necessary to invent a new convention. For something to be a convention needs to be adopted, and this takes money and time.

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  • 1
    This is a superb answer! It doesn't cover the diagonal cases (which, I suppose, are pretty unique) but I really like the Bandera and Campana methods of description, as they imply the rotational axis very clearly!
    – JP.
    Sep 23 at 13:30
  • Diagonal is just rotationg twice, one in each axis.
    – Rafael
    Sep 23 at 16:38
  • I think you'd be back to the front side then? If you have a landscape postcard you can never make it portrait by only rotating it about the edges (you have to rotate about a diagonal axis)
    – JP.
    Sep 28 at 8:06
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Flipping is when you rotate on the horizontal axis. Rotating on the vertical axis is called flopping.

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  • And Flip-flops? :)
    – Rafael
    Sep 22 at 22:18

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