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I used to think that the inner margin should be smaller than the outer margin in two-sided paper layouts, as in classical book layouts.

This is an example of what I mean:

Example

This example was taken from this document: http://www.ntg.nl/maps/30/13.pdf

However, people in the printing house where I am going to have my book printed recently told me that I am wrong. According to them, the inner margin should be equal to or greater than the outer one, mainly because there is a small part of the margin that gets partially hidden in the binding process.

I know that I should add a small offset to the inner edge of the layout. When I am asking about inner and outer margins, I mean without taking that offset into account.

So, my question is: What are some most common or accepted rules about inner-outer margins ratio, when talking about a classical book design?

When I say classical I don't mean medieval but just not too modern.

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Hi Vincent and welcome!

I think Tschichold's Canon works esthetically but yes, depending on your binding, you will have to add to the inner margin. It obviously depends on the kind of binding and also the amount of pages in your book.

There are other canons like Van de Graaf and Rosarivo and Bringhurst also has a nice section about page proportions in his Elements of typographic style book.

I can't think of a specific rule to follow in determining margins but there are guidelines that will guide your choice:

  • take into account the nature of the document (i.e. if it's a short shelf-life like a newspaper, you won't be having big margins like this, too expensive and make it look too precious).

  • take into account how the binding will influence your margins.

  • take into account the paper format you are printing on.
  • take into account where you will be inserting your pagination.

Also, usually, the bottom margin is a bit wider to balance things out visually and also leaves some space for the reader to hold the text. Most canons can be adapted to allow for more or less text so make sure you know how to use your favorite canon well.

If you want strict rules, I would definitely recommend Tschichold's The New Typography. I would recommend to take some of his advice and leave some unless you really want to do something extremely classical.

Whenever I've laid out classical books, I've very often started with Tschichold as a basis and then tweak according to binding and just my own visual sensitivity.

  • As a fun sidenote, I suspect my own Tschichold's version of The New Typography was laid out with his own canon but without taking into account the binding because the text ends up way too close to the binding and is a bit hard to read without squishing the book down! – curious Oct 8 '14 at 15:55
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I think you're right.

Classically, inner margins are smaller than outer margins. However, you do need to ensure the inner margins are large enough to keep content out of the gutter.

The reason outer margins are larger is due to creep. (which you can calculate). Creep is the slow outward movement of content due to the gutter and binding. Content will move towards the outer edges. The thicker the paper and the more pages, the larger the creep can be. Larger outer margins are used to offset the visual appearance of creep.

  • +1 for mentioning creep. Although your printer should take this into account for you and advise you on this. Best way to go is to have a dummy created so you can test how the book reads with binding and all. – curious Oct 8 '14 at 15:57
  • Agreed, Creep is generally in the hands of the print provider, but it's an important aspect one should take into account. I've seen many a designer create small outer margins which will virtually vanish due to creep. – Scott Oct 8 '14 at 15:58

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