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I'm designing a cookbook in InDesign using templates from blurb.com similar to the one below. If I want a photo or a piece of text to be aligned to the centre of the page when the book prints, is it better to align it central to the live work area or to the actual page trim size? My gut says align relative work area but I'm not 100% sure...

cover spread

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You're right, you need to align your artwork in the live work area (yellow) for best results, NOT the page.

You can look at most hardcover or paperback books, you will notice they are easier to read if there's more room in the middle. And because of the binding, when you open a book the central part where the binding is will curve your sheets and give already the impression that margin is shorter than the outside one; for this reason you SHOULD NOT align your artwork on the binding or the total width of the page! You either center it in the live area or on the outside edge (from the limit of the inside margin to the trimmed outside edge of the book.)

Another reason for not aligning to the middle part is: When people read books, they usually don't like that curved shape the binding gives to the pages and they will open it even more to flatten the areas where the text is; this will create pressure on the binding and if it's a cheaply made one, the pages will start to detach from it over time. It's worst on perfect binding and books with a lot of pages. To avoid this tension, it's better to keep your artwork closer to the outside edge and not too much on the inside one. The thicker the book, the further you should be from the center area. By thick, I mean more than 200 pages.

When you work in that kind of template, consider that live area in yellow as your whole page and use that to center your artwork. If you can do bleed, then you still center your artwork in that yellow area but you can add non-important elements in the pink zone.

Blurb has already prepared their templates to be optimal for their printing and binding, you should simply trust them. It may look misaligned on your file but it will look great once printed! In fact if you center your artwork on the total width of the page, it will look misaligned once printed.

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I think depends on 2 main things.

Design

The trim area does not necessary means that you do not touch or put something in this area (like with a photograph).

A side note: Thoose margins are (in my opinion) too small to have text, so that is not a "safe area". In my opinion a safe margin is arround half inch or 12 mm on the outer borders.

If you are using a very, very obvious and clear grid, you probably need to align on the inside of that grid.

If the grid is not that obvious in the finnal design, or you are using a very clean design, probably on the page itself... or something in the middle for a visual correction.

Bound

One more things to consider is the type of bound the book will have.

A staple bound can show all the design when 2 pages are wide open. So no need for an inner bigger safe area. That will depend then, on the design.

A sewn binding could not show all, so in that case probably you need some diference on the inner one.

In this particular case you probably need to align inside the grid, with some visual correction if the case needs it.

But it also looks different when the design is on one page or both pages (like a title on a 2 page photo.

The final word

You need to make a choice depending on the design. Print a dummy and test it.

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