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During my engineering training, several decades ago, we learnt that A4 is 297x210mm and accordingly A5 is 210x148,5mm.

Today an intern showed me a template she is making and I noticed that she had only created pages of 210x148mm. Turns out that Scribus had pre-sets called A5 with that size. My eyes did not like the "surplus" strip of 1mm when two pages are shown on one sheet-A4 (even on the screen it looks wrong to me).

Next I took my intern to Wikipedia and was surprised that indeed there is a mention in ISO 216 of "rounded to the nearest millimetre". So A5 is listed as 148x210mm.

Now our intern is preparing a series of 33 childrens' activities sheets which will be produced in four different ways:

  • initial drafts on folded A4-sheets from our office laser printer

  • folded A4 sheets, giving four pages A5 each, mass-printed b/w by offset for each child to have and work in

  • sets of A2 posters in full colour for the teachers on cardstock; one for each page, so the activities can be explained to the class

    • A5 PDF-Documents of four pages in colour for online distribution to kids/parents

As we are planning for mixed production from the same Scribus-file, including blow-ups to A2, and also want to take our documents to a professional print-shop, I do not want to mess up the page-size from the start.

This educational project is meant for West Africa and will take hundreds of hours of creating the activities and the layouts, so this is why I am asking for your help. Our budget is limited but we want to do proper files and respect norms.

What do other users do? Force Scribus or InDesign to a page width of 148,500mm when two pages are printed unto a sheet of A4 size? Or really set your DTP program to a page-width of 148mm and accept that two pages on an A4 sheet will end up further to one side? Is there a setting somewhere, where we can precisely place our A5 pages on the A4 paper-sheets (for example to allow generous space for the center-fold)?

Thank you.

Update: I have researched prizes at online print-shops and as an indirect benefit I looked over their specs or instructions: Seems that in real life (Germany) they prefer an A5 document in 148,0 x 210,0 mm (plus bleed, which is 3mm all round for the digital print-shop which will get our order).

  • Be aware, many commercially printed pieces are actually slightly under standard sizes. This offers the benefit of using bleeds without the need to use larger stock sizes. That may play a part in your decision. I can not comment on why Scribus uses a smaller A5 size. – Scott Jan 23 '17 at 22:17
  • Thank you Scott; additional input is welcome. The absolute sizes of the produced physical output (posters, work-sheets) are not so critical, I just want to set up a work-flow for this project which will not get stuck when we take it to printers in Africa (for offset) and Europe (for digital colour-posters). – Martin Zaske Jan 23 '17 at 22:32
  • If your booklets are all just 4 pages then I would suggest setting them up as inside / outside spreads on A4 landscape. That eliminates any potential ambiguity regarding the size of A5 and should be perfectly acceptable to the printer. – Westside Jan 23 '17 at 23:27
  • @Chris The children will receive folded A4 sheets, printed on both sides with all four pages. I have listed all four types of useage in my question. I got Scribus running in English and I cannot find your "inside / outside spreads". Do you mean "New Document", Document Layout "Double sided A4 landscape"? My Scribus is calling those pages "right page" and "left page". I will comment more when I am sure that we do not have a misunderstanding. Thank you. – Martin Zaske Jan 24 '17 at 0:12
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Honestly, there shouldn't be an issue. You should always have a bleed of more than .5 mm (if you need bleed), which you can use to compensate if you're upscaling or placing on a larger page. Print or cutting inaccuracies can drift by that much anyway (hence the bleed). If you don't have a bleed of that much then you're either not printing anything to the edge of the page or you're going to have problems anyway.

The "surplus" 1 mm you're seeing in Scribus sounds like a display issue in the program and it shouldn't export like that (if it does, that'd be a bug you should report — but I don't use Scribus so I have no idea).

As for printing on A4, either you will be printing with a bleed and the paper will be correctly trimmed or you're not printing to the edge and the pages can be centered on the A4. Half a mm difference on each side shouldn't be noticeable. If it really is an issue then add an extra .5 mm to your inside margins – but inaccuracies in the printing, trimming or even stock size can be more than that anyway.

As you've seen, the ISO standard is to round to the nearest mm and most templates do this so stick with that – no need to complicate things.

  • For cost reasons, the main print run (for the children) will be black on white only on offset and it needs no bleed: We will have a nice simple colored background (on a separate layer in Scribus) which we can toggle on or off for color versus b/w printing. The digital printshop we used for our last color job in Europe wanted 3 mm bleed and Scribus does that nicely in the PDF export settings. I read that you propose to stick with pages of 148mm width. And you sound like "Let the offset print shop deal with it, how they arrange that on the A4 sheets". Or can I specify "centered" somewhere? – Martin Zaske Jan 24 '17 at 0:25
  • Talk to the print shop but they should center it on the paper anyway (if you're printing on an office printer you can specify the page be centered in your print settings, but that has nothing to do with your actual file). Since you're either printing with no background/bleed or with a 3mm full bleed the worst case scenario is that your pages are shifted ~1mm but that's easily avoided by talking to the printshop – Cai Jan 24 '17 at 0:37
  • Writing it all up and interacting with Cai has helped me to figure this out. I even found more information in a paper book about modern commercial printing. We will keep the settings as proposed by Scribus (148,000 mm wide). And my engineer brain will just have to cope with the fact that half a millimeter would be a lot of steel or aluminium but is not a lot of paper. When I read about all that bleed and about those unbelievable sizes of the tolerances I get light-headed. But such is publishing. Thanks to all, will mark as answered. Not least because Cai started "Honestly..." – Martin Zaske Jan 24 '17 at 9:12
  • More background (apologetics): I know that everybody sais "talk to the print shop". But we are in a village and the shops are a days travel south or north-est. They do not "discuss by e-mail". And they do not "talk" unless they see very specific drafts - they are not used talking about concepts. So we have not yet decided on a certain print-shop and I wanted a good-standard-file so that I can later take it to any commercial printer for offers and for production. Fixing four pages each in 33 documents would be a desaster - especially after the intern has left... – Martin Zaske Jan 24 '17 at 9:17
  • Saying "talk to the print shop" in no way means this was a bad question by the way, it is of course good to get things right from the get go, it is good advice to talk to your printers as early as possible in the process though. Glad you got it all worked out and for what it's worth it bothers me too, but as you said, such is publishing :) – Cai Jan 24 '17 at 9:21

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