Margins and Gutter Tips for Creating a Book

Margins on book example

This post is about how to design a good-looking book for CreateSpace that takes into account the printer handles gutters and margins (the gutter is the space between the two pages of a spread, and the margins are on the outside of both pages—top bottom, right, and left sides). I tend to put a bigger gutter than any of the margins. I do this so that the text doesn’t get lost in the fold when people try to read the book. Some books have such a small gutter that you have to fold it flat to read it. Logic would seem to dictate that the thicker the spine (length of the book), the bigger that margin would have to be. Not so!

Outline guide to where margins should be
The gutter in InDesign includes the blue gutter area and the inside margins on each page.

The strange thing about this in CreateSpace is that the proportion of gutter required is actually the inverse of the length of the book! I noticed this when I designed the first version of The Tarot Key. I put a huge gutter in it, but the weight of the pages (400) made it open itself. On a book of a smaller length, CS puts a crease on the cover at 5/16 inch in which makes the cover open there, effectively cutting off that much space in the gutter.

I don’t like small outside margins; anything below .5 inch looks bad to me. Of course, this is a visual decision that has to be balanced in consideration of all the visual elements: the type size, the leading, the other margins, image sizes, etc. CreateSpace tends to need an additional 5/16 of an inch on the inside gutter per side. This is easy to set up and also change in InDesign.

The gutter and margins are considered “white space” and as such, balance the rest of the design. In the field of graphic design, the negative space or “white space” is considered an important element of the design:

In page layout, illustration and sculpture, white space is often referred to as negative space. It is the portion of a page left unmarked: margins, gutters, and space between columns, lines of type, graphics, figures, or objects drawn or depicted. The term arises from graphic design practice, where printing processes generally use white paper. White space should not be considered merely ‘blank’ space — it is an important element of design which enables the objects in it to exist at all; the balance between positive (or non-white) and the use of negative spaces is key to aesthetic composition. Inexpert use of white space, however, can make a page appear incomplete.

When space is at a premium, such as in some types of magazine, newspaper, and yellow pages advertising, white space is limited in order to get as much vital information on to the page as possible. A page crammed full of text or graphics with very little white space runs the risk of appearing busy or cluttered, and is typically difficult to read.[1] Some designs compensate for this problem through the careful use of leading and typeface. Conversely, judicious use of white space can give a page a classic, elegant, or rich appearance. For example, upscale brands often use ad layouts with little text and a lot of white space. For publication designers, white space is very important. Publications can be printed on a variety of different papers, which can have different colors, textures, etc. In these cases, white space is used for good presentation and for showcasing the different stocks. ~

Copyright 2015 Aliyah Marr

About the author:

Aliyah Marr is a visual designer, specializing in books, and other media. She has now produced 9 books of her own in print and ebook editions and helped many other authors publish their books.

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