Home Blog Blog WSW Toolkit Foreign Correspondent—Folding for Binding, Part 3: Folding Printed Sheets

Foreign Correspondent—Folding for Binding, Part 3: Folding Printed Sheets


It’s mostly the same as folding blank sheets except that you match the text edges instead of the paper edges. If your paper is thin you may be able to see through it on the bench; otherwise, hold it up to the light and pinch the edge of the fold to get it in the right spot. Assuming you’ll be trimming all three edges at the end, the priority here is for the text to line up and for the margins to be equal on all pages. If you’re lucky, the paper may line up at the edges as well, but chances are it’ll be a little bit off, especially if you’re folding up hand-printed sheets.

The only other thing that’s different is it matters which direction the folding happens. If you fold the first fold in the wrong direction, the pages will all be in the wrong order. Imposition (the printing of multiple pages on one sheet) will be different depending on the size of the book and the way you decided to lay it out. We can talk about that later. For now just notice that there’s an order of operations.

Here’s my example sheet, the first signature of a octavo. The page printed at bottom right of the recto is page 1 of the signature; the one at bottom left is the last. I made the fold before taking these photos to show which direction the fold will happen.

foldingprinted1 copyfoldingprinted2 copy

Some of this is redundant if you’ve read the post about blank sheets, but it’s worth a refresher:

foldingprinted4 copy

foldingprinted5 copy

foldingprinted6 copy

Don’t forget to use the flat side of the bone or PTFE folder!
foldingprinted7 copy

foldingprinted8 copy

Once you get to the point where there’s enough text that looking at it in front of a light doesn’t really help, just kind of peek in the middle as you make the fold and be sure the text is still lining up. I suppose I ought to say that you will find at some point that no matter what you do you can’t get it to line up, because the printing is off in some way; in that case, either keep one margin consistent or split the difference and make it off the same in all directions—whatever’s the least offensive.
foldingprinted9 copy

I purposefully left these margins a little wide on one side as a dramatic example of keeping the text lined up at the expense of the paper.
foldingprinted10 copy

You won’t be able to turn the pages until you trim or slit the folds at head and fore-edge. I’d do a test one first to make sure you’ve gotten it all correct before you do your whole book!


  1. wrote on February 17th, 2011 at 9:30 am

    Leonard Seastone

    Quite right, except… Fold and trim marks (along with bleed marks if necessary) would make for an easier registration of page to page when folding. These marks can, and should, also allow for creep. Since the text will be imposed to and with the marks everything will align. Note too that the marks allow for a rule-out of the sheet at a proof stage to establish a visual frame that later will be the trim: very helpful.

  2. wrote on February 18th, 2011 at 2:48 pm


    Abby // Feb 18, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Absolutely, thanks for pointing that out. I didn’t say it but I was assuming this to model the sort of printing and binding you’d have in the period of hand presses; as far as I know there generally wouldn’t have been crop or fold marks or really anything indicating the margins, just the order of the folds in the form of signatures. Many old books survive with the margins still uncut so we can still see what the full sheet was like, and of course there are the how-to manuals, which become common after about 1750. Actually David Pearson has a good example with images in “Books as History” of one printing issued in two different bindings, the higher-priced one with more generous margins. In many countries one would buy the printed text from the bookseller bound only in a temporary binding and take it to a bookbinder for a more robust one; in that case, you may have copies of the same textblock taken to several different binders for innumerable styles of binding and you probably wouldn’t want to restrict the margins to a certain size by having such marks.

    That said, I probably don’t use crop marks myself only because I’ve never had the patience to set them up in InDesign with the right amount of creep!

    Here’s Pearson’s book if anyone’s interested: http://www.oakknoll.com/detail.php?d_booknr=96664

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