I have devoted the past 16 years to developing and producing beautifully crafted illustrated books and hope that offering my insight and expertise on this subject will convince our blog’s readers to become our clients. On the other hand, you may already have commissioned a graphic designer for your book and are starting to question his or her capabilities. Here are some pointers concerning book construction that will help you sidestep several annoying (and expensive) pitfalls.

Not every designer understands book construction!

book_construction_diagramBook construction: Book-manufacturing requirements, particularly for a large-format illustrated book, differ from those for just about every other form of print publication. Such books, whether hardbound or quality softbound, are intended to last for many years, so their binding must be very strong. Consequently, they are also less accommodating to the design. Among other issues, your designer needs to address these basic elements of book making:

The gutter: The margin space on the page between the binding and the inside edge of the text, illustration, or any printed element is called the gutter. At some time, you’ve unquestionably experienced an insufficient gutter: You open a book to find that the text’s inside edge is partially obscured by the tight binding. You force the book to open wider and ultimately break its binding. A generous gutter is more a necessity than luxury, and it should be provided to every reader.

Double-page spread problems: A good book designer must be careful and selective when running images or text across the gutter. Printing and binding technology has become highly precise, but some variance is inevitable. The example below shows a reproduction that looked great on the monitor, even in proof, but when bound, it was a serious disappointment.

image in gutter

Recurrent elements:  Consistency is invisible. The illustrated-book designer must anticipate a much wider range of potential variations to design elements that recur. Chapter-opener spreads, caption treatments, and folios and running heads* all require careful foresight. A good rule of thumb is to keep recurring elements back from the edge of the page. For example, a folio given a generous indent from the outside edge of the page will appear to have minimal variance when a reader flips through the book’s pages. Also, any graphic element that bleeds off the outside edge of the page is apt to look jagged and odd when the book is closed.

Innovation should appear seamless.  An innovative design needs to be versatile enough to accommodate the many recurrent elements as well as the wide variance that will inevitably occur within that layout, and this leads to my final piece of advice:

If it looks like a mistake, it is. Even if it was intentional.

*The running head (or foot) is a chapter, section, or book title, usually near the folio (i.e., page number); it provides readers with a placeholder or landmark.

Topics: illustrated books, book design, illustrated-book producer, illustrated book design, book production, printed books, fine art book publishing, text design