Ch. 4: WYSINWYG: the great Adobe Acrobat booklet-printing mystery

What you see is not what you get…

Adobe Acrobat will print booklets, putting two A5 portrait pages on each side of an A4 landscape sheet, with appropriate pagination (i.e. if you print  an eight page booklet – which will require  two sheets of paper – then one sheet will have pages 8 and 1 on the back, and pages 2 and 7 on the front, while the other will have 6 and 3 on the back and 4&5 on the front, so that when the sheets are folded together,  the pages will be in sequence).

pagination-copy  hmm… a bit rough, but I hope you get the idea.

This is exactly what you want, since a book is constructed out of a sequence of booklets (called signatures) that are then sewn together; and the pagination is far and away the trickiest part (to get the hang of the sequence above – the simplest possible after a single-sheet leaflet – you may still have to resort to physically folding some sheets of paper and numbering them,  just to see how it works*.  When you consider that a book signature may consist of multiple sheets – my first proofs had six, my final version eight – giving 24 and 32 pages respectively – you can see why you would want a computer programme to work out the pagination and printing sequence for you.

(If you really want to hold it in your head, then the reverse of the outermost sheet will always have the last number in the sequence (which will be even) on the left – e.g. 32 – and the first on the right, which will be odd (e.g. 1) while the obverse will have a low even number on the left (e,g 2) and a high odd number on the right (e.g. 31). Only on the obverse of the innermost or centre sheet (when they are folded) will the numbers be in sequence, because the pages face one another (e.g. 16 & 17 in an 8 sheet/32 page signature).

This is handy to remember for print instructions – a signature always starts odd and ends even: e.g. 1-32, 33-64, 65-96, 97-128 etc. It is also a useful check when sewing, since the page where the threads are visible will be the centre one and should have sequential numbers, e.g. 16-17, 48-49, 80-81, 112-113 etc.)

Adobe Acrobat does all that for you, but it does something else as well:

A rather tricky combination

The picture above shows the same page: the left hand is as it appears on screen, the right hand (stuck to the screen with blu-tack) as it prints. Though the screen image is set at 100%, the printed page is slightly larger, yet as you can see, the area occupied by the text on it is smaller – note how the chapter heading aligns with the first line of the screen version, yet the last line of text is farther from the foot of the page than on the screen, as is the page number.

Although we are supposed to live in the age of WYSIWYG – ‘what you see is what you get’ – Acrobat shows you one thing then prints another: it shrinks the text slightly, and inserts a border all round. The difference is slight but noticeable and very annoying when you have spent time getting the page to look the way you want only to have it come out different. You can waste a lot of time trying to find a way round it, as I did, but your best bet is to get onto some online forum discussing the matter. First, you will have the bitter joy of finding that you are not alone  –  solamen miseris socios habuisse dolorismisery loves company, as Mephistophilis observes to Faustus – and, eventually, usually some way down the thread, a rueful Adobe person will chip in with an explanation:
‘The issue, regrettably, is that Acrobat is performing as designed.’

In other words, it just does that.

My first venture in bookbinding with McAvinchey was a one-off edition for my daughter’s birthday, irritatingly bedevilled by the problem described above. It was that which persuaded me to make a second visit to a printer’s, this time a local one.




cloth-bound cover


Miss Isobel Flaws samples the prose


overgenerous margins imposed by Adobe Acrobat

*and in fact it was only on looking at my own video that I realised I had given an erroneous account in the opening paragraph of the first version I published, where I had the centre pages as 5&6 when they should have been 4&5 – which shows how easy it is to go wrong.

[click here for full List of Contents]

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