Ten Must-Knows For Designing Your Own Book

Page sizes. Bleed. Trim. Margins. Safe areas. Typefaces. Weights. Overprint. Transparency. Master pages. CMYK colours. Perfect Binding. Case binding. Paper stock. GSMs. Finishes. Spot UV. Spot colours. X-heights. Counters. Cap heights. Baseline grids. Serifs. Sans Serifs. Contrast. Navigation. Page furniture. Slugs. Colour conversions. Reprographics. Ascenders. Descenders. Glyphs. Page numbering. Contents. Glossary. Index. Image quality. Image composition. Cropping. Gutters. Offsets. Separations. Complimentary colours. Complimentary typefaces. Spine widths. The list goes on. And on. And on. And on some more.

There’s tons of stuff that goes into crafting the perfect layout for a book, and the vast majority of would go unnoticed by the untrained eye.

But that’s a good thing.

No, really.

Because if a reader struggles to read your book, they won’t read your book. Simple as that. So when you send your book to the printers, you need to be sure that you aren’t giving your readers any avoidable excuse to put your book down.

What it all boils down to is this; Readability is paramount.

Ready to dive into the rabbit hole, Alice?

Ok, let’s go.

#1 – Manuscript

You’ve written your manuscript in Microsoft Word (or similar), right?

Good. You’ve done the right thing.

You’ve proofread it, had an editor go through it, and proofread it again right?… Right? Oh, you haven’t.

Well, that needs doing before you even think about designing anything.

#2 – Software

Can’t I just use Microsoft Word again?

No. No. No No No.

We’re not typing a letter for your pen pal here, we’re making a professional book. So we need professional software.

At Kakadu HQ, we use Adobe InDesign (other desktop publishing software is available). It’s industry-standard software and works alongside other Adobe design applications to make things slick and easy.

You can get a free 7-day trial or sign up for a monthly package (19.97 p/month) at www.adobe.com.

Got it already? Good. Open it up, and let’s get cracking…

#3 – Page setup

You ought to know what your page size is going to be by this point. A5 is a pretty common size for a book, but there are no hard and fast rules here. It’s up to you!

When you have decided what size your book will be, you can set your document up.

Here are the important bits…


The trim size is the final size your book will be. Do you want an A5 book? Your trim size will be A5 (105x210mm).


Generally set to 3mm, the bleed area is a print area that exceeds the boundaries of your page (trim). So when the page is trimmed, your design can run right up to the edge of the page.

Facing pages

Check the facing pages box, and your pages will be arranged with left and right pages. Just like a book! You need to use facing pages in order to set up your page margins correctly.


Margins dictate the distance from the edge of the page to your content, and there are 4 different ones to adjust.

12.7mm is the default setting, but we’re going to increase that today…

Again, no hard and fast rules here, so the values are up to you – it’s your book! But here’s a start…

Top margins:

You need to allow room for running chapter titles, so for an A5 book, 20mm is a good distance.

Bottom margins:

You need to allow room for page numbers. But you also need to allow for people using their big greasy thumbs to hold the bottom of the page. At least 25mm, but more if you can.

If you want your text to be in the centre of the page (you do), your inner and outer margins will have different values. That’s because you lose part of your page in the gutter (where the pages are bound into the spine). To allow for that portion of missing page, you need a larger inside margin that the outside. Exactly how much larger depends on your spine size and the weight of the paper stock you use.

About 5mm?

Yeah, something like that. Check with your printers though, they should be able to steer you in the right direction here.

Safe area

This is an area that your printer considers safe from any misaligned printing/trimming errors. If you print right up to the edge of a page it’s possible that a bad trim job will cut off part of your page. As a rule of thumb, the cheaper the print costs, the more likely you are to encounter these errors.

Basically, you NEED TO keep your text inside the safe area. But your margins should be well inside that safe zone anyway.

#4 – Typefaces

Serif fonts

These are easier to read, especially in small sizes and dense clusters (like paragraphs), so they aid reading speed and ease.

A tall x-height and large counters make characters more legible at smaller sizes. Also avoid fonts with spindly stems, ascenders or descenders – they’ll become invisible when small.

Sans serif fonts

These aren’t as easy to read, so should be reserved for headlines, and maybe picture captions.

#5 – Colours

A high contrast between the text and background makes for perfect legibility. Black text on white really is the way to go here. Well, that was easy.

#6 – Cover Design

Books do get judged by their cover.

Your cover needs to jump off the bookshelf (or Amazon page), grab your customer’s attention, instantly communicate to a reader what’s inside, make them want to buy it, and leave all the other books on that shelf gathering dust.

For your book to have the best chance of outselling the competition, it’s imperative that it’s done properly.

So if you’re not a designer, invest in one.

#7 – How wide should my spine be?

There’s no simple answer to that. Sorry.

It all depends on how many pages you have, the paper stock you’ve used, and the method of binding. There’s maths involved. But don’t worry, your printers will be able to do the sums for you.

#8 – ISBN

The International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is a unique product identifier for books and related material. Whilst it is not a legal requirement to allocate ISBNs to your books, it is used by publishers, booksellers and libraries for ordering, listing and stock control purposes. It enables them to identify a particular publisher and allows the publisher to identify a specific edition of a specific title in a specific format within their output. Systems used by publishers, booksellers and libraries all rely on the ISBN to identify books ensuring they select and stock the correct title and edition.

If you’re not bothered by selling to publishers, bookshops and libraries, do you even you need an ISBN?

You do if you want to sell on Amazon.

One ISBN will set you back about £90, but bulk deals can make them A LOT cheaper.

#9 – Print-Ready PDFs

It’s important you get this right to avoid heated/panicky phone calls from your printer. When you’ve finished laying out your book, you’ll need to create a file that your printer can use. That file is a high-resolution PDF.

Start with the ‘High Quality Print’ Adobe PDF preset, then we can change a few values.

First off, in the general tab check the all pages box. You also need to check the single pages box for your manuscript, but check the Spreads box for your cover.

Compression settings should specify 300 dpi.

Marks and bleed settings need to include Print marks – trim, bleed, registration, and colour bars. And use the document bleed settings.

If you use images or graphics, your output settings should be changed to make sure you create a CMYK document. Colour conversion needs setting to ‘convert to destination’ and the destination needs to be set to a CMYK profile.

There are LOADS of other settings that can be adjusted here for a multitude of reasons, but the ones we’ve covered are the crucial ones.

#10 – E-Books

Do you need an e-Book? Well… You already have the content so why not?

Amazon’s KDP service makes it possible – albeit ultra-restrictive from a designer’s viewpoint.

Written by Lee Skellett

Co-founder of Kakadu Creative, Lee honed his craft in the fast-paced, hugely competitive magazine industry. He not only has a keen eye for detail, but he knows how to make an impact with bold, creative and effective design and branding.
October 4, 2021

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