Untangling Printer Spreads

Design, Printing

One thing that I had noticed that I do differently is how I figure printer spreads for books. I call it “The Ladder” and just recently had to show some fellow designers how to place single page pdfs into printer spreads. They picked up on it quickly and I thought I would share it here as well.

For those who do not know: printer spreads are when your pages are printed double wide sheets, so when you stack the printed paper all you have to do is fold them in half and your book will automatically be in correct order. This is great for saddle stitched booklets, catalogs, and magazines. The problem is that it is confusing to layout and you can end up with the pages out of order and a ton of work on your hands to unscramble the pages

First thing is making sure that you have a total number of pages (including front and back cover in the count) that is divisible by four. This is assuming you don’t want any blank pages, and if you are paying for mailing you are going to want every available inch of real estate a page can offer. Why four? because every printer sheet has four spots: two on the front and two on the back.  

They are images like any other pages for this layout purpose. Every business I have worked with has numbered books differently. Sometimes the inside front cover is “page 1”, sometimes the second page on the inside is “page 1.” For this to work you have to count each image in order, regardless of  what the actual “page number” is. So, the cover will be 1, inside front cover will be 2, and so on with your back cover being your last page in the sequence. 

Let’s make a book.

When I would use “The Ladder” I usually just sketch it out on paper but I will show you in InDesign here. I will start with a small number of pages to show you the gist of it, then show how it applies no matter how big the book is, so long as it’s divisible by four. So lets say you have 12 pages including your front and back cover. You are going to start with the right side of the spread, this will be your 1.  


On the next spread down in your layout, drop your 2 on the left side. Next spread, drop 3 on your right. Do this back and forth until you hit the bottom (which should be the half number of all pages, in this case, 6). This is where you reverse, drop the 7 across from the 6, and go right back up filling in as you go.

Now export the above document as printer spreads and print with short edge binding. You can stack the sheets, fold them in half and the numbers will count from 1-12 in order. 

Here is a snippet of a larger book with 28 pages, you can see how quickly the pages see chaotic, but so long as you build them with The Ladder, going down and then back up, you can rest assured that they will be in order when you print them.