Ways to visualize book imposition (page layouts)

Imposition is essentially the art of page layout. It’s about figuring out how pages of a book will be positioned on a sheet to get them to where they need to be when the entire book is finally printed and assembled. It can help you figure out where spreads are, where sections start, etc.

This can be very helpful for both plotting/pacing your work and print production. It allows you to see, for example, whether something will start on left hand or right hand page, or where a spread will fall – whether the spread is actually running across one sheet of paper, or if it’s being split up across two and there’s a chance for some misalignment. You can also have a sense of how long or short of a book you want (depending on your time/patience/budget etc.), and fill pages accordingly.

Coming from a professional and personal background where I’ve been involved in drawing, writing, design/layout, and print production, it’s hard for me to not think about how every step of a process affects the final piece (I sometimes dream and think about formats and papers even before I’ve finalized the idea of a story!).

When you are planning the content of a book, you could start like this:

  1. Cover:
  2. Pg 1: stuff happens
  3. Pg 2: more stuff happens

etc. … but this gives you absolutely no context for how the pages (and the content of those pages) will relate to each other when they exist in their final environment – the finished book. It will be especially useless if you have to manage the production of your book yourself!

The following are some simple methods of visualizing imposition and page layouts that I like to use. (Note this is not about actually imposing pages for print; it’s more to help you plan your content.) I usually employ all three depending on where I’m at or what information I need to figure out.

First, a few quick notes to get us on the same page (tee hee):

left and right folio: left-hand page or right hand page

OFC, IFC, IBC, OBC: outside front cover, inside front cover, inside back cover, outside back cover.

saddlestitching: Common and popular staple binding method where you take sheets of paper, fold in half, and then staple them down the middle. Thus, each sheet of paper ends up = 4 pages (two in front, two on the back). You need to plan for a multiple of four. But really, any kind of binding method where you are binding the sheets down the middle (e.g. sewing, or even rubberbanding your pages) would need to take the same kind of page counts into consideration.

With this kind of binding, there is a “holy grail” – the uninterrupted 2 page spread in the middle of the book, which is the sweet spot for important, high-impact images because you don’t have to worry about any misalignment happening in the gutter (middle of the book where the spine is). Every other 2 page spread in the book is made up of two different sheets butting up against each other, so any artwork relying on careful alignment across the middle of the book has a chance of getting slightly messed up.

perfect binding: Individual sheets of paper are bound together with glue on one edge. This is the type of binding you see for most paperback novels. A lot of people think it looks more “professional” than saddlestitching. I mention this mainly because you don’t need to plan as carefully for a specific number of pages, you can just insert or remove more (remembering of course that each sheet = 2 pages, one on front and one on back). Again, any binding method that is binding loose sheets on one edge – all those other mechanical binding methods like coil binding, spiral or wire-o binding, etc. – would have similar page count considerations. (The exception is laying out the cover and an image on the spine, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

OK, here are the methods!

1. Imposition Chart (Table)

This is my default go-to format when I think, “Oh! I want to make a little saddlestitched book. Something around 28 pages. How does that look?” I almost always start with an imposition chart when planning a new book.

Ways to visualize book imposition - Imposition Chart

Note that in the example, I’ve highlighted the middle if it were a saddlestitched book, but this information is actually not readily available here (you’d need to do some math, fold a mockup, or look at the next method “V-drawing” to find it).

I like this setup because I can quickly see what page number something is on, and a description about the page. Sometimes I try to start writing scripts on the different pages too. Another nice thing is that you can easily create it with a doodle in your sketchbook or in a computer program like Word, Excel, OpenOffice, etc.

When I worked on This Tastes Funny, a perfect bound comics anthology with 6 different artists under our Suddenly Sentai collective, we created an imposition template using a spreadsheet in Google Drive, and shared it with all the artists involved so that everyone could collaborate and plan their comic/page counts:

Imposition chart for This Tastes Funny

For anyone who owns a copy of This Tastes Funny, you’ll notice immediately that the order of the stories in the imposition chart doesn’t reflect the final order of stories in the book. But that was fine for our purposes; we just needed to know page counts and whether people started or ended their story on the left or right folio, and we could move things around as desired. For example, my story (The Terribly Traumatic Tale of Prince Tofu) was only 15 pages including my Author Talk. So I immediately saw that there was an empty left folio, and we knew we needed to fill it with something. Hence, random extra doodle.

2. V drawing

This one is specifically for saddlestitched books or books bound down the middle of a folded sheet.

Ways to visualize book imposition - V Drawing / Lazy Mockup

It’s pretty much an “I don’t have anything available/am too lazy to make a physical dummy/mockup right now, so I’m going to draw this” replacement. I usually use it in tandem with the chart method because while it’s not the best for planning content, it’s a great visual shortcut and good way to see where things fall for the reader. As mentioned under the Chart format, you can know immediately where the “holy grail” is! I can also see how many sheets of paper I’m going to need to use to create this book (here, it’s three).

Orient the V however you like – just pretend you have a book open and standing up, and you are either looking down at it from above or looking up at it from below. I like the second option because it’s similar to holding a book open in your hand – the front cover ends up on your left.

3. Thumbnails with Pagination

This method is handy once you start thumbnailing your pages for your comic! It’s very straightforward and is basically paginated thumbnails. Simply draw a bunch of boxes for your pages, and add page numbers to the right or left (to visually indicate whether it’s left or right folio) as you go.

Ways to visualize book imposition - Thumbnails with Pagination

You can put the boxes in any configuration you want. For example, you could combine it with the Chart method and start with 1 box on the first line for the outside front cover, then 2 boxes on the lines below for left and right folio, etc. Or, you could just keep drawing boxes until you hit the end of the sheet of paper you are working on, and then add page numbers. Sometimes I just draw a big grid in my sketchbook and then number the pages that way.

Keeping an even number of pages on one line (so that you have complete spreads together) is probably best to avoid confusing yourself and overlooking opportunities for spreads.

Again, all these are methods that I personally like to use, and while they are helpful individually, they can be even more useful when referenced in conjunction with each other. Others may find these complicated or inconvenient; the most important thing is that you use a technique that works best for you. Hope this helps you find tools or get ideas for your own planning to get full use out of your page layouts!