Artwork Preparation Guide

Softback (AKA Perfect Bound) Books

General information


We've tried to give helpful and complete information here. Sometimes that means there is quite a bit to read. If you're an old hand at printing books, all that follows is just common sense, written down. If you're new to printing books, the most important thing to remember is - Don't Panic! Much of it boils down to a few key things to remember. Inky has printed the first book for thousands of new authors (and publishers) and what follows is a distillation of the answers to all of the questions that we generally get asked. There's a fair bit of information here, so have a nice cup of tea and a good read. Deathless prose it is not, but it will save you much time and frustration.

Once you have read this guide, you can always call the Helpdesk to discuss anything you haven't quite understood. But, please read the guide first.

In a nutshell?

Send us 2 PDF files. One should have a single page that contains the artwork for the cover (or two pages if your cover is printed on the inside as well). The second should contain artwork for the book block (inner pages). Read on for more detailed information.

Need help understanding the order process?

This isn't part of this guide, but you can read the help section:

HELP > PLACING AN ORDER > HOW DO I PLACE MY ORDER open link in new window (opens in a new window)

Watch the videos.

There is a video in the section that explains what softback books are and how we manufacture them. If you are new to printing books, the video will help you to visualise some of the parts discussed in this guide.

There is also a video that gives you step by step instructions on how to create a book cover in the OpenOffice Writer Word Processor.

You can see both videos in our Tutorials section here:

HELP > Tutorials open link in new window (opens in a new window)

Is proofing the same as proof reading?

It's worth remembering that when we proof your book we just check that it is technically capable of being printed. We don't proof read it, we don't check it for factual errors, we don't check or critique the way that you've laid it out, and we don't call you for a chat if we dislike like the colours you've chosen. We're just the printers. To understand more about proofing and how the proofing process works you can read the help section:

HELP > ARTWORK > PROOFS open link in new window (opens in a new window)

What's included in the price?

The prices you see on the web site are from your print ready PDF. We don't design your cover for you inclusive in that price, we don't add photographs or illustrations, we don't alter layout or correct any form of mistakes you may have made. If you need it, we're happy to do additional work for you and you are welcome to call the helpdesk on 01452 751900 to discuss.

Watch out for cracking on the hinge.

The hinges are glued and creased parts of the front and back covers that run parallel to the spine. They are there so that the book opens nicely and to improve the strength of the binding. As the hinge is opened and closed repeatedly, you may find that ink cracks along the length of the hinge. If your artwork is blank, or a light colour at the hinge, then this will not be a problem. If you have a dark colour printed on the hinge, we recommend that you specify laminating for the cover. This ensures that the ink does not crack.

Understand the different types of printing.

This is just a straight repeat of the information on the product page and strictly speaking not part of the artwork preparation guide. It bears repeating just in case you missed it.

Why not request some samples from the helpdesk so that you can see the quality of the printing before ordering?

There are four different options available:

All B&W (Standard Quality)

Standard Quality Black & White is printed on the latest generation digital production printers. The quality is very good, resulting in crisp text, graphics and photographs. The print quality of photographs is good, and works well for many types of books, but this is not the highest print quality that we can offer.

We do not recommend high toner (ink) coverage with Standard Quality printing, as a general rule you should not exceed 30-40% toner coverage.

All B&W (High Quality)

This is our highest quality black & white printing for near photographic reproduction. Some people print very large areas of solids (i.e. covering nearly all of the page) when selecting B&W printing and although this can produce striking results, it is not recommended (you will get better and more consistent results using CMYK Rich Black).

A mixture of Colour and High Quality B&W

If you require some Colour pages and some Black & White pages, choose this option. It is not possible to mix Standard Black & White and Colour in the same book.


Full colour printed on a colour digital press for near photographic reproduction. These presses are used for photobook printing and you should choose this option if that is the type of finish you wish to achieve.

Some useful terms.

Understanding some of the lingo is useful as we'll use it when an exact meaning is required. Plus it may come up in Trivial Pursuit one day.

Recto pages

In languages written from left to right, a recto page is on the right hand side when a book is open. It is printed on the "front" of a leaf.

Verso pages

In languages written from left to right, a verso page is on the left hand side when a book is open. It is printed on the "back" of a leaf.

A Leaf and a Page

What is a page? This can cause some confusion! It's easiest to explain if you visualise picking up a book. Now open the book anywhere. Look at the recto page (the right hand page) now turn the page and look at the verso page (the left hand page). They are different pages on the same leaf of paper. To put it another way, a 100 page book block has 50 leaves and 100 pages. Another thing that sometimes confuses is blank pages. A blank page is still a page, it's just blank.

The Book Block

A softback (AKA perfect bound) book physically consists of two parts. The cover and the Book Block. The Book Block comprises all the leaves of your book, bound together as a block. So, we call it a... well you get the idea.

What electronic format should the book be in?

Two PDFs

Unless you have made special arrangements, you should supply us with two PDF files. One for the cover and one for the inner pages. A detailed description of how to create these files follows, but here are the basics. For the cover we require one PDF page if your cover is printed on just the outside and two PDF pages if your cover is printed on the outside and inside. The PDF containing the inner pages ("the Book Block") should contain seperate pages, NO SPREADS. Don't try to do any imposition: just the pages, in the right order, one at a time.

To learn more about creating a PDF (and why it's necessary for the curious), please read our little guide here:
CREATING A PDFopen link in new window

Always make sure that you select the "PDF X/1a" preset when using Adobe products to create a PDF. Other manufacturers products will vary, but try to choose the "commercial print" preset if available as this will tend to get rid of any common nasties while the PDF is being created.

Make sure that you set the correct page size!

Please don't use any "printers marks", they interfere with our pre-press procedures (i.e. slow us down and literally get in the way) and we will just delete them anyway.

If there is an option to "embed fonts" when creating your PDF, turn it on.

Always take a good look at the PDF before you send it to us and double check the page size.

Did you check the PDF before sending it?

Yes, we are repeating ourselves, this was already covered in the guide!

Make sure that you set the correct page size!

Hold on a second, I think you skimmed that a bit too fast! I'd better mention it again: Make sure that you set the correct page size!

While you are taking a good look at the PDF before you send it to us, point your mouse cursor at the bottom left of the page (assuming that you are using Acrobat or Acrobat Reader). Your page size will be displayed.


These formats are not accepted for books. To be clear, of course the images within your PDF files can be TIFFs or JPEGs! We just can't accept (for example) 500 separate JPEG files as your 500 page book block. The book block needs to be supplied as a PDF, the images within the book block can be TIFFs or JPEGS.

Some tips on choosing software to create your book

If you haven't already started work on your book and are not sure what software application to use, have a read of our handy little guide for some tips:


Creating your cover.

Need some help?

We realise that creating an accurately sized and laid out cover can be tricky if you haven't done this before. Our artworkers are very experienced at creating book covers. What might take you ages, will only take them around half an hour. So, it is often a time (and sanity) saving idea to ask us to create the cover for you. Please speak to the helpdesk about this. For a more complex or artistic cover design, we also have a very experienced Graphic Designer who can quote you for cover design from your brief. Again, please contact the helpdesk to discuss this option.

Don't forget to watch the tutorial.

If you are trying to create a cover using a word processor, there is a tutorial (in HELP > TUTORIALS from the main menu or just click here to go straight there) that shows you step by step how to do this using OpenOffice Writer.

Visualise your cover.

When designing your cover, it can help to visualise it. Imagine a softback book. Now rip the whole cover off in one piece (not that you would ever do this!). Open the cover flat and put it down on a table top. The rear cover is on the left, the spine is in the middle and the front cover is on the right. An electronic version of this layout is how you need to send us your cover.

simple diagram of a cover

Getting the sizes right.

Make the cover the right size.

You must supply the cover to us as one PDF page (or two pages if you want printing on the inside of the covers). Imagine that you have pulled the cover off of a book. Now flatten it out and from left to right you have: rear cover, spine, front cover. That's how you should supply the cover artwork to us.

Whatever software application you are using, you will need to set up a custom size page for your cover. The online tutorial shows you how to do this in a word processor (OpenOffice). You should consult the help for your specific application to see how to do this with the software you are using. The cover height is calculated as: book page height + (bleed x 2). The cover width is calculated as: (book page width x 2) + spine + (bleed x 2). Word processors (like Microsoft Word and OpenOffice Writer) will need a custom page size that includes the bleed. Desk Top Publishing (DTP) applications (like Adobe InDesign and Quark Xpress) will usually have the bleed area defined separately.

For example, if you are ordering an standard portrait orientation A5 (210x148mm) book with a 15mm spine, the cover dimensions are as follows:

height - 2mm bleed at the top + 210mm + 2mm bleed at the bottom = 214mm
width - 2mm bleed on the left + 148mm + 15mm spine + 148mm + 2mm bleed on the right = 315mm

Not sure what a bleed is? A bleed is an "extra" bit of artwork that we trim off during the finishing process. It's primarily there so that you don't see tiny "white" areas at the edge of the printed item. There is more in-depth information about bleeds in the Help section.

The spine width.

When you use the price calculator to work out a price and order your books, it will also tell you the approximate thickness of the spine. Make sure you note this down and use it when creating your cover. Please remember that this is only approximate.

Be realistic about printing on the spine.

Common sense rules apply:

  • If you have a very thin spine, don't expect to print on it!
  • Sometimes people like the spine to be a different colour to the front and back covers. This is not realistic with thin spines. With thicker spines, allow the spine colour to extend a fraction over onto the back cover. A more sensible option is to have the back cover and spine all one colour, with a different colour (or more commonly, artwork) on the front cover. You should choose whether you want the spine colour to extend a fraction onto the front cover, or the front cover artwork to extend fractionally onto the spine. If this is all Double Dutch to you, go into your favourite bookshop and have a good look at the softback books and how the covers are designed and finished. You will have a "Oh that's what they are on about" moment!
  • If we are printing 10,000 books for you then our bindery will have lots of "overs" to set up on. If we are printing one book for you, the bindery will have exactly one book to bind - the one that we are sending to you. So make the cover artwork forgiving and not dependent on alignments to within fractions of a millimetre (do you really want to pay for 20 more copies so that the bindery operator can get it "just right"?). Printing (especially digital) and finishing is not accurate to fractions of millimetres, so design your artwork accordingly.
Be careful about the "inside" of the spine.

If you are not going to print on the inside of the cover, then you can safely ignore this advice. Otherwise, make sure that you have no artwork on the inside of the spine and for at least 6mm each side of the inside of the spine. This is to stop your book falling apart! Printing on the inside of the spine, or the side glued hinges of the front and back cover will reduce the glue adhesion strength.

More details about spine thickness.

Previously, we explained that the "spine width is only approximate". That's sufficient information for most circumstances, but this section has more detail, in case that is useful to you. If you don't need more detail, just skip this section.

How accurate is the spine thickness calculator?

It's reasonably accurate, but see the rest of this discussion for the degree to which it may vary. If it is vital to get the spine thickness accurate then you should order a single copy of your book on the exact same paper your main run will use and measure that.

How do we calculate spine thickness?

We add together the thickness (caliper) of the paper that you've specified for the cover and the inner pages. If you have specified a cover laminate, we add the thickness of this. Our books are precisely clamped tight, so this calculation is reasonably accurate.

We have a process to add an "approved paper" (welcome to the world of manufacturing driven by ISO9001 processes!) and until we go through the process again to change the paper for whatever reason, we will always use that specific paper for that specific product. When we add an approved paper, the mill tells us the "nominal thickness" for each weight. You can think of this as the "target" thickness that the mill aims for and the specification of the paper that we use generally has a plus or minus tolerance of no more than 8% of the weight and thickness. For instance, a 130gsm gloss paper may have a nominal thickness of 98 microns, but be delivered to us at 92 microns. That's well within specification and we must accept that consignment. Strangely, we never seem to see the weight or thickness ABOVE the nominal, but it is very often below. We measure the first batch of paper that we receive with a very precise micrometer and this is the thickness that we use in our spine width calculator. We have found that this is much more accurate than using the mill's own nominal values. So, you can see that from batch to batch of paper that the mill manufactures, the actual thickness of the paper can vary slightly. It is not a large variation and does not affect the quality of your product, but if you have a large number of pages, the overall thickness of your spine can be calculated slightly incorrectly.

Creating your inner pages (Book Block).

You may find it helpful to read the "useful terms" definitions (in the General Information section) before reading the rest of this section.

Page layout.

Page order.

We're not trying to insult your intelligence, but this issue has come up a few times now, and has caused problems, so it's worth making crystal clear. When you open a softback book, page one of your book is on the recto (right hand) side facing you. It is not printed a page or two in. It is not printed on the back of the cover. This is of course just like every softback book you have ever opened. If you want your book to start printing on a verso (left hand) page, you need to insert a blank page. That blank page will be "page one" of your book and should be the first page in your book block PDF.

Page sizes.

The page size should be the size that you have chosen for your book, for example an A5 book will be 210mm x 148mm. If your pages are BLED, then you need to add 2mm bleeds all round. If you don't know what a bleed is, please read the explanation in the help area (help > artwork > bleeds).


We recommend that you use a minimum of 12mm margin on the top, bottom and outside edge of your page and 18mm on the inside (i.e. nearest the spine) of your page. You may find this difficult to lay out if you are not used to creating books, or you don't have DTP (Desk Top Publishing) software. In that case you should consider making all of the margins at least 18mm. Larger books should have larger margins. For example, a "C" sized may will look better and be easier to read with a minimum of 25mm margins.

Remember: these are general guidelines. Many designers completely ignore them because their specific requirements are different. For example printing notes in the margin area is often used with text books. A good common sense rule is: if in doubt, just print one book and then make your necessary changes after examining that.

Page numbering.

It may seem obvious, but we recommend that you always number your pages. There a few different ways to do this, i.e. numbering prefaces and appendices separately and these are all fine.

Be consistent in where you put your numbers. If you want numbers on the outside of each page and your book is in a left to right written language, remember that on right hand ("front" or recto) pages the number should be on the right hand side. On left hand ("back" or verso) pages, the number should be on the left hand side. Desk Top Publishing software (DTP) normally has tools to help you with much of this, but word processing software may not. The easy alternative is just to put your numbers in the middle.

Blank pages.

We do not insert blank pages! You may think that it is just common sense that chapters should start on a recto page and this will automagically happen, but it doesn't. If the previous chapter ends on a recto page and you want the next chapter to also start on a recto page, insert a blank verso page before the new chapter. We print exactly what you send us, so if you want a blank page, insert a blank page. Blank pages count toward your black and white page count.

Pages and Spreads.

The PDF containing your inner pages (the book block) should consist of pages, not spreads.

A spread is printing terminology that means adjacent pages where artwork spreads out over both pages, for example a photograph. While designing a book, these adjacent pages are often viewed side by side and in some applications you can create your PDF with these spreads as one joined page. You must not submit a PDF with spreads, just the separate pages please.

Although spreads are often used in softback and hardback books, you need to remember the limitations of this binding method. This type of book does not lay completely flat when opened and therefore the centre of your spread will be obscured by the spine.

Be wary of artwork that touches the spine.

Any ink present from digital printing that goes right up to the spine will reduce the strength of the bind somewhat. So, if you have images running right to the inside edge of the page, we recommend that you play it safe and consider PUR binding instead of EVA (hot melt). PUR is slightly more expensive, but provides a much stronger bind. Why doesn't every printer offer this option? Well, PUR binding equipment is much more expensive than EVA (Hot Melt), especially for short run books and the equipment requires a higher skill level from the operator.

What about the Grind?

Pick up a piece of paper and look at the edge. Pretty narrow isn't it? If we had to rely on that edge alone to form the glue bond at the spine, you would soon have a lot of pages falling out. So, before glue is applied to your book, we mill (grind) and notch the inside edge of the book block to roughen it up and expose more fibres. This allows glue to be forced minutely into and around the side of each leaf, greatly increasing the strength of the bind.

What about the bit that we grind off? You don't need to worry about this, an extra bit is added to the page automatically by us before the book is printed.


Typography primarily covers the font type, style, size and position of the text used in your book. Consideration should also be given to the line spacing, margins, page numbering and more. This is really beyond the scope of this guide, but there are several good books on the subject and some useful information can be found by Googling it.

Here are a few things that we often see and that are best avoided:

  • Text will generally look better if it is justified, i.e. with the words spaced so that lines have straight and even margins.
  • Don't make the font sizes too small. It's difficult to give you a firm "use 12 point" rule, as each font is different. In general, anything under 10pt in any font may be too small. Print out a page in the font & size you are thinking of using, take a good look at it and then show it to other people. Take a trip to the bookshop and look at a few books; does your font look smaller than is generally used? Consider your target audience. If this is the instruction manual for the latest techno gadget, the font size will often be tiny. If this is beloved Grandmas memoirs given as gifts on her 85th birthday then larger text will be appreciated.
  • Use a small number of fonts and use them consistently.We've seen some very ugly books that have used a jumble of different fonts. Keep it simple and use fonts for specific purposes. For example; one font for your text, one font for headings, one font for illustration titles. Three fonts should be plenty for most books, but some reference books will need more.

ISBN Numbers demystified

This is a quick overview of ISBN numbers in relation to books. Why you might need one and how you obtain one.

Do I need one?

The first thing to note is that there is no legal requirement for you to have an ISBN number and it does not confer any form of copyright protection. It's simply a product number that will be useful if your book is to be sold in book shops. You should also be aware that when using ISBN numbering, there are strict rules on what changes are permitted to the book after publication that must be adhered to.

How do I get one?

The UK ISBN Agency is run by Neilson Book. If you want a UK ISBN number for your book, this is where they come from. The vast majority of people get their ISBN numbers from Neilson. It's a bit of a fiddle and you have to buy a minimum "block" of 10 numbers, but the end result is that YOU are the publisher of record. If you get your ISBN number elsewhere, for example from the service that prints your book, then THEY are the publisher.

You can visit the Neilson Book web site here: open link in new window

Follow the link to the "services for new publishers". Neilson have some excellent information on their web site about how to use their service. When you complete the necessary form, they will also register your book details on the Publishers International ISBN Directory and the Nielsen Books Publisher Database. You should read up about this. They are used by booksellers and libraries to provide information for customers.

Can Inky sell me an ISBN number?

In theory we can, but as the Neilson route is relatively simple and low cost, it's very rare for us to do this. This is a more expensive option than the Neilson route as we are essentially filling all the paperwork in for you.

Can Inky create me an ISBN bar code?

Yes we have the necessary software to create ISBN bar codes. We make a small charge for this and email you the bar code in EPS (vector) and TIFF (bitmap) formats ready for you to insert into your artwork. Speak to the Helpdesk to arrange this. You must have the ISBN number first before we can generate a bar code for you.

What is "Legal Deposit"?

This is not part of ISBN numbering, but tends to get asked about at the same time. If your book is published and distributed in the UK you have a "Legal Deposit" obligation. If you have an ISBN number and intend to distribute your book for sale in the UK, you should ensure that one copy is deposited with the British Library. You also have an obligation to supply a copy to the 5 Legal Deposit libraries. This deposit is only legally required if a claim is made by the libraries within 12 months of publication, but in many cases publishers will make this deposit as a matter of course. If we are the publisher of record, then we can manage this process for you for an additional fee, but we will only make the 6 library deposit, i.e. we will not wait for and process claims.

CMYK, RGB and Colour Management.

Confused about the jargon?  Have a read of our little guide here:

THE BLUFFERS GUIDE TO CMYK AND RGB open link in new window

Do I have to supply my file in CMYK?

This is relevant for cover artwork or inner pages printed in full colour.

No you don't have to supply your file in CMYK. If you supply your file in RGB we will convert it to CMYK as part of the proofing process.

Colour Management

This sounds like a harmless little fluffy bunny of a topic, doesn't it? Have a read of our little guide here:

COLOUR MANAGEMENT open link in new window

If your job is colour critical, always get a hard copy proof.

Copyright © Inky Little Fingers Ltd. 2019

-V6.3 18-10-2018-

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