Determining Margins

The importance of margins is often overlooked. It's easy to fall back on even margins of 1 inch or 25 mm, but by doing so you can miss a big opportunity to establish the margins of your document as an integral design element. Margins are an essential part of design. Glance at any pagemargins are the first space you see and thus play a vital role in determining the reader's initial impression of a page. Margins serve the following functions:

  • First and foremost margins are a frame for the pageand if you've ever done any picture framing you'll appreciate how dramatically a frame can increase a picture's impact.

  • A place for readers to put their thumbs

  • A space to write notes

  • A place to put the page foliosin either the top or bottom margins

Tip: Setting Up a Spread

The first page of a two-page document is considered a right-hand page (or recto) meaning that the two pages will not appear next to each other as a spread. To make them do so, define your opening page as being an even-numbered page (or verso). Select the first page, and from the Pages palette fly-out menu choose Numbering and Section options. Choose Start page number, and type an even number.

Figure 15.3. Creating a Spread.

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Margins define the type area or text block but they are not absolute. Certain text elements like drop caps, pull quotes, and captions may hang outside the marginsas will punctuation if you are using Optical Margin Alignment. Pictures frequently break out of the text area, disrupting the rectilinear nature of the page andpotentiallymaking for a more dynamic layout.

Relative Size of Margins

Choosing even margins (click the linking icon to make sure it is unbroken) will make the rectangle of your type area the same aspect ratio as the rectangle of your page. However, an equally proportioned rectangle within a rectangle can look static, and, besides, other factors come into playlike extra space on the outer margins for convenient handling and extra space at the bottom or top for folios. It's a big generalization, but margins typically progress from smallest to largest in the following order: inside, top, outside, bottom:

  • Starting with the Inside margin and moving clockwise around your page, this should be the smallest dimension. This margin should be at least 10mm.

  • Next, comes the Top margin (a.k.a. Head).

  • Then the Outside margin (a.k.a. Foredge), which should be big enough so the type doesn't look confined by the page, and to allow space for the reader to handle the document.

  • Lastly, the Bottom margin (a.k.a. Foot) should be the biggest so as to avoid the type area looking bottom heavy and also to allow room for the folios. The top and bottom margins can be switched if the folios will be placed above the type area.


When setting the inside margin, bear in mind that the binding will change the reader's perception of the amount of space at the inside of the page. At worst, if the inside margin is too small, text will be "lost" in the shadow between the pages.

Figure 15.4. A Thumbnail Sketch.

Tip: Do a Thumbnail Sketch

When working on a layout, no matter how zippy you are with InDesign, you'll save yourself loads of time (and create a better-looking page) if you first draw thumbnails sketches. Don't be embarrassedno one but you need see them, but they are the fastest way of trying out ideas and for getting a sense of scale.

Golden Section margins call for a ratio of 3:5:8:13 (starting with the inside margin and moving clockwise). While this makes for harmonious proportions, it also makes for economically impractical margins.

Another popular ratio is 2:3:4:6, which produces margins that are still generous, yet look more familiar to a 21st Century eye.

If you are using a leading grid, the margins should be in increments of the grid. See Chapter 16: Everything in its Right Place: Working with Grids.

Figure 15.5. A page using Golden Section proportions 1:1.618 and margins 3:5:8:13 (example A) and an A4 page using margin ratios 2:3:4:6 (example B).

When working with single-page designs, like a poster or business card, equal margins at least on the left and right, might be more applicable. Here's a simple formula that I often use: Find a printed piece that you admire at the same or similar size to the piece you're working on. Measure its margins, and replicate them. Works like a charm.