The Formatting Mod Guide

The formatting guide is currently unfinished.

One might say it’s just like formatting for zines... always more work than originally expected.

Hopefully there is enough here as a starting point for now.

Generally speaking...

Some zines are cost first, so the finance mod gives dimensions. Other zines are vision first, then the finance mod will be budgeting based on what is wanted. Most cost effective dimensions will most likely be standard paper dimensions associated with the region where the book is printed.

    • In US, most printers will do letter, half letter, and other standard sizes e.g. 7x5, 4x6 prints

    • Other regions will do A4, A5, A6

Cost-first zines tend to have the number of contributors limited by the budgeted page count, while vision-first might have a set number of contributors already in mind.

  • The formatting mod will need to help with providing the number of pages for writers if writers are being limited by word counts.

Organisation, Finance, Production and Formatting will often need to work together a fair amount during the early stages to hash this out.

  • If there is no active decision-making present, it's our proposal that Formatting should lead the conversation on factors such as spreads, contributor counts, etc., as they are details that are extremely crucial to the end result. Formatting should be as comfortable with the proposed product as Finance is with the project's budget.

  • Formatting should always be consulted (or considered) when determining spot illustration requirements.

Formatting can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. A lot of places will help do the heavy lifting and offer soft proofs.

    • We have worked before on an MS Word formatted project. It’s fine.

⭐ Even if you aren’t going super deep, learn the terminology, it will help a lot.

Text and Fonts

  • Fonts that look good printed and fonts that look good on screen are different

    • Can look up what makes a font good for screen usage and vice versa

    • Paper type also affects the font; glossy tends to favour thinner characters, uncoated likes heavier characters

  • Find out if your printer wants text as curves or embedded fonts

    • Consider doing a test print with both

  • Test print your layouts at home, it helps

  • Body fonts can be found on Adobe Fonts (paid), Google Fonts and FontSquirrel

  • There is a lot of typography terminology, it is good to just know it at least generally

    • Look up “typography basics” and pick your fave link!

  • See if you can get another mod to help you with highlighting italics and checking all the punctuation and smart quotes :')

  • Do a final check for widows and orphans in the soft proof.

    • Also check all names are spelled correctly and double check the page numbers :'''')


  • CMYK Printing uses CMYK inks: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key (Black).

    • There are other printers too. 6 ink printers: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Key, Light Magenta, Light Cyan. These allow for more softer gradient transitions that CMYK struggles to produce (image to come later)

  • Not all CMYK printers are the same. Whether you print at a professional printing press or on a home/office printer, results will be different.

  • Professional printing presses will calibrate their printers based on industry standard CMYK color profiles. Check with your printer which CMYK color profile they use.

    • US printers will tend to use GRACoL 2006

    • EU printers will tend to use FOGRA39

    • East Asian printers will tend to use Japan Color 2001

    • SWOP 2.0 is a default CMYK profile which will appear a lot. It is an old standard from the 90’s and the “safest” CMYK gamut but misses a lot of brighter colours which modern printers can do better.

    • Conversion between different CMYK profiles is unpredictable. It can be really very hit and miss. If your printer does not give you their color profile (not all places will know), or if they use a non-standard profile (such as with home office printers), you can:

      • Get a sample physically mailed to you

        • If reliant on photos, can guess the real color using a combination of photos (two or more of the following): 1. In natural light, 2. In artificial light, 3. Under direct light source, 4. Under ambient light source

      • Provide an RGB image and ask for the printer/factory to produce an approximation to the screen color

        • Can also include references to Pantone swatches if you and they own a book. (Make sure you are both using the same Pantone book.)

  • Though zines are not strictly ‘professional’ environments, some zines do run themselves ‘professionally’. For those who do: artists are asked to deliver in RGB. (source)

  • Just knowing the CMYK color profile doesn’t mean what is on screen will be what is printed. Other factors include: Paper type, screen calibration, software adjustments, calibration tolerance, mechanical color drift.

    • Example, home printers will apply brightness or contrast settings for the regular consumer.

    • Very technically speaking, there is a very (very) small margin of acceptable error in each CMYK standard, and printing presses also aren't legally obligated to check if the machines also might have ‘drifted’ over frequent use.

    • Different paper types and print finishes can have a huge difference on the final print color. (toned/colored paper will tint; coatings will tint; CMYK ink is transparent, white ink can be printed as a layer underneath)

  • Deep midtone blacks are tragic

    • curves/levels

    • black point compensation

Book Formatting Notes

  • Pages are referred to as “sides”. One piece of paper has 2 sides.

  • Might come across (1/1), (4/0) or (4/4). This refers to the number of inks on one side of a paper. 4/0 means CMYK printing on one side, 4/4 means 2 sided CMYK.

    • Sometimes, 1/1 printing is cheaper than 4/4 printing, but for professionally printed zines we have found it to be negligible since most the cost comes from paper and setup. (If really desperate to save on funds: reduce page count first. Then lighter paper to reduce shipping.)

  • If using a professional formatting program, learn how to make and use:

    • Masters (Master pages)

    • Text frames

    • Paragraph and text styles

      • Note: Adobe tends to automatically have auto-hyphenation enabled in Photoshop and InDesign

    • Picture frames

    • Auto-alignment, auto-spacing and snapping

    • Groups

    • Grids (Baseline grid)

  • White text on dark pages tends to look bolder, can increase the kerning by about 5% to offset it

  • Spine will eat about 1/8" artwork. Have objects crossing cleanly through the gutter, or ending at the gutter. Mind the tangent with where the book folds if ending. Avoid faces or details in the gutter.

  • If you get a gutter piece, and it is absolutely unsolvable (resizing, rotating to be a single page landscape, etc...), can “solve” it by making it the middle spread in a stitch bound book.

  • Be aware of page creep for stitch bound books

    • some printers will adjust the file for you during prepress, if you are doing your own adjustments, let them know to use the original file

  • Hardcover books have different cover dimensions

  • It can be tempting to fit in as much as possible, but like graphics, allow for whitespace to break up the layout and let your pages breathe!

Unlike Graphics, which tends to be pre-planned, formatting can have unexpected issues cropping up under tight time constraints, a different etiquette might be necessary.

It's possible that the mod team decides to go with a change and then notify the contributor after the change was made:

  • “Asking for forgiveness” introduces a risk. The impacts of going ahead VS waiting should always be assessed. See: Managing Risk

  • Ideally, bring the contributor into the discussion and tell them of the problem(s) in order to find a solution together.

    • For extreme time sensitivity: Set a deadline that the contributor should respond by, inform them of what would happen should they not respond, then use your best effort to get in touch. This might mean contacting them on all platforms (messages, email, socials).

To be added: merch formatting, page setup (& providing templates), pdf export, image examples

Other Guides

Zine Word to Page Estimate Cheat Sheet - creator unknown

How to print a book without dying! by Luna Chai - readying files for print in an advanced layout program; specifically Affinity Publisher, but applicable to InDesign

PDF/UA (Universal Accessibility) Notes for Zine Makers by Starryfox