With respect to printing, what are signatures?

How do I use them when setting up my LaTeX document for printing (for example a book)?


2 Answers 2


For a general introduction to what signatures (with the term used in book printing jargon) are, check out chapter two of the memdesign book by Peter Wilson; it's on the CTAN at http://mirror.jmu.edu/pub/CTAN/info/memdesign/memdesign.pdf. Quoting from chapter 2:

Professionally printed books have many pages printed per sheet of (large) paper, which is then folded and cut where necessary to produce a gathering or signature of several smaller sheets. An unfolded sheet is called a broadside. Folding a sheet in half produces a one sheet folio signature with two leaves and four pages. Folding it in half again and cutting along the original fold gives a two sheet quarto signature with four leaves and eight pages. Folding in half again, results in a four sheet octavo signature with eight leaves and 16 pages, and so on... [emphasis in the original]

So, if you have a LaTeX document that's ready to print, and if you've identified a printer who will print it, you need to know (i) the size of the sheets of paper is that it'll be printed on and (ii) the size of the final (cut-to-size) pages. If the LaTeX'd output is in pdf format, I recommend you check out the pdfpages package for help on assembling the individual pages on a larger (virtual) "page" to make it ready for shipping to the printer.

  • 1
    Aren't printers happy with a PDF trimmed to the final size?
    – raphink
    Aug 31, 2011 at 12:42
  • @Raphink: I guess that depends on the printer. My impression is that you may be able to get a better (i.e., lower) price from a printer if you do the arranging of individual pages to a signature yourself.
    – Mico
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:04
  • that's good to know. Does that work with printers such as Lightning Source (I'm pretty sure it's not the case with CreateSpace or Lulu, who impose the trim) ?
    – raphink
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:10
  • @Raphink: I looked over the documentation provided by Lightning Source, but I couldn't tell from the information that's provided there if this publisher would allow (or prefer) to get the pages assembled into a signature or not.
    – Mico
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:26
  • 2
    Printers definitely prefer to print books where the number of pages is an integer multiple of the signature. By the way, I believe a signature page where the page is first folded in half and then in thirds (hence containing a total of 12 printed pages) is called sexto. Not as common as quarto and octavo, but not unusual.
    – Mico
    Aug 31, 2011 at 13:47

Unless you are using a local copyshop it is never useful to set up signatures yourself. The printer has software that he/she/it uses for this. It is easier for him/her/it if you just send the book in normal page order.

  • Welcome to TeX.sx! You don't have to sign with your name since it automatically appears in the lower right corner of your post.
    – doncherry
    Oct 18, 2011 at 21:16
  • thanks for the reply, but the copyshop guy wants to make money, so instead he messes them. Nov 3, 2011 at 9:43

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