Shouldn't the twoside option produce a wider margin at the binding/spine edge, rather than the other way around? I'm using \documentclass[twoside]{report}.

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    It's perfectly normal that the outer margin is wider than the inner margin.
    – egreg
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 22:17
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    @egreg Binding takes space out of the inner margin. When you already have a smaller margin at the binding, you'd probably force open the book from inside your fingertips to read "comfortably". Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 22:22
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    @cmhughes I am aware of this solution. It's the idea of such behaviour that bothers me. Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 22:23
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    Have a look at tex.stackexchange.com/questions/27776/…
    – lockstep
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 22:24
  • @lockstep OK I've read it, but it doesn't clearly rationalize this seeming 'standard'. Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 22:42

3 Answers 3


I do not think there is anything illogical regarding the standard LaTeX class page design. This page design does not include any allowances for binding offsets. The binding offsets are a function of the thickness of paper as well as the number of pages in a book and the method of binding. If you binding a book or report with a spiral binding machine, it will need a different set of page dimensions.

Page layout is buried in tradition and history and you can read more about it at the canons of page construction.

Besides Bringhurst which was quoted by Brent in his excellent answer Tschichold also devotes a large portion of his writings in the study of page layouts. As you can see from the image below he is also advocating large outer margins. Another commonly forgotten reason, besides what is thought as good typography, is that you do not want to have a line width greater than 1-1.7 alphabets (for readability), so the size of your paper and the size of your default font also has an effect. The Koma class goes as far as to design margins based on the font size. (European books also tend to favour smaller margins).

enter image description here

Now the exceptions. Modern trend is to have the margins almost equal, plus anything from 3-6mm binding offset and the reason is screen reading. Here is a copy from a book, I like the design with narrower margins (but then it does not use any margin material such as sidenotes). On the other extreme Tufte books and the Tufte-book class uses a wide margin, and brings the design into the margin as Bringhurst suggests. Similarly the ltxdoc class uses wider outer margins to accommodate macro names in the margins.

enter image description here

Here is an actual "grid" based on Tschichold's principles,

enter image description here

As John Stuart Mill said "All good things which exist are the fruits of originality". Nobody stops you from experimenting.

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    +1 for Tschichold, and for screen reading. But am I talking about the Emperor's New Clothes, or does anyone else think, as do I, that Tufte is horrid? Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 12:16
  • Brent Tufte is overstated and he just recycled a lot of traditional stuff. For example as early as "Versalius Anatomy", margins were brought into the design! See special.lib.gla.ac.uk/exhibns/month/sep2002.htm
    – yannisl
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 12:27
  • @Brent.Longborough Just a ping! Forgot to add it above.
    – yannisl
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 12:36
  • @YiannisLazarides: Quite informative, thank you. I suppose I have been oblivious to the subject of page construction. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 15:14
  • @AymanElmasry Thanks. It is a lot like what makes a building beautiful; a lot is some old findings like the golden ratio, proportions etc. The rest are experiments, fashions and practical limitations.
    – yannisl
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:50

There are two separate issues here: one is the layout of the text on the paper, the other is space left over for the binding.

For a long time, books (in the West; I'm not familiar with other regions) have been designed with a larger outer margin than inner. This is generally considered "prettier".

In the world of TeX, we are concerned with this sort of prettiness.

None of this stops you using the memoir document class, the geometry package, or any of the Komascript classes to define the page exactly as you want, as, I think, is reasonably clearly explained in the answer to the question already mentioned.

To paraphrase Yoda, "there is no rationalise, only do and be pretty".

To do justice to Ayman's comments, I thought a quote from Bringhurst might add to the debate. Talking about margins, he says:

... they must protect the textblock, leaving it easy for the reader to see and convenient to handle. (That is, they must leave room for the reader's thumbs.) ... [Bringhurst, R. (2004), The Elements of Typographic Style, version 3.2, Vancouver: Hartley & Marks, §8.5.1 (p.165)]

Bringhurst may well be the Yoda of typographical design, and I suspect my mentioning him here on TeX.SE may become a drinking game...

Light-hearted banter apart, if you haven't read this book, I can heartily recommend it.

Another book with some serious insights is Peter Wilson's "A Few Notes on Book Design" (perhaps the most self-effacing title I've come across!). My thanks to Lars Madsen for reminding me of this.

Another thought: people recognise the need for a place for the thumb, but want to cram lots into a page, so they make the inner margin narrow?

And here's another (short) piece that's just appeared on I Love Typography

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    In this one memoir strong is. :)
    – percusse
    Commented Jan 23, 2012 at 23:04
  • From the moment I read your answer (and Yoda's opinion of the matter), I've checked several publications of which some are definitive 'classics' such as Sir Banister Fletcher's History of Architecture (Printed in The UK in 1956), The KJV Bible, the Merriam Webster, along with 10 or so more publications, and NONE have an outer margin of double inner margin size (as implied here: tex.stackexchange.com/questions/27776/…), and most seem to have equal margins when you consider the binding space. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 8:11
  • I'm not saying that such a rule (or preference) does not exist, but I believe that any notion of beauty must have some sort of logic, and that such preference might not be universal (or at least not so in the West). Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 8:31
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    Peter Wilson wrote some historical information about page design, it is named memdesign.pdf and can be found on CTAN, dante.ctan.org/tex-archive/info/memdesign
    – daleif
    Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 11:40
  • @daleif: Yes, Lars, stupid of me to have forgotten that. Depending on the day of the week, I have different pairs of giants on whose shoulders I stand; Tuesdays, it's Bringhurst for the left foot, and Peter Wilson for the right. I'll update the answer. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 11:44

There are some excellent answers already, let me add two simple observations:

  1. Binding does not take space out of inner margin. Binding space is extra, is not a part of the page, and should not influence page design (besides determining, together with paper size, the page width). Binding space depends on binding method, paper size (which is often larger than page size) and other things that have nothing to do with typesetting. When opening a book, you do not see the binding space.

  2. When you open a book, you see the two facing pages, which you can think about as columns of text. If the inner margin is exactly half of the outer margin, the space separating the two columns will be exactly the same as the space separating each of the columns from the edge of the page, which seems like a fairly desirable thing to do:

two facing pages

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    If I set my document to be printed on A4, and it does get printed on A4, then any space I put anywhere is space taken on paper. I can't understand the first point really. The second one is an interesting observation. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 15:40
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    If you design your page for A4, and it gets printed on A4, then you are not taking care of binding. If you want an A4 page in a bound book, you need to print on paper larger than A4. If you print on A4 paper, and want that to include binding, you need to design your page to be smaller than A4. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:00
  • So I suppose that each standard paper size has an oversize version for binding purposes, am I correct? Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:10
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    I am not sure if each paper size has a corresponding larger one, but when creating bound material, you have to print on a paper that is larger than the page, not only because of binding space, but also because of trim. To have all pages align smoothly into one block, they are usually trimmed. You basically take the bound book and slice of the uneven edges of paper on the three outer sides. Often printed pages before trimming have trim marks in the corners of the page. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 16:27
  • @AymanElmasry: No, the binding is added to the spine margin and subtracted from the effective page width. So if you're printing, say, on A4 at 210mm wide, and you want to allow 5mm for binding, your page width ("visible" spine margin + text width + foreedge) is now 205mm. Commented Jan 24, 2012 at 17:27

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