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Getting started

Getting started

This article deals with the initial steps of designing a flyer, brochure, or indeed most other printed items. It doesn’t look at specific software (we are covering that elsewhere) but just deals with the basics, which are the same whether you are using Adobe InDesign, Microsoft Word, Publisher, or whatever.


Pick the right size

The first step is to decide what size you want the finished piece to be. It’s a good idea to base your size on the international “A” paper sizes. This helps to ensure that we can print the job efficiently and with a minimum of waste. It is certainly possible to produce print in non-standard sizes, but costs can often be higher due to additional waste. It is a good idea to check with us before starting to design something non-standard. Sometimes it is possible to save a significant amount of cost by changing dimensions by a few millimetres.

Perhaps the most familiar size is A4. It is a good choice for large leaflets, substantial booklets and small posters. It is a big enough page to allow for some bold design and a creative use of white space.

Bear in mind that if you are going to post the finished article, that Royal Mail will charge this as a large letter, unless it is folded before posting.

A3, A2 and A1 sizes are progressively larger than A4 and are useful for posters. Just note that above A3 size it is usually necessary to change printing processes, so there can be a step increase in costs.

A5 is perhaps the most common size for flyers, brochures, booklets and newsletters. It is big enough to present information clearly, but easy to handle, economic to print, and can be posted at the lowest letter rate.

A6 is mostly used for postcards and small flyers. It is also possible to print booklets at this size, but their finishing is a little more complicated than those at A5 or A4 sizes.

One very common size that doesn’t quite fit in the normal A-size progression is 1/3A4. It is a very common size for flyers and leaflets.

Note that it is not correct to describe this size as “DL”. DL is the envelope size designed to take a 1/3A4 leaflet, or an A4 letter folded into three. If you set your page size to DL in most software, you will end up with a flyer that is somewhat expensive to print (lots of waste) and will not fit in a standard envelope.


Decide how many pages

Firstly we should be clear what we mean by a page. In printing we refer to each printed side of the finished article as a page. So a 1-page leaflet is a single piece of paper, printed one side and unfolded. A 2-page (often abbreviated to 2pp) leaflet is a single piece of paper printed on both sides. A 4pp leaflet is again a single piece of paper printed on both sides, but then folded in half and a leaflet formed from an A4 sheet folded into three should really be called a 6pp 1/3A4.


So you can see it is important to distinguish between pages and sheets: the page is what the reader sees; the sheet is what we print on.


If we are producing a booklet which is stitched on the spine then we will have multiple sheets. (Stitching is the term printers usually use for stapling. There is a technical difference between stitching and stapling, but it’s not worth bothering about. The end result is the same.) For example a 4pp A5 booklet will consist of two sheets of A4 stitched and folded. You can therefore see that a booklet must always have a number of pages divisible by four: 8, 12, 16, 20 etc.


Set the margins

Now that you know the page size the first step in your design is establish the margins. It may be that you want certain elements, such as a background graphic, to bleed off the edge of the page, in which case read our information sheet about bleeds. Even so, you still need to decide where the text will lie on the page and set the margin accordingly.


Margins are an important design element. Very small margins, with the text crammed in almost to the edge of the page rarely look good and can make the text uninviting and difficult to read. Wide margins and plenty of space around the text make for easier reading and a more relaxed, professional appearance. But space is not limitless and we are usually constrained by the amount of information we need to fit into our leaflet, so compromise is necessary.


There are some technical requirements for margins. For jobs which are printed on oversize paper and trimmed (i.e. most colour jobs) we need a 3mm safety zone all round. When printing on cut-size paper (e.g. lower-cost black & white flyers) it’s not always possible to print closer than 5-6mm from the edge.


Suggested margins vary according to the page size:


For A6 postcards, 3mm is the absolute minimum; 4-5mm a good choice; 6-8mm better if you can afford the space.

For 1/3 A4 and A5 flyers, don’t use less than 5-6mm unless you have to; 8-10mm will look better; 12mm isn’t too big.

With A4 pages it’s unwise to go below 10mm; 15mm is better; use 20-25mm if you can.

Remember that these are just suggestions, there are no hard and fast rules. Even if there were, the sign of a good designer is knowing when to break the rules.

Before you start putting text and graphics on the page, in whatever software you are using, you must set the page size correctly and it is advisable to set guides to show where the margins are. I’ll repeat the important part of the last sentence: you must set the page size correctly. In fact, it is then a good idea to check that you have got the page size set correctly. It’s easy to fix an error at this point, but when you have completed the layout for your 64-page A4 brochure to discover that the page is set to an American paper size it can be a pain to sort out.