Booklet Printing

Most technical papers intended for publication in Refereed Journals have huge margins. When I print them up as pamphlets for E-Z reading in the Comfy Chair, the text becomes an unreadably small block in the middle of the page.

Having tried various simple hacks that don’t work, the best solution so far involves a bit of PostScript magic…

pdfcrop --margins 36 whatever.pdf
pdftops -level3 -origpagesizes whatever-crop.pdf -f 1

Which will emit whatever-crop_book.pdf. Print the odd pages, reinsert the stack, print the even pages, then either fold or slice/bind as appropriate.

The --margins 36 puts a little whitespace around the text, which may be needed to get the text block out of the gutter if you’re binding the booklet. For those documents, --margins "36 0 18 0" may be more useful; note the blanks, not commas. This requires tuning for best picture, depending on the incoming PDF layout.

The -origpagesizes prevents the next step from assuming an incorrect page size. This is definitely necessary, at least in my experience so far.

The -f 1 enlarges the source text to fill the output page, which is the key step making the whole thing work for small incoming page sizes. However, there’s a weird interaction between this and the pdfcrop margins that I haven’t figured out yet; a zero-width incoming margin [may | may not] jam some line ends against the right edge of the output sheet.

That’s all derived from some booklet-printing hints in the Scribus wiki. A working link (as of today, anyhow) for the script:

The R380 emits pages bassackwards for reading, but in the proper order for duplexing: the blank side of the first sheet is on the bottom of the stack, so it becomes the top of the flipped stack, ready to go back into the printer as the first sheet again.

Conversely, the HPLJ1200 produces output in normal reading order, with the blank side of the last sheet on top of the stack: flip and print the back sides in reverse order.

5 thoughts on “Booklet Printing

  1. This sounds interesting, Ed, and something that may come in useful for myself. Do you have any tips for book binding? I looked into glue-only bookbinding some time ago, and it seemed pretty easy, but some sort of press jig came in handy. I wonder if I could print a jig…

    After having a quick look around, pdfbook, part of the pdfjam utilities, looks like it could do what you want in one step, without the postscript intermediary ( It has access to all the options of pdfpages, which will let you do things like scale and offset the booklet pages. I haven’t tried it myself yet, but it looks promising.

    1. It looks like
      pdfbook “–trim=1in 1in 1in 1in” — filename.pdf
      works to trim the margins (left, bottom, right, top).

      pdfjam is present in the Debian repository.

    2. any tips for book binding

      For historic reasons, I have a big Ibico comb binding machine and a lifetime supply of combs. Works wonderfully well, even if I can’t recommend actually buying one.

      For up to four sheets, folding the booklet down the middle works well enough for my simple needs.

      When I pad my Geek Scratch Paper, I clamp the pages + backing between a pair of wood slats in the bench vise, slather a thick bead of white glue (Elmer’s or some such) along the edge, fast forward a day, and it’s all good.

      the pdfjam utilities

      There must be at least as many utilities as there are folks who thought “This should be easy.” [grin]

      Some version of


      is an Ubuntu package, so I’ll give it a whirl. Thanks for the suggestion!

  2. A couple of years back I picked up a Brother laser HL-2270DW. Duplex printing on the fly. (USB or Wireless–comes in handy.) If your printer reaches end-o-life, I’d recommend the Brother for moderate use. Consumables at Staples or your favorite eBay vendor.

    1. Once upon a time, I had a huge IBM (pre-Lexmark!) laser printer with a duplexer that came heartbreakingly close to actually working. It’s good to see the newer ones work better… for a minute fraction of the price.

      Thanks for the recommendation!

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