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Using Page Margins in Desktop Publishing

Boxed in By Nothing • Examples and Design Tips for Margins


Margin areas of a page

Top, Bottom, and Side Margin areas of a page

White space is important in design. It gives the text and graphics breathing room. The most prominent white space in a design is the margins all around the page. This space full of nothing is an important element of the overall page layout. Margins can convey a specific tone, make the page easier or harder to hold or read, and margins can affect the cost of the printed piece as well.


Example of Margins
The margin — top, bottom, or either side — is that usually empty space between the trim (where the page is cut) and the live printing area (primary text and graphics) of the page. Sometimes headers or footers may be placed within the margin area.

Designing with Margins
Margins have several functions.

  • Visually, they keep the text and graphics from "falling off the page" by providing a buffer zone.


  • They give the eye a break or resting place, even in densely set type.


  • On the practical side, margins leave space for the reader to hold the material without obscuring the text with fingers or thumbs.


  • In manuals, workbooks, and textbooks, ample margins give the reader space for making notes.


  • They allow for binding the material with staples, three ring binders, or other methods.


Using the margins to set a tone for the piece is somewhat subjective. As the designer, you must balance artistic considerations with practical matters such as paper size restrictions and binding requirements.

In general, with books and ad layouts, the more space devoted to margins compared to the text and graphics, the more formal the design. Minimalist designs with little text, simple graphics, and generous margins can convey elegance, simplicity, or richness depending on other elements of the design.

Skimpy margins suggest informal or "mass produced." These tight margins are found in paperback novels, newspapers, and phone books and came about due to cost restraints and the desire to get as much information as possible into a small amount of space. We've grown so accustomed to this format that more generous margins in similar publications might seem odd and disconcerting even if it did improve readability.

Next > How to create perfectly proportioned margins

Basic Desktop Publishing > The Desktop Document > Document Setup Phase > Margins


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