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What Are Spreads, Signatures and Imposition?

Making sure that your designer understands how spreads, signatures and imposition work can help save a lot of time and money when you work with a printer. There are basically two kinds of spreads in the printing world; reader spreads and printer spreads. An example of a reader spread would be two opposing pages, pages two and three for instance, in a magazine that is saddle-stitched (stapled in the center) Because page two is directly across from page three, you would think that the two pages are printed on the same piece of paper and separated by the staples. But this is not the case.

If you take the staples out of the magazine, you'll see that page two is not attached to page three but is actually connected to another page at the back of the magazine. This is called a printer spread; it's what a printer prints. When the magazine was printed, these pages were printed next to each other, folded and then stapled so that you received a magazine bound in the center.

The reason it is important for a designer to understand this difference is that if a designer provides a printer with reader spreads, the printer will have to manually change the page order to printer spreads. This extra step will cost time and money and will increase the chances of having a problem with the project. Designers should always provide printer's spreads to a printer. Keep in mind that, for saddle-stitched jobs, your pages should be in increments of four. Otherwise, you may end up with some blank pages in the back of your project.

A signature refers to the group of pages that are printed on the same sheet of paper. The sheet is then cut and trimmed down to the desired page size. The number of pages on a signature depends on your page size and the size of the printer's sheet or roll of paper. Imposition refers to the placement and direction of pages in a signature. Some pages may appear upside down or backwards, but once the paper is folded and cut, the pages will be in their proper position and sequence. The printer is responsible for setting up the signature's imposition.

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