The imposition conundrum


Just a quick technical note, of little interest to anyone but thrifty bookbinders…

Kris and I have been looking for a small, simple, standalone program that works out the imposition of pages of text, to get them ready for binding by hand. Imposition refers to the way that numbered or ordered pages are arranged for printing on the paper sheets, so that when the sheets are gathered and folded into signatures, the pages appear in the correct order.

No doubt large programs like InDesign have imposition built in as one of their many functions (or you can get the plug-in), as did the old Pagemaker program that I first learned and worked on, as a typesetter for my parents’ printing company. But Adobe wants simply too much ($500 – $700) for their programs these days and, anyway, you can’t buy just a small imposition program…you have to buy a whole overblown bundle of “we-can-put-man-on-the-moon” features that, unless you are a professional graphic designer as well as a printer and bookbinder, you will probably never use. (Also, I hate that everything is going into ‘the cloud’…it’s such a flimsy, unstable, insecure thing.)

Kris found something called PDF Bookbinder Program,  the other day, on the site Quantum Elephant

Bookbinder is a program that will convert a PDF document into signatures suitable for traditional bookbinding.

While there are a lot of programs on the net that will create a single booklet from a small document, I couldn’t find one that would turn a 500 page novel or textbook into several signatures. So I had to write one.

The chosen PDF is split into chunks, the page order of each chunk is rearranged, then the pages are placed two to a page in a new PDF. After printing and folding, each bundle of sheets should be a correctly ordered signature, ready for binding.

Don’t know how we missed it, as it is at least two years old, and we have been looking for something like this for such a looooong time! Better late than never, I guess. Now that we’ve found it, you can bet we’re going to flog this thing for every drop of goodness it’s got. Provided it works.

The program is free, works on Mac, Windows, and Linux platforms, and is released under the same license as itext, a mixture of Mozilla Public License and GNU Library General Public License. The developer of this program is very highly thought of by his peers in the OpenSource community, and even Microsoft forums recommend him to people having trouble producing imposed pages for bookbinding.

If this program works the way he says it does, and without any truly terrible, blood-sucking software bugs that make the experience more trouble than it’s worth, then I shall most certainly look for a way to donate to him, or at least thank him (his e-mail address is on the website)…because we need to encourage and cooperate with smart, helpful, generous software developers like Quantum Elephant! I’ll never agonise over how I’m going to print out a Gutenberg Project download that I can bind by hand, and the man just may have saved me $700.


7 thoughts on “The imposition conundrum

  1. thanks so much for this. I have never tried to print of a PDF and bind it, but I can see potential uses for this type of software and have downloaded it so that I have it for the future. Great link!


    1. I meant to write a follow up on this post…the free software is VERY buggy, terribly so, the biggest problem I’ve had is sometimes the program shrinks the book down to 1 inch by two inches! It does so erratically, sometimes it doesn’t do that (so I can’t even rely on this bug to make miniature books). Another reader suggested ClickBook, it’s not free, I paid 50 dollars for it, but it works like a dream, and there’s the advantage of support from the developers. Sorry to have sounded a false alarm! Still, maybe PDF Bookbinder will work for you? Try it first, anyway, can’t hurt.


    1. ClickBook certainly looks like a more polished, refined, less buggy program…thank you so much for letting me know about it! Kris will grumble that it doesn’t work on Linux (at least not easily) but I use a Mac, so it may still be worth getting. Everything hinges on whether I can go from ClickBook to ‘printing’ the reorganized book as a PDF…because we don’t print 1,000 copies of Kris’ books at home, and offset printers want PDF files to make the plates from. I might ask the developers, or download the trial. Thanks again!


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