Physical Form Factors of Home Printing

I think that blogs are great for facilitating discourse [1]. However, when it comes to practical functionality at the table or even on a video call, it can be difficult to rely upon and refer to blog posts during a game. Even many PDFs available online are not accessible for printing. Whether for your own reference or as handouts for your friends, or also to distribute online, why not make physical printouts?

In this blog post, I'm going to go over different forms such printouts can take, and what benefits and drawbacks each form has. I will assume that you access to a regular printer which can only handle standard (letter or A4) sized sheets of paper. Besides those sizes, I will list a 'compromise' size which can be printed onto either size, in case you want to distribute materials between people who use differently sized sheets. I'm not a professional, but I think it's fun to make these little things and they prove useful.

General Advice

  • Use text styles. In most word processors and layout applications, you can define 'text styles' which automatically apply a certain style (font, size, boldness, etc.) across selected text. This makes it much easier to add headings and other features, since you don't have to painstakingly edit individual selections of text to make their styling consistent across the document.
  • Use a legible font. You can expect to use a font size for body text between 8-12 depending on the specific font, the size of the document, and your expected audience. You might want to use a larger font size, for example, if you're making a document on which you'll write notes or you'll view from more of a distance. Also adjust spacing to make the text look more natural if needed.
  • Keep graphics minimal. You don't want to use too much ink, especially colored ink. Try to stick with black text and images on a blank (white) background.
  • Be mindful of margins. Besides having enough space for your text to not crowd the page, you want to keep in mind where you will be folding or stapling the page.

Full Size Sheets

A printout of Fantasy Medieval Campaigns, to be released [2]. Layout my own.

  • Letter: 8.5" by 11" (216 mm by 279 mm)
  • A4: 8.25" by 11.75" (210 mm by 297 mm)
  • Compromise: 8.25" by 11" (210 mm by 279 mm)

This is as basic as it'll get. You're not going to do any folding or, maybe, any stapling unless you have just a couple sheets of paper. If you have many sheets, more than would be comfortable for stapling, you might consider using a folder or a three-ring binder, and even using some dividers to separate different sections of the document. For my test print of Fantasy Medieval Campaigns, I just printed the whole thing out on letter sheets of paper and stuck it in a binder. This is a reasonable way to organize rules, setting, tables, and notes for your campaign. You're likely going to want two or three columns of text, with margins of either 1" or 0.5" (depending on your own preference and how much text you want to fit inside).

A printout of Island Guard Tactics by Emmy Verte [3]. Layout is Emmy's.

If you want to use a singular sheet of paper, you'll want to think about how to organize information. My friend Emmy made a double-sided instruction sheet for her war game, where one side instructs how to prepare for the game, and the other side how to actually play the game. This is one example of control panel layout, where you contain relevant information to one page or one spread of two pages (the latter of which is, of course, more applicable to book-style documents than for single sheets) [4]. Control panel layout makes it easy to browse many pages for a specific one, and also makes individual pages or spreads easier to view at a glance. However, you might find yourself sacrificing word count for layout, and that is not always desirable.

Booklets (Digest/A5)

A printout of HODAG RPG by Hodag RPG [5]. Layout my own.

  • Letter: 5.5" by 8.5" (139 mm by 216 mm)
  • A4: 5.875" by 8.25" (148 mm by 210 mm)
  • Compromise: 5.5" by 8.25" (139 mm by 210 mm)

Take a full size sheet laid landscape, and fold it down the middle. Now you have 4 pages of a booklet. Take another full sheet. Now you have 8 pages. If you're wise about your spacing and font size, you can fit four times as much information in there with as many sheets as a full-size document. Even better is that you can staple these sheets down the middle, and turn it into an actual little staple-bound booklet. This is great for storage and also just for aesthetic; it feels nice to hold a little book in your hands.

My recommendation for booklets is to use either 0.5" or 0.25" margins, and one or two columns of text per page. You'll also probably want to use a smaller font size compared to a full size sheet. It is not very difficult to figure out the organization of a booklet; you can look at a book on your shelf for inspiration, and see how they organize their layout. That being said, you'll just want to pay close attention to whether the text is cramped or even takes up too much space. It's with these smaller documents that you'll want to be more economical about text and spacing.

Most programs let you make booklet PDFs with pages reordered on the sheets of paper so that, when folded, they are in the correct order. Here are instructions for Adobe Indesign (link), Affinity Publisher (link), and Micosoft Publisher (link). Equipped with an ad blocker extension, I've also used this website (link) to convert existing PDFs into the booklet format. Keep in mind that some printers, when you print double-sided landscape sheets, will flip the second side of the sheet in the opposite direction of the first side. Again, with an ad blocker, I often use this website (link) to flip even-numbered sheets on a PDF.

Pamphlets

A printout of Beneath the Dungeon Floor! by Hodag RPG [6]. Layout my own.

  • Letter: 4.25" by 11" (108 mm by 279 mm)
  • A4: 4.125" by 11.75" (105 mm by 297 mm)
  • Compromise: 4.125" by 11" (105 mm by 279 mm)

To my understanding, this isn't a very common method except maybe in some museum pamphlets. Take a full size sheet laid portrait, and fold it down the middle (i.e. fold it vertically rather than horizontally). Your hunch might be to make this with one column, but I promise you that two columns work very well and is also very economical. Either way, you'll probably want margins of 0.25" to make the best of the space you have.

This method has the benefits of full sheets and of a regular booklet. It folds in half and is staple-bound (or can be bound in other ways). Yet when you hold it in your hand or lay it flat on a table, it feels like you're looking at a regular sheet of paper. On digital devices, you can scroll down for longer to read without having to flip (or switch) the page. I am absolutely infatuated and obsessed with this style of printing, and I hope to have the chance to make more pamphlets this way.

Pamphlets are basically exported to PDF as a booklet, except that the final sheet will be portrait rather than landscape (like you would typically expect of a booklet). Therefore the instructions above for Adobe Indesign, Affinity Publisher, and Microsoft Publisher should all still apply. The only difference is that since these sheets are portrait rather than landscape, you should not have to worry about flipping every other page on the PDF for the document to print properly. Less work is nice!

Trifolds

 A printout of TURN [7]. Layout my own.

  • Letter: 3.66" by 8.5" (93 mm by 216 mm)
  • A4: 3.91" by 8.25" (98 mm by 210 mm)
  • Compromise: 3.66" by 8.25" (93 mm by 210 mm)

Take a full sheet of paper laid landscape, and make two folds to divide the sheet into thirds. You can arrange the 'pages' with one in the front, and one in the back. You've made a trifold. This method is very economical because all you need is one sheet of paper, and it turns into 6 pages. The downside is that you cannot really combine multiple sheets of paper unless you, I guess, make multiple trifolds (and that would be a fun idea!).

One benefit of a trifold is that you can mess with the principle of control panel layouts. In a way, you have two interior sections. The first interior is 2 pages, and it opens up to the second interior which is 3 pages (and whose leftmost page is the same page as on the first interior). You can treat the second interior as having hidden or more specific information than the first interior, opening it up only on special occasions. For example, in my trifold TURN, the first interior is the main dungeon crawl procedure whereas the second interior explains how to handle an encounter.

You can also use trifolds as a sort of screen, having it standing up on the table and open to the second interior. In this case, you might want most of your useful information in that innermost section, and the 3 other pages facing towards the players to be indescript or to have information pertinent to them. This method is thus somewhat more flexible than the others, but it is limited as far as how much space you have to actually record (and read) information.

When making individual 'segments' of a trifold (using the dimensions above) rather than making each full page, you need to arrange the segments in proper order on a regular sheet of paper. Refer to the 'singles' version of the TURN pdf at [7]. The order of those 'segments', to turn them into standard size pages of paper, is as follows for each side:

  • Side A: 3, 6, 1
  • Side B: 2, 4, 5

Compare to the final product, the 'letter' or 'A4' version at [7], to see how this turns out. You might want to order it differently, of course, based on your own document's contents. Like with booklets, you may need to flip one of the sides in order for the sheet to print properly as a landscape document.

Conclusion

I hope you find this guide useful! I encourage y'all to make your own little booklets and pamphlets to use at your table, since they feel much nicer to read and hold onto than just sheets of paper (and not many people have enough stuff to need a binder of sheets to keep track of it all!). Have fun with it!

Also, support Ava’s transition fund (link)! She is a good friend and she needs all the help she can get.


[1] https://chiquitafajita.blogspot.com/p/keystone-readings.html

[2] https://chiquitafajita.blogspot.com/2022/01/about-fantastic-medieval-campaigns.html

[3] https://emmv.itch.io/island-guard

[4] http://questingblog.com/control-panel-book-layout-osr/

[5] https://hodagrpg.itch.io/hodag

[6] https://hodagrpg.itch.io/dungeonfloor

[7] https://traversefantasy.itch.io/turn

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