Trim Sizes for Picture Books (2022)


Letterpress text and pre-separated art were on their way out, but in 1984 our office didn’t have a single computer. When I started my first job out of college as a children’s book production assistant, the way books were made was changing fast.

One change I was seeing firsthand involved trim sizes. Thepublisher had nurtured several successful series over the years. But withineach series, the titles were printed with varying trim sizes and at differentprinters. The main character of one of those series was a curious ape. Althoughthe author/illustrator had passed away a few years before, his creative partnerand wife was still very much involved in continuing the series.

To afford to keep the series reprinting, the publisher neededto make the trim size consistent. The production director (my direct boss), theart director and the editor had to balance aesthetics and economy to figure outthe best trim size for that series.

With trim size, part of the decision comes down to paper.Paper is expensive, so you want to waste as little as possible. The trim size andpage count help determine the size of the sheet (or the width of the roll) thebook will print on. A book with an 8.5”x11” trim size needs a larger sheet of paper to print than an 8”x 8” book.

If you print on a sheet that is larger than the trim sizerequires, that extra paper you paid good money for is trimmed off and tossed (hopefullyrecycled nowadays).

The more paper you buy, the greater discount the paper merchantgives, and the less each individual sheet costs. If you buy paper for 100,000copies of a certain trim size, each individual sheet will cost less than if youbuy paper for only 10,000 copies.

To save additional expense, the publishing house would reprintseveral titles in the series at the same time. The more sheets you print, thegreater discount the printer gives, and the less each individual printed sheetcosts. So, the publishing house would try to “gang” titles together, often anew title in the series along with its reprint titles.

When I started working there, everything—paper, printing andbinding–was manufactured in the United States. Years later, when I left (andcomputers had become plentiful in our office), more and more books were beingprinted and bound overseas. In those cases, the overseas printer took care ofall the headaches of buying and storing paper: those same costs were of courseincluded in their bottom line. Having standardtrim sizes still saved money.


I bought this book about skyscrapers at a library book saleseveral years ago. I’m in awe of its trim size. It lives on the floor becauseit doesn’t fit any of my bookshelves. When I first bought it, I imagined thelibrarian pulling the book from the oversize books shelf, flipping through thepages, regarding its checkout record, balancing its heft in one hand beforesighing and chucking it into the book sale carton.

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The thing is, this publisher chose the perfect format andtrim size for a book on skyscrapers.

(Video) Children's Book Trim Sizes | Book Shapes | Trim Size

If a publisher acquires your manuscript, they will choose thetrim size that best fits and best benefits your story idea. But first you need to sell them your idea,most likely submitting a loosely sketched dummy with two or three sample art pages(which the publisher will most probably ask you to redo eventually).

Trim size refers to the trimmed size of the block of pages,not the outside dimensions of the bound book. Different binding methods canchange the outside measurements of a book.

The trim size of the bound pages will be the same for apaperback and a hardcover book, but the hardcover book will have larger outsidedimensions because of the binders boards. A saddle stitched bound book will bewider than a perfect bound book of the same trim size.

Books come in three general formats: upright (verticallyoriented), square, and landscape (horizontally oriented). Before you start work on your dummy, askyourself which format fits your book the best. Don’t lose any sleep over thisdecision: the publisher will either second your intuition or ask that youchange the format later.

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Imagine a toddler has these three books in front of her. Which spine would she be able to break the quickest?

The first number in the trim size is for the width of thebook. The second number is the height. At this point, you don’t need to worryabout the third dimension, the thickness of the book. (Spine width isdetermined by the number of pages, paper weight and paper finish. Later, whenyour book is being developed, the art director will guide you on the width ofthe spine of the jacket or paper cover.)

Pretend that you’ve chosen to make an 8” x 10” dummy.

If the trim size is 8” x10” the book is upright. If the book is 10” x 8”, it’s landscape.

When you open an 8” x 10” book, a double spread will measure approximately 16” x 10.”

When you open a 10” x 8” book, a double page spread will measure approximately 20” x 8.”

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I’ll explain why those measurements of the double pagespreads are approximate and how they relate to trim size a bit further down,when we get to the sample art pages you send along with your submission. But first, here’s a quick digression ondummies.

At this point, paper dummies are submitted less frequentlythan digital dummies. Any dummy should be paginated. The sketches should be looseyet clear enough to explain what’s happening in the story. It’s probably bestnot to go too wild with the type. At a convention I once heard an agent on apanel say she automatically rejects anything written in Comic Sans. Everyone in the ballroom laughed, but she wasdead serious.

(Video) Children's Book TRIM SIZE - The BEST Size for your Children's Book

Paper Dummies

Although physical dummies are submitted less frequently thanthey once were, they are often welcomed at SCBWI conferences as part of their illustratorshowcases.

Have your dummy photocopied onto either letter or legal paper,depending on the size and format you want to make your dummy. I usually use card stock because it gives a betterfeel to the dummy and is less likely to tear.

What matters most is the content of your dummy, not so muchits presentation. Simply stapling the copied sheets together works well as longit’s done neatly.

Just to share, here are some dummies from workshops I ran forkids.

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Trim Sizes for Picture Books (5)

Digital Dummies

At the publishing house, I only handled traditional artwork,mostly watercolors. Digital art was only becoming a thing a few years later,when I was working in advertising. But here are some basics that I’ve gleanedsince then.

If you adapt anything as you develop your art, save it as anew file, even if you wind up with a long string of files. I add the date tothe file name each time I work on something. Especially if you need to reducethe file size of a dummy to send it as an attachment, you want to have youroriginal file saved.

Don’t save your working files in the JPEG (JPG) format. Eventhough JPEG the most used format, it compresses the images by losing data thatcan’t be retrieved. Choose a lossless compression file format instead (Ipersonally use PNG).

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If you ever need to email your dummy as an attachment, youcan reduce the file and save it under a different file name.

Save as CMYK (the four color process inks–cyan, magenta,yellow and black—that printers use) so that you can print your dummy out incolor later if you want. Your brightly lit monitor is RGB: the photocopied orprinted image won’t match exactly.

(Video) Book Trim Size

Keep the resolution of your original work at least 300ppi/pixels-per-inch.


That’s the end of my digression on dummies. Now, let’s talkabout the sample art to submit with your dummy.

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The measurements of the double page spreads I mentioned above are approximate because another factor needs to be considered. Most modern books have at least some pages or spreads where the printed area extends beyond the edge of the page. These extended areas are called “bleeds,” and it’s up to the illustrator to include art in the bleed area even though it will be trimmed off. You need to allow 1/8” bleed all around to allow for trimming. One eighth inch bleed plus 1/8” bleed equals an additional ¼” added to the vertical and horizontal measurements.

Double page sample art with bleeds for an 8” x 10” book would measure16-1/4” x 10-1/4”.

After you’ve taken the bleeds into account, you should also thinkabout the “safe area” within the trim edges.Focus areas of the illustration (and the type) shouldn’t be placed tooclosely to the page edges. If your character is juggling three lemons and there’ssome variance in the folding or trimming of the book as it’s bound, you maylose a lemon. Plan at least ¼’ all around within the trim size; the artdirector may ask for more.

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When composing double page spreads, you also need to becareful of what you place near the gutter, the area where the pages are boundtogether on the inside of a book . You don’t want anything visually importanttoo close or in the gutter. Even with 32 page books, there may be “gutter loss”where the bound pages curve in to meet the spine. Books with higher page countsare even more prone to gutter loss.

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It can’t be said often enough: If you are a traditional artist, never send original art unless your book has been signed and the publisher requests it.

In the 1980s, I often passed the very sad and dark Storage Room of Purgatory, filled with original art and photos people had submitted without including return postage or often without even a return address. Any unrequested original art that might get damaged or lost or stored in a sad, dark storage room is not the publisher’s responsibility.


If you’re an illustrator for a traditional publisher, thepublisher has the final decision on trim size. If you work traditionally, with physicalmedia, the art director will specify what proportion you can enlarge your originalart while still fitting the trim size (your physical art can’t be larger thanthe printer’s scanner). If you work digitally, the publishing house will giveyou the resolution they want along with the other specifications.

If you are confused or uncomfortable about anything, ask forclarification as often as you need.

The book buying market is smaller than it used to be. Traditional publishers only have theresources to accept a fraction of the flawlessly written, perfectly illustrated,well deserved books submitted to them every year.

(Video) Use a custom trim size for your paperback book - KDP

What if you’ve submitted your dummy for a few years, and youstill haven’t gotten a nibble from a traditional publisher? Or what if you’veopen to skipping the traditional publisher straightaway and want to control andpublish your book yourself?

I’m not suggesting vanity presses. Vanity presses charge alot of money to prepare, print and bind your book, but they aren’t invested in youor the worth of your message. I am pointing out that many authors—including CharlesDickens, Marcel Proust, Virginia Woolf, Mark Twain and Beatrix Potter—have self-publishedtheir work.

Not only did Beatrix Potter self-publish, she handled the designing and merchandizing of toys based on her characters.

Self-publishing takes a lot of planning, self-education and incrediblyhard work. There are two printing methods, digital and offset.

Print on demand (POD) uses digital inkjet or laser presses that allow you to order small quantities, even a single book at a time. Depending on your experience and how much outside help you need, you can even release your book without spending any money (although I suggest paying for a proof before you release your title).

If you self-publish using offset presses–the same pressestraditional publishers use–you’ll need to pay for the materials (paper,printing, and binding) and the storage and shipping the same way traditionalpublishers pay.

If you’re open to self-publishing or want to keep it in your back pocket just in case, it would make sense to look into the trim sizes offered by the various self-publishing companies. Because self-publishing companies handle purchasing and storing the paper, they may streamline the number of trim sizes they offer. Some companies offer either POD or offset printing, some companies offer both. Some only offer paperback binding, some both paperback and hardcover binding. The technology is getting better every day, so do your research.

I visited the websites of a few of the many self-publishing companiesand made a table comparing the availability of certain trim sizes (as of August2019). This is just an excerpt and each company manufactures many more trimsizes. I just wanted to suggest a way of comparing what different companies mayoffer. In no way am I recommending any of these companies.

Trim Size Mill City
Ingram Spark
Book Baby Kindle
6” x 9” MC IS BB KDP
6.5” x 6.5″ IS
7” x 10” MC IS KDP
8” x 10” MC IS KDP
8.5” x 8.5” MC IS BB KDP
8.5” x 11” MC IS BB
9” x 7” BB
9” x 12” BB
10” x 10” BB
11” x 8.5” IS BB

One thing is certain. Even with so many trim size options in self publishing, printing and binding a book with custom printing and binding like Skyscrapers would be prohibitively expensive, and not available with POD printing.

A few years ago, I self-published a paperback book of my paintings using POD technology. (You can see the inside of the book by playing the video below). Up to that point, I’d always written under my legal name and sold my paintings under my married name. Using two names had happened organically, but I’d gotten to the point where I knew I’d save time by promoting myself under one name. I had built up a good following for my cat paintings on Facebook, so I printed Ginger Cats under both names to iron out the matter before switching to using one name for my writing, painting and illustrating. (If you are wondering, I’m still very happily married: there’s no better man for me than my husband.)

I’ve ordered copies a few times over the years. Truthfully,the copies vary a bit from order to order. With POD printing, you don’t get thepotential luxury (and expense) of going on a press okay as you would withoffset printing. The POD printer doesn’t store printed sheets that you’vesigned with your approval.

Even though I’m picky, and notice the color variation, itdoesn’t bother me enough to turn me away from the possibility ofself-publishing in the future. But if I do, I’ll have to be ready to take onall the jobs a publishing house handles for traditionally published authors.

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1. Children's Book Design Template | Children's Book Trim Size | Fonts | Text Layout | Book Designer
(Brooke Talks Books)
2. What trim size should I make my illustrated childrens book?
3. Trim Size of Book: What Trim Size Should I Print My Book?
(Archangel Ink)
4. Standard Size for Picture Book Illustrations
(Storyteller Academy)
(Amelia Griggs - Easy Learning)
6. How to set Trim Size, Gutters and Full Bleed in Children's Books
(Kids Lit ATL TV)

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