The paper and the screen

The paper and the screen
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Designing books for printing is not the same as designing digital books. Each support —the paper and the screen— has its logic, virtues and deficiencies. In this article we will talk a little about each of them so that you can choose the support format that best suits your needs.


In general, we have three types of formats —square, horizontal and vertical— but for each support we have some differences.

In printed books, we can cut the paper the way we want, thus achieving different formats, however, printed books are fixed, that is, the information contained there is fixed on the paper and its design is designed and adapted to work in that specific format. This means that, graphically, you can play more with diagramming, for example, inserting highlights in the middle of two columns (as in magazines), or using images that break the linearity of bodies of text, or completely breaking traditional layout styles (such as, for example, the book The House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski).

The House of Leaves, Mark Z. Danielewski. Design by the same author.
Happy coincidence, V.V. A.A.

In the case of e-books, there are two versions, the fluid versions (Reflowable) and the fixed ones (Fixed). Fluids can be easily adapted to the medium on which they are read, if we are using a cell phone or tablet, the content will adapt to a vertical or horizontal format depending on the orientation in which the device is held, and in the case of computers, it will automatically adapt to the size of the application being used. This ebook model is very close to the logic of the system responsive of web pages, sadly, it is not as advanced as to allow diagramming games as the web or printed books allow.

On the other hand, fixed-format ebooks, as their name says, the content is fixed to the format, they are not adaptable to the screen, they are designed in almost the same way as a book for printing. Hence, it is the most used format when making digital versions of books or magazines that come in physical formats and that have some type of special layout (more than one column of text, text compositions and images with deformations, etc.). A book like The House of Leaves adapted to a fluid ebook, it would lose all the author's intention in doing so. For a case like this, it is more advisable to use a fixed version. The big problem, for example, is that if we design for a next-generation iPad format, surely the experience won't be as pleasant if we see it on a Microsoft Surface or a Kindle, much less if we see it on a cell phone released a couple of years ago due to the difference in screen sizes.


Removing the thin transparent paper that covers a new book, opening it immediately halfway and bringing it closer to your face to smell it, is an indescribable feeling. Feeling the paper, appreciating the relief details or special inks on the cover, are interactions that the print reader treasures. Printed books allow us to interact with the object, which is why many children's books are designed to stimulate children's development through textures, Pop-ups, games, sounds, etc. Writing on the blank page at the beginning (courtesy page) a dedication for that person to whom we are going to give a new book, or finding in a second-hand edition, someone's notes that show the thoughts they had when they read a certain passage, is something that digitalization will not be able to match.

Apart from the romanticization of printed books, interactions in ebooks are practical and allow us to easily expand the universe of the same book, since we can incorporate hyperlinks and buttons that take us wherever we want in the same book or on the internet, all within the same device. We can insert videos, include micro animations, audios and much more. Something to highlight is that in fluidly designed ebooks there is no fixed number of pages, it always varies depending on the medium in which we see it, since applications allow us to adapt the font size to make it look larger or smaller and thus change the general number of pages, but the same application acts as a page separator and records the exact point where you were the last time you opened the book. Did something catch your attention? you create a digital note on the fragment that interests you so that the product as such is not “damaged”.


When we want to ensure a good composition of paragraphs, styles are created and configured so that they can be read, although many times, designers must make manual adjustments to the spacing of the letters (almost imperceptible to the eye), thus avoiding unwanted line breaks or so that you can simply read better. This is only if we talk about it in fixed printed or digital book formats, since here we know exactly how much the width of the text column and the defined vertical spaces will be.

Errors that must be corrected with manual adjusments.

In fluid ebooks, this is not possible, since a paragraph can occupy an entire page or more, if, for example, we read it from a cell phone and expand the font size. We can't predict if a paragraph will end with one, two, or six words.

This issue of changing the font size according to the user's preference is something that other supports don't offer us, and it's remarkable because a person with reduced vision can adapt the contents to their visual capacity, or if we start the book on a tablet and then follow it on the cell phone, we can adapt it to read better according to the size of our screens.

Font size on screens.


Composing texts in a format is something very different both for fixed printed and digital books, and for fluid ebooks; in printed or fixed e-books we have a key delimiter: the page, while in fluid ones, the logic of “the page” does not exist, since, as we mentioned before, the size of the letter can vary and make the screen size fit more or less text.

Something very characteristic of printed books is that we always see them on a double page, so the compositions of the texts are designed with this in mind, for example, the margins that go inside the pages tend to be larger than the outer ones, to prevent the sticking of the sheets to the spine from losing content.

Large margins for printed books.

Digital books are usually composed thinking that the screen size is a single page, so using asymmetric margins would make the content “dance” from page to page. For this reason, taking a file from a printed book and exporting it for an ebook is not the same, since this malpractice (because it is done), generates a bad reading experience for the user.

The content dances side by side when you change pages.


Working with images in printed books and in fixed ebooks offers a wide range of possibilities for composing. Something as simple as thinking of the term “full-page image” only makes sense in these two types of format because in fluid ebooks there is no such thing as “page” logic as we know it. For example, an image in horizontal format, in a fluid ebook, may be better adapted to a device when it is in horizontal format than when it is in vertical format.

Horizontal image in horizontal format vs. horizontal image in vertical format.

In a fixed format (printed or digital), images relate to the format and contents in different ways, tensions, intersections and overlays can be generated, which in a fluid format would not be possible. Fluid formats receive images in a linear way, such as when we scroll through our favorite social network, one below the other, followed or preceded by texts.

Tensions, interactions and overlays.
Cultivate folklore, harvest memory, IPC.

In informative, specialized or practical books, we usually work with infographics and/or diagrams, which, because they have a large amount of details and information, it is more controllable to work them for fixed supports: the size of the letter, high quality of visualization and maintaining the layout are possible things that will keep a high quality on these supports. In the case of fluid ebooks, all this content must be converted into an image and it is quite possible that the text loses quality and even that it cannot be read.


As we could see, each medium has its logics, virtues and deficiencies, so to ensure a good reading experience, it is necessary to choose the right support. It is very important to keep in mind that if, for example, a book is required for printing and another for digital, it is not just a matter of converting to digital what was done for print, but that they are two different versions and that each one requires a particular treatment.

Are you interested in getting better advice on the best support for your book? we invite you to share more details about your project. You can write to us at or book a meeting hither. We're excited to learn more about your publication.

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