Close this search box.

Printing Your Family History? You Need to Know These 8 Useful Tips

It’s easier than ever to produce a family history book. Not only are there many layout apps to choose from, but you can do everything without leaving your house. That includes printing in some cases.

The downside is there isn’t anyone to help with production tips or suggestions. Until now. Because today I’m sharing tips on what to do before printing your family history.

Read more on layout apps for creating your family history:
7 Apps for Creating Your Family History Books

Why production tips matter

A friend has been hard at work, compiling a family history for his Mum’s 80th birthday. He’s using PowerPoint to create the book, and the content is fantastic. Photos, stories and family trees all artfully displayed to engage the reader. After all, the layout is as important as the content.

Then he hit print, and the project went pear-shaped:

  • margins were too narrow, so some words got cut off due to the binding
  • the background images and colours weren’t printing to the edge
  • chapters weren’t starting where he wanted them too.

In brief, his experience is the result of not understanding what he needed to do to produce a book. Because he didn’t know about potential problems, he created a new file and began adding content.

With this in mind, I’m going to share the process I follow every time I create a new document.

Production planning for printing your family history

1. Start with the end result

Before you can work out how to create something, you need to know what it is you are producing. Therefore the first step is to decide what you want the end product to be. 

  • Is it a book? Or pages in a ring-binder? 
  • Will it be bound with wire, plastic or spiral comb? Or be a saddle-stitched book? Or something else altogether? 

Your choice here is the foundation of your production planning. Many of the other decisions will be as a result of this choice. You may need to rework the document if you make a change last minute or want to produce multiple formats.

2. Page Size

What size will your family history be when it’s complete? The required size varies, so check any production specs before you start. You don’t want to experience the mad scramble to resize because your artwork is for a smaller or larger page.

Another thing to check is that the page dimensions are correct in the layout app you’re using. Preset options aren’t always correct. For example, PowerPoint creates an A4 page of 19.05cm x 27.517cm instead of 21cm x 29.7cm.

Look up dimensions for specific page sizes on the Paper Sizes website.

3. Margins

In short, margins are the space between the main content and the page edges. This space is for binding, and also to improve readability. Firstly, check any printer specs for suggested margins. If there aren’t any, then start with 20/25mm or 0.75/1in.

Not all layout apps have the option to set margins, so create a guide to use instead. I generally group shapes together that I add to each page. Delete these at the end but use them to stay inside the lines during the layout phase.

Read more about the Importance of White Space in Design.

4. Document Bleed

You’ll be familiar with what this is, even if the term “document bleed” doesn’t mean anything to you. Grab a cookbook or magazine and look for an instance where images go to the edge of the page. That artwork has document bleed.

Extend the image beyond the page edge to allow for the paper to shift during the printing process. It’s recommended to allow 3 to 5mm or .1 to .2in outside the page dimensions. The result is no unintentional white lines on the edge of the page.

Not every layout app has the functionality to add bleed for you but good news, there is a workaround. Instead, you’ll set up the page a size that includes the document bleed. For example, if you want to print an 8.5 x 11in page, you’ll create a slightly larger page. Such as 8.7 x 11.2in (3mm or .1in bleed) or 8.9 x 11.4in (5mm or .2in bleed).

Internal pages of The First Seventy Years - the family history book of Priscilla Dwyer
Example of images and backgrounds that go to the edge of the page

5. Background images

Including a lot of photos is a great way to get your readers attention. However, background images should enhance, not overwhelm the page. The trick is to make sure you have enough contrast and space, so the text is always easy to read. For example, if the page is ‘busy’ (lots of text and other elements), then you’ll want a simple or no background photo. 

Full-page background images add value when printing your family history. So, it’s a great way to include:

  • quotes or mini-stories
  • case studies
  • family trees
  • the first page of a chapter

You can even add a simple background image on every page, such as the example in point 4 above.

6. Printing two-sided

The chosen binding method will influence the layout when printing your family history. It will affect decisions as margins, page number and text position, as well as the actual page count. 

When printing the document two-sided, you’ll need to consider:

  • A paper stock to avoid ink show through. So if you have images on one-side, and text on the other, both will be easy to read. 
  • The page count is divisible by two (2) or four (4). Two for most options and four for saddle-stitched booklets or flat lay books.
  • Guide your reader through the story. Start chapters on the right for easy navigation. You may need to add a blank page on the left. Use those left pages for photos, quotes, maps or family trees.
  • Flipping page numbers on odd/even pages, so it’s always on the outside margin
  • Mirroring margins, so the widest margin is on the binding side of the page.
Example showing ‘mirrored’ content on internal layouts

7. File format

No matter what app you use for design, you’ll want to provide the print version as a PDF. So it’s essential only to use software that will let you export or save in this format.

Another quick tip is to check with the print shop to see if they have specific settings for the PDF.

8. Image resolution

When it comes to printing your family history, you’ll need high-resolution photos. That means 300dpi pictures at 100% of the printed size. For example, if the image will be 4 x 6 in the book, then that’s your minimum size for the source file. If the image resolution is 72dpi, then the source file will need to be much larger than that.

Let’s do the math to show you an example of what I mean.

Start by dividing the end result by the resolution you have.

300 dpi / 72 dpi = 4.17

Now take the display size and multiply it by that amount. So that’s the size the photo will be inside the family history.

4 x 4.17 = ‭16.68‬
6 x 4.17 = ‭25.02‬

So you’ll need the 72dpi image to be a minimum of 16.68 x 25.02 in

In summary

Now you know that the secret to printing your family history is pre-planning. Something only possible when you know what you want as an end result. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a book, a binder or something else altogether.

Decide what you want and then consider:

  • Page size – what is the final size of the book?
  • Margins – think about binding and making the book easy-to-read
  • Document bleed – do you need it or not?
  • Use background images – where can you add them to add value?
  • Two-sided printing – is your document ready?
  • Print-ready file – what format do you need?
  • Image resolution – are all files displayed at 300dpi?

Armed with all of this information, you are ready to design and layout your family history book.

Discover more