Printing and Design Tips: January 2011, Issue #114

Recto / Verso

The traditional printers' references to a right- or left-hand page, "recto" and "verso," from Latin, refer respectively to the right-hand page (an odd-numbered page or folio) and the left-hand page, which is effectively the "back" of the previous right-hand page ("verso," like "reverse"). The verso is an even-numbered page or folio. (Think of the "obverse" and "reverse"—or heads and tails--of a coin.)

This may be more than an arcane fact for two reasons.

Paper has two sides (the wire side and the felt side). The felt side is smoother, due to the way the paper is made on the Fourdriner Machine (the paper-making equipment). Therefore, the terms recto and verso can keep you mindful of the "two-sidedness" of paper. How you lay out a project may take into account the different levels of smoothness of the recto and verso, since the felt side is often preferred for printing. (For instance, you might want to discuss with your printer the possibility of laying out the pages on the press sheet in such a manner that images you want to showcase fall on the felt side of the sheet.)

Secondly, in a book or other longer document, you will probably design not individual pages but two-page spreads. Your right-hand pages will probably have a consistent look (and design grid), and your left-hand pages will probably have a slightly different look and design grid. Therefore, the terms recto and verso may be helpful in describing your book to your printer.

Piggy-Back Labels

You may recall piggy-back labels from the cover of a magazine you received in the mail. You may, at some point, have peeled the address label off the front cover of the magazine and reattached it to a business reply card to request more information from the publisher or an advertiser.

The label you peeled off and repositioned on the card is different from most paper labels. Most paper labels (such as Cheshire labels) are permanently glued to the magazine cover. You can peel them off, but you can't restick them again.

Piggy-back labels are actually peel-and-stick labels attached to a backing paper that itself is attached to the magazine cover. There are two separate elements of the label, one piggy-backing the other. When you peel off the label, you are leaving the backing paper still (permanently) affixed to the magazine cover. (In most cases this would be a more expensive option than either affixing paper labels or ink-jetting addresses directly on the magazine cover.)


Probably all of us have torn business reply cards out of magazines. What makes this easy is the perforation, an alternating pattern of tiny holes (teeth and gaps) punched by a perforation rule attached to the press blanket (wet perf or litho perf) or done as a separate operation on a diecutting letterpress. The final product of this procedure is an alternating punched line: paper — hole — paper — hole. Without this perf, you might not tear the BRC out of the magazine without ripping through the card.

A microperf is still a perforation, just a very small one. For example, an advertisement I just read refers to a microperf made with 30-, 40- and 50-tooth rules rather than 6-, 8-, 12- or 16-tooth rules.

A microperf is less obtrusive than a regular perforation, and your printer may mention this as a feature of his printing equipment. He may also reference the specifications in terms of "teeth-per-inch."

It's not a big thing, but a microperf may make a job look more polished because it is so unobtrusive (with no stray paper fibers or rough edges). Micro-perfs are also ideal for continuous-feed forms, and for items that will be perfed, separated, and fed into a laser printer. (If your printer has equipment capable of producing microperfs, this should be no more expensive than regular perfs.)

Don't Coat Paper You Plan to Write On

In my opinion, there are few absolute rules that should never be broken. That said, I have a rule of thumb that I live by religiously as a designer: Don't coat paper you plan to write on or have others write on.

This applies to business cards, for example. How is your new client going to make notes on your business card if you have varnished it or laminated the paper stock? Your client's ballpoint pen ink will smear right off.

Or, consider a white block left on the cover of a magazine for ink-jetting subscriber names and addresses. If you have varnished this address block, the ink-jet information you have paid dearly to have your printer add may also wipe right off, eliminating the possibility of delivering the product to the readers.

Again, a good rule of thumb: Don't coat paper you plan to write on, print on, or ink-jet on.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]