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using pdfjam for zine creation and bookbinding

what is pdfjam?

pdfjam is a script designed for assembling and adjusting PDF files. it can rearrange and resize pages onto larger sheets, making it a great tool for creating zines and booklets! i use it for zine projects such as imaginary landscapes and for printing manuals and documentation for hand-binding.

installing pdfjam

pdfjam is included the TeX Live suite. on Debian-based systems, the texlive-extra-utils package contains it; for Mac OS, Windows, and other Linux distributions, see the TeX Live website.

making simple booklets

the following command arranges an ordinary pdf into sets of double-sided sheets with two pages per side. when folded down the middle, the sheets assemble into one large booklet.

pdfjam INPUT.pdf --booklet true --paper letter --landscape --outfile OUTPUT.pdf

(letter may of course be substituted for a4 or any other needed paper size. unsupported paper sizes can use the --papersize option instead; see the making one-sheet zines section.)

pdfjam can also generate chunks of smaller booklets known as signatures. this is useful for binding larger books that cannot fit into a single booklet! for example, this command creates individual signatures of 16 logical pages each, making booklets of 4 sheets which can then be arranged sequentially.

pdfjam INPUT.pdf --signature 16 --paper letter --landscape --outfile OUTPUT.pdf

adding blank pages and rearranging pages

to add a page range, insert a comma-separated list after the input filename. {} inserts a blank page; ranges without the first or last argument default to the first or last page, respectively. this command prints the first page, a blank page, the third and fourth pages, another blank page, and all of the pages from the fifth on:

pdfjam INPUT.pdf '1,{},3-4,{},5-' ...

adjusting page spacing and layout

sometimes the pages arranged into a booklet may be spaced or positioned awkwardly or have unreadable margins, especially if the source document is not designed for booklet printing! the first step to resolving these is to get a look at how pdfjam actually positions pages. adding --frame true to any command causes the program to draw some nice boxes:

a sheet from the Little Sound DJ manual. there are boxes around each page and the margins are too large around the edges.

to remove unnecessary margins from the document, use the --trim and --clip options:

pdfjam ... --trim '2.5cm 0cm 2.5cm 0cm' --clip true ...
the same sheet from the Little Sound DJ manual. the large margins are cut off, but the pages are bunched together near the center instead of spread out across the page!

trim's arguments correspond to the amount taken off of the left, bottom, right, and top sides, respectively. they may be supplied with in or other units as well.

by default, pdfjam tries to pack its pages very closely to one another. this is probably counterproductive for booklets that need larger margins. the --delta option forces it to space the pages farther from one another:

pdfjam ... --delta '2.5cm 0cm' ...

its arguments refer to the horizontal and vertical spacing respectively; vertical spacing is irrelevant for simple 2x1 booklets. note that if the argument to delta gets too large, pdfjam will shrink the pages to compensate!

the same sheet as before, but now the two pages on the sheet are spread out to the edges so that the space in between is smaller where the booklet gets folded.

making one-sheet zines

pdfjam can also make foldable eight-page zines. first, take the pages on the top and place them into a temporary document, then do the same for the bottom pages:

pdfjam INPUT.pdf '5-2' --angle 180 --papersize '{5.5in,8.5in}' --outfile TEMP1.pdf
pdfjam INPUT.pdf '6-8,1' --papersize '{5.5in,8.5in}' --outfile TEMP2.pdf

the --papersize option is important! pdfjam will default to letter output if it is not specified instead of taking the source files' size. the 8-page zine format needs half-letter proportions to work properly! the regular --paper a4 is fine for A4 output.

to assemble the final zine:

pdfjam TEMP1.pdf TEMP2.pdf --landscape --paper letter --nup 4x2 --outfile OUTPUT.pdf
one sheet divided into eight pages, properly arranged and ready to fold!

more information on folding can be found on WikiBooks.

more information

the official pdfjam documentation is available on GitHub. pdfjam is built on the pdfpages LaTeX package.


the example images from this page use the Little Sound DJ manual. LSDJ is a GameBoy music creation tool available for purchase here.

pdfjam was created by David Firth.