September 23, 2011

Printing PDF/postscript booklets

So let's say you've got a PDF that you want to print at half-size. One option is to print it "2-up", which makes it so that if you put them in a full-size binder (and held the binder sideways) you'd read the pages in order, 1-2 on the first page, then flip that up and get page 3-4 and 5-6. I find this is great for academic papers and student work I need to grade.

But let's say you'd rather have it in a booklet form, so that you can take the stack from the printer, fold it in half, and have a ready-made booklet to read. This means that if the document were 8 pages long, on one side of a sheet you'd have pages 8-1, on its reverse 2-7, on the next page 6-3, and on its reverse 4-5. Fortunately, a lot of print drivers these days have a booklet option to automate figuring out this order, but if you didn't, you could rearrange the document into the order 8-1-2-7-6-3-4-5 and then print it 2-up as specified above.

But suppose, further, that you had a document that was long enough that a single booklet stack would be so thick that folding it in half would be impractical or even impossible. (This will happen between about 6 and 12 sheets of paper, depending on the thickness, representing a 24-48 page booklet.) What you can do then---and what bookbinders have been doing for centuries---is to print the book in "signatures" of 8 or 12 or 16 pages, folding these, and then binding them all together at the end. But you're not a bookbinder and you only want the one book. Is there a program that will automate this?

Well, probably, but I didn't find it and I got curious about whether I could do it from the command line. I can, and so you can, and I'm writing down the instructions here so that I don't forget them and as a how-to guide for anyone that stumbles across this page. You'll need a command line (Windows command prompt might do it, but certainly a Mac terminal or any Unix will do nicely), and you'll need to get psutils installed (its homepage is here but it's available through your favourite package manager as well).

First, if what you have is a PDF, convert it to PS. For my example I'll use the Longwood course catalogue:

pdftops UnderGradCatalog2011_12.pdf

Next, make sure that the file you will use has sufficient "gutters", or inside margins. Whether you're a proper bookbinder or just plan to use a couple metal binder clips, you need enough space without content on it to actually grip the page, on the left of the odd-numbered pages and on the right of the even-numbered ones. The PDF linked above does not, so first I'll use the general pstops reformatter. The odd pages I want to move to the right, in this case about 1.5 inches, and the even pages to the left the same amount, so I type

pstops '2:0(1.5in,0in),1(-1.5in,0in)' UnderGradCatalog2011_12.ps temp1.ps
Strictly speaking this is telling pstops to move the even pages (those with page numbers = 0 (mod 2)) to the right and the odd pages (with page number = 1 (mod 2)) to the left, but that's because pstops is numbering from zero rather than one. The output of this is in temp1.ps and may require further tweaking to get it just so; don't skimp on that gutter margin.

Next, we want to shuffle the pages into a booklet order. Any multiple of 4 is technically a valid size for the signature; smaller and you'll be spending more time folding, larger and you'll have a harder time folding each one (and the signatures will be visible in the edge of the book). The size you give is the number of logical pages, and thus four times the number of sheets of paper per signature. I like powers of 2, so 32 sounded about right:

psbook -s32 temp1.ps temp2.ps
This program doesn't change the size or orientation of any page, just their order, and it should start with page 32, followed by page 1 (which the PS reader may list as page 31 and 0 due to pstops's numbering.)

Finally, we want to actually 2-up the thing, as follows:

psnup -n2 temp2.ps book.ps
and then send that file (book.ps) to the printer! If you care to return it to PDF form for some reason, you can call ps2pdf on the file, but since this file will be useless in electronic form except to create more dead-tree copies, there doesn't seem to be much point in rendering it to PDF.

And of course, the Unix Way would have you not cluttering the place up with your temp files, so you could just do

pdftops UnderGradCatalog2011_12.pdf - | pstops '2:0(1.5in,0in),1(-1.5in,0in)' | psbook -s32 | psnup -n2 > book.ps
or even
pdftops UnderGradCatalog2011_12.pdf - | pstops '2:0(1.5in,0in),1(-1.5in,0in)' | psbook -s32 | psnup -n2 | lp
to send it straight to the printer.

"I have a coat older than Google. I have drill press older than the entire internet. I have books that predate the transistor. This is all new and we are just barely coming to terms with a giant sea change in every industry and cultural institution." --dan_the_welder

Posted by blahedo at 5:36pm on 23 Sep 2011
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