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Margins: Pages have a lot of white space

Why do the printed pages have short text lines with wide margins?

An illustrated letter A: the flourishes extend out into the left margin

If I publish my wiki documents as PDF with Wikipublisher, a normal text field on a page (A4) has a width of about 12 centimetres and margins on the left and right of about 4.5 centimetres. The top and buttom margins are about 2.5 centimetres wide. I would like to have more text on a page and smaller margins. How do I change these settings?

The short answer is, “Increase the font size!” In The Not So Short Introduction to LATEX 2ε, Tobias Oetiker writes:

WAIT! … before you launch into a “Let’s make that narrow page a bit wider” frenzy, take a few seconds to think. As with most things in LATEX, there is a good reason for the page layout to be as it is. … So if you increase the width of your body text, keep in mind that you are making life difficult for the readers of your paper.

Wikipublisher interprets this as saying, “You don’t really want to change the default margins, because that will make your documents less readable. It is better to trust LATEX to do the right thing.” The generally accepted guideline is that printed pages should average 66 characters per line. The line length is set to achieve this, on average.1

The margins are set automatically and adjusted according to the page size the reader selects (A4, A5 or US letter) and (as of server v1.0.2) the body text font size. For example, the default font size is 11pt. If you change this to 12pt (the “large” option), Wikipublisher will make lines slightly longer to compensate and preserve the 66 characters per line average. If you select A5 paper, it uses a smaller font size and shorter lines. It also makes sure there is always enough room for marginal notes.

At the moment, there is no mechanism provided for users to change the default margin settings directly. If there is a compelling reason and sufficient demand to give people more control, we can look into how that could be achieved. Such a feature could be built, but this is not a simple task and will take quite a bit of effort to get right.

For sites running the Wikibook PDF server, you can modify the default settings in the script tblatex.xsl for each document type. This requires some LATEX knowledge and a lot of careful testing. The xsl script transforms the Wikibook XML into LATEX. It applies adjustments to the LATEX default margins as necessary according to the font size. Our experience to date is that it was a real challenge to get the margins right for duplex and one-sided printing across all document types, page and font sizes.


1 In practice, it depends on the fontset used, as different fonts have different alphabet lengths. The default font (Times) produces lines about 70 characters long, on average. (↑)

Category: typography

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Page last modified on 25 April 2008 at 05:34 PM