What Is the Gutter in Publishing and Page Design?

Keep your mind on the gutter, alley, and creeps

Brochure template layout, cover design, business annual report, flyer, magazine

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The gutter, alley, and creep are all terms common in the publishing or graphic design field. The inside margins closest to the spine of a book or the blank space between two facing pages in the center of a newsletter or magazine is known as the gutter. The gutter space includes any extra space allowance needed to accommodate the binding of books, booklets, pamphlets, brochures, newspapers, and magazines. The amount of gutter needed differs depending on the binding method.

Preparing for Print Production

When preparing digital files for print publication, a designer may or may not need to adjust the gutter width. It all depends on the specifications given by the printing company that is handling the production. 

Gutter adjustments for three-ring binder pages or side-stitched booklets is a single measurement applied to each left and right page. The print shop may want you to include that measurement in your digital files.

Gutter Versus Alley

In some cases, designers will use the terms "gutter" and "alley" interchangeably depending on the project. Both have separate meanings. Both are strips of white-space, the main difference is in size and location in regards to the page layout. An alley is a space between columns of text on one page, like in a newspaper, that is used in page layout. The gutter is the white-space between the two pages in the middle spine of the publication.

What Is Creep?

Sometimes because the adjustments for saddle-stitching, a special kind of binding, can be complicated — it varies based on the number of pages and the thickness of the paper — most print shops handle creep adjustments for clients.

Creep specifies the distance pages move away from the spine to accommodate paper thickness and folding. For example, in saddled-stitched publications, sets of pages are nested one inside another before being stitched. Then the outside "lip" is trimmed to apply an even edge to the booklet. As a result, the outside margin must be larger and the gutter smaller on the centermost set of pages because it sticks out the most and is trimmed the most. Without this adjustment, the image on the page appears to be off-center when compared with other pages in the booklet.

This movement of the image on the page is the creep, and each set of pages in the booklet with the exception of the first has a different amount of creep space added to its gutters.

Other Types of Gutter Adjustments

Booklets that are side-stitched or bound with combs, coil or wire also need additional gutter space. Check with your print shop to see if a specific amount of gutter space needs to be included in your digital files.

Some types of binding require no adjustments to the gutters. Perfect binding, often seen in hardback books, requires no adjustment because the pages are assembled one on top of another instead of being nested. A four-page newsletter has a gutter, but it does not require a special gutter adjustment since there is no binding requirement.

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