Bonus Info: One Sheet Books


Note: The February, 2018 post “Workshop Handout: One-sheet Books / Mini Zines” features an updated printable version of this diagram.

It appeals to my sense of the absurd that I spent the day making diagrams of one of the world’s simplest, easiest books. If I could redo my thesis I think that’s what I would do, just make a huge compendium of complex instructions for non-complex activities. Of course, I’m sure it’s been done a million times already, but I hold out hope that maybe a few obscure tasks are still available for me to make sport of. In any event, it’s fun to draw diagrams even if there’s no grand purpose to them. When you’re drawing a diagram, you’re for a little while not worried about trying to somehow sneak into Art History or the fact that you’ve never been anywhere near the Whitney. Instead you’re just worried about whether or not the diagrams make any actual sense (which is also the complete opposite of my normal work, which is often meant to make the least sense possible).

Besides, I love one sheet books because they’re quick and surprising and require pretty much zero tools or equipment, besides whatever you want to draw with and a pair of scissors. I’m sure there are variations I haven’t tried yet, but for this one you just need a plain old regular sheet of super-not-fancy copier paper.


It’s not necessary to measure or mark on the paper to fold it. The handout down below has fold and cut lines, but they’re really just a guide for drawing more than anything, and after you make one of these books, you won’t need them at all. To get started, just make a center mountain fold down the long dimension, then a center mountain fold in the short direction. On both sides of that “vertical” mountain, make two valley folds (pull the ends of the paper toward the centerline for reference). Then flatten out the sheet.


You’ll need to cut a horizontal slit in the paper along the middle two quarters of the long mountain fold. One method is to fold the sheet in half along the short mountain and then to cut away from the center with scissors. I prefer to lay a straightedge along the fold and then to cut the slit with an Olfa knife. It’s maybe slightly more accurate that way, which helps with this kind of book, which isn’t ever going to end up perfectly straight, but can get more or less close depending on how well you’ve done the folding and the cutting.


Then fold the top half of the sheet back and gently push in from the ends to form this box-like structure. Note, by the way, that this step hides the back of the sheet, meaning that you don’t necessarily have to print or draw on it, making this a good way to make books out of one-sided prints. Although it’s interesting to consider this as a two-sided book that might hold secret content…maybe a contradictory narrative, or just more of the story, or text and images on some wholly different subject altogether.


Finally, collapse the box into pages and fold the pages over to form the book. You might have to massage the folds a little bit to encourage everything to lay relatively flat. Just know that it’s usually impossible to line up the fore-edges of the pages, especially down at the bottom right-hand corner. But this is a piece of ephemera, you know? So it’s not sloppiness, but just part of the way this thing naturally works.


The final size of the book made from an 8.5″x11″ sheet of copier paper will be about 2.75″x4.25″. You can change the final size by changing the sheet dimensions (which I know you know…and yet it bears repeating a little, because I forget this sometimes myself). The rule for this version of the one sheet book is: sheet height=2x(page height), sheet width=4x(page width). Otherwise, there are no other rules that I know of.



If you want to set up a design file so that you can print out your own one sheets, you’ll need to know about imposition (if you write and draw in your book after you make it, imposition will take care of itself). It all depends, though, on how you fold this thing. Fold it one way and your cover page is in one location on the sheet, fold it another way and the cover moves elsewhere. So maybe see what your preferences are by making a few books for practice. If you write page numbers in a mock-up and then unfold it, you can see how things end up on the whole sheet. I think the imposition schemes shown here are the main two options (I usually go with the first one).

Anyhow, here’s the handout, which is, again, not really necessary but might help the first time out. They’re kind of fun to give away at schools and street fairs for kids to draw their own little books on. Choose “actual size” when printing it out.

By the way, the Internet is, as usual, chock full of diagrams for this structure by other humans. Plus I’ve seen it in a thousand or so books, which you probably have, too. My favorite of all of the images of how to do one sheets is this one, which is drawn the way I wish I could draw, instead of in the sort of clinical way I did mine.

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