Book spine text orientation?

zlatica's picture

Hello,have a question about text orientation on binding of roman-script books.

As I understand, it's a convention in certain countries to put the title top-to-bottom (Wikipedia: "In the United States, the United Kingdom and Scandinavia, titles are usually written top-to-bottom, and this practice is reflected in an industry standard;[18] when the book is placed on a table with the front cover upwards, the title is correctly oriented left-to-right on the spine. In most of continental Europe, the general convention is to print titles bottom-to-top on the spine.").

Well, I got my answer there, but I am actually wondering about the reason for putting the title the opposite way, because I am from Croatia, so books that I do do not fit in the countries mentioned above. I know that most things in book design and typography have some justification in history of type and bookmaking, so if anyone has an answer to this one, I would really appreciate it.

Thank you very much!

riccard0's picture

In Italy you will see both. I think it's a clash of conventions: the readability of the title if the book is placed on a table versus the graphic design convention that says that, if a text is placed vertically, it should read from the bottom.
If you need to set a book spine I think you should look for book similar to the one you need to set and see what solution they adopt. Then deciding accordingly.

Stephen Coles's picture

The only book I have that goes the opposite direction (bottom to top) is German.

nina's picture

I can confirm bottom-to-top for German & French, and top-to-bottom for Danish.
BTW, graphic novels seem to handle these conventions remarkably loosely. Much back-and-forth-head-tilting there :-)

mili's picture

Top to bottom in Finland, too.

Uli's picture

Germany: Bottom to top (usually)
France: Bottom to top (often)
India: Random (

oprion's picture

Bottom to top in Russia

One explanation I've heard, was that a book placed on the table with the front cover up, can be easily identified from the cover itself, while the one laying face-down can only be told by the spine.

This explanation seems rather sketchy, as back when the convention was established , most books didn't carry writing on the covers, and the spine was a primary identifier.
Personal Art and Design Portal of Ivan Gulkov

jacobsievers's picture

Does anyone have any information on when titles began to be set running predominately along a vertical axis as opposed to horizontal? Nineteenth century, I believe. I'll bet there was a lot of variation regardless of geography. Here is a hypothesis: Well-known bookbinders in big cities set the standards for the region.

zlatica's picture

Thank you all very much! If I found out anything more/else, i'll post it here.
@ oprion: Thanks for giving me some sort of explanation. My entire family consists of architects, so they attacked some of my books with their arguments, which ofcourse does not have a lot to do with bookmaking-logic. This will help me prepare for round two - xmas dinner :-)

riccard0's picture

when titles began to be set running predominately along a vertical axis as opposed to horizontal

When the spines became narrower! :-)

Bert Vanderveen's picture

In the Low Countries we adhere to the Top-to-Bottom-convention. As do most other European countries.

. . .
Bert Vanderveen BNO

jacobsievers's picture

When the spines became narrower!

Perhaps when the title was hand-lettered, but I've never seen a stamped title set vertically until the nineteenth c., no matter how thin!

Chris_Harvey's picture

My Hungarian books are bottom-to-top.

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

In Mexico: bottom-to-top in books, top-to-bottom in compact discs. Don’t ask me why. I suppose that music industry is more American-influenced than editorial industry here.

nina's picture

Hey, interesting – my Swiss and German music CDs are top-to-bottom too (while books are bottom-to-top). Never noticed this discrepancy before.

Cristobal Henestrosa's picture

Re to the original question: this can be a cultural matter. Anyway, FWIW, Jorge de Buen in his Manual de diseño editorial states that bottom-to-top is more legible than the other way around. He includes the following example:

Certainly I can read better the bottom-to-top text than the other one, but it can be just me. Fortunately, you can always put the book upside down in your bookcase.

— — —

As for the CD matter: at least in this case you usually have two “spines” so you can put both versions. :P

nmihaylov's picture

Hello zlatica

Wonderful question, I've been asking myself and searching for answers a lot.

I have my own explanation of that. It's in my blog, here:

See if it works for you.


zlatica's picture

Thank you Nikolay, but it seems there is no text on thath page of you blog... Could you please send the text onto my e-mail Thank you!

nmihaylov's picture

Hmmm! Perhaps there is a browser problem. I'm seeing it with Mozilla and Chrome, but haven't checked with IE. This is too bad! :(
I sent you the text on the mail, np!

For other people with the same problem - I am posting here my hypothesis in a nutshell - if you want to see the rationale or some supporting data, you have to check my page with Mozilla or Chrome browsers (and perhaps others will also do the job).

"...This string of reasoning leads to the simplistic conclusion that in Great Britain and USA (plus the Netherlands) people read more pragmatic books – textbooks, science, manuals, guides, encyclopedias, how-to books. On the Continent people read more literature. Pragmatic books are read in a problem-oriented way, with more sources at a time; literature is read in a content-oriented way, one book at a time. In the first case it is more important to be able to read the spine text when the book is in a pile with others, face up. In the second – it is more important for the spine text to enable book recognition in all positions – alone..."


Stephen Coles's picture

Art Lebedev wrote a nice short piece explaining the origin and rationale for both orientations. There is also some discussion of this on Fonts In Use.

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