Page Layout

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This page focuses on Basics of page design and layout. It will allow you to continue on further topics like Presentations layout, Visual debugging, Floating Objects, Columns, Layers, Grid typesetting, PDF Boxes. But first, one needs to understand the basics of page layout by ConTeXt.

Typesetting areas

The 25 typesetting areas of a ConTeXt page are divided into 5 columns and 5 rows. From left to right, one encounters leftedge, leftmargin, text, rightmargin, and rightedge. From top to bottom, the areas are called: top, header, text, footer, bottom. E.g. leftmargin is the margin area to the left of the main text area; {leftmargin,bottom} is below it, at the same height as the bottom area. In between the two lies the area {leftmargin,footer}.

The graphic below illustrates the areas and dimensions. The row and column names are written along the edges of the page. The arrows correspond to layout dimensions; the more important a dimension is (i.e. the more of the layout is pushed around when you change it), the thicker its arrow and the larger its name.

Diagram of \setuplayout[] dimensions

Defining the layout

Positioning the areas is by setting the following dimensions using \setuplayout[backspace=5cm,...]. The dimensions are mentioned in order of how ‘primitive’ they are: e.g. altering the topspace pushes around all other vertical dimensions, but altering the header affects only the headerdistance and the textheight.

When you define a page layout, it's always a right page that you're defining; if you use a double page layout, 'right' and 'left' values are mirrored on a left page. Doublesided typesetting is activated with \setuppagenumbering[alternative=doublesided].

  1. Set the backspace and width, and the topspace and height. The width is the width of the main typesetting area; the backspace is its distance from the left edge of the page. The height is the distance from the top of the header to the bottom of the footer; the topspace is the distance from the top edge of the page to the top of the header.
  2. Set the header and headerdistance, and the footer and footerdistance. The header is the vertical size of the header area; the headerdistance is the distance from the header area to the text area. The footer and footerdistance work likewise.
  3. Once the header(distance) and footer(distance) are subtracted from the height, what remains is the textheight: the height of the main typesetting area. Although it would be very useful, you cannot set this dimension directly.
  4. If you want to typeset anything above the header, define topdistance (the distance from the top of the header to the bottom of the topmost typesetting area) and top (the height of the topmost typesetting area). For typesetting below the footer, define bottomdistance and bottom.
  5. As for the horizontal dimensions apart from the width: starting at the left edge of the main text area, and moving away from the center, one first sets the leftmargindistance; then one sets the width leftmargin of the margin typesetting area; then one sets the leftedgedistance; and then there is the leftedge typesetting area. On the right: rightmargindistance, rightmargin, rightedgedistance, rightedge.

Paper size

See the dedicated page Paper setup, it includes details on:

Example layout

\setuppapersize[A4][A4] % this is the default and may be omitted

Let's gather examples here

Cover pages
Cover Pages (2013, 2019)
Example photo page layout (2010)


Imposition is a prepress printing process. It consists of the arrangement of the printed product’s pages on the printer’s sheet, in order to obtain faster printing, simplify binding and reduce paper waste (wikipedia).

We built a dedicated page about Imposition, because making booklets, to arrange pages in proper order for printing it's a topic in itself. This is where you will use \setuppaper and \setuparranging.

Multiple layouts

If you need to use different layouts in some parts of the document, you can set up a global layout, and then define additional named layouts for the deviating parts. You only need to specify the dimensions that differ: unspecified dimensions will be inherited from the global layout.

To switch to a different layout, call it up in the appropriate place in the document. To revert back to the global layout, use \setuplayout[reset].

\setuplayout[...] % global layout
\definelayout[wide][...] % layout of the first page

\setuplayout[wide]  % switch to layout called 'wide'
\setuplayout[reset] % switch back to the global layout

To specify in advance that you want to change layouts starting from page 4 (e.g.), use \definelayout[4][...]. Resetting the layout must be done explicitly; else, the new layout will be used until the end of the document.

% different layout for first two pages

For the page numbers you can use absolute numbers (as above), relative numbers (like +1, -2) or the keywords odd, even, first and last.

\setuplayout[ % default layout (right page)
\definelayout[even][ % different layout on left pages

If you define additional layouts in a doublepage (duplex) setup, remember to think mirrored: leftmargin defines the right margin, backspace is the distance from the spine to the right edge of the text area etc.



At the moment a layout change (\setuplayout) inside a page is not proper working in mkiv duplex mode. For more details and actual state see mailing list and Bug Layout change inside page while duplexmode.

Maybe using \startlayout\stoplayout fixes that issue.

Table of Parameters

The first column is the name by which the variable is set in \setuplayout. The second column is the name by which TeX stores the variable. This name is usually the same, but sometimes different; knowing it allows you to invoke it with code like The paper's height is \the\paperheight. Any remarks (usually a short description) are given in the third column.

\setuplayout[...] dimension Remarks
paperheight \paperheight height of paper page
paperwidth \paperwidth width of paper page
printpaperheight \printpaperheight differs from paperheight when using Imposition (arranging)
printpaperwidth \printpaperwidth differs from paperwidth when using Imposition (arranging)
topspace \topspace above header: from top rim of paper to to top rim of header
backspace \backspace from left rim of paper to left rim of main text area
height \makeupheight sum of heights of text area, header and footer (plus distances)
width \makeupwidth width of the main text area. \makeupwidth is normally same as \textwidth, but it can be different, for example in columns
top \topheight height of the top area
topdistance \topdistance between top and header
header \headerheight height of header area
headerdistance \headerdistance between header and text
textheight \textheight height of text area
footerdistance \footerdistance between text and footer
footer \footerheight height of footer area
bottomdistance \bottomdistance between footer and bottom
bottom \bottomheight space below footer (but isn't calculated automatically)
bottomspace \bottomspace space from bottom footer to bottom rim of paper
cutspace \cutspace from right rim of paper to right rim of main text area
leftedge \leftedgewidth from left rim of paper to left rim of left margin
leftedgedistance \leftedgedistance between leftegde and left margin
leftmargin \leftmarginwidth width of left margin (marginals space)
leftmargindistance \leftmargindistance between left margin and text
textwidth \textwidth width of text area. when columns are used, the value of \textwidth can differ from \makeupwidth
rightmargindistance \rightmargindistance between text area and right margin
rightmargin \rightmarginwidth width of right margin (marginals area)
rightedgedistance \rightedgedistance between right margin and right edge
rightedge \rightedgewidth from right margin to right rim of paper
horoffset ? bleed from left of paper
voroffset ? bleed from top of paper


  • width=middle
     if cutspace == 0pt then
        cutspace = backspace
     makeupwidth =  paperwidth- backspace -cutspace
  • width=fit
       if cutspace == 0pt then
          cutspace = backspace
       makeupwidth = paperwidth-cutspace
       scratchdimen = backspace - leftedgewidth-leftedgedistance-leftmarginwidth-leftmargindistance
       if scratchdimen< 0pt then
          scratchdimen = 0pt
       makeupwidth = makeupwidth - rightmargindistance-rightmarginwidth- rightedgedistance-rightedgewidth- scratchdimen
  • otherwise:
       if cutspace == 0pt then
          cutspace = paperwidth-makeupwidth-backspace
            % A kind of inconsistent specification, but used
            % in for instance s-pre-19.tex; the cutspace is
            % used only for determining some kind of right
            % margin; don't use this in doublesided mode

(From page-lay.mkiv.)

Further reading