Typesetting Bibles


The Bible has been translated. It is time to publish it.

This article assists with typesetting the Bible.

At the end of all, you will have a PDF file with part of the Bible, or the whole Bible, typeset, ready for publishing.

Basic assumptions

Importing the USFM files

This section describes the steps to take to prepare the USFM code for export.

Each Bible book is stored as one USFM file.

You can upload 66 separate files, or you can put all the 66 files into one zipped file, and then upload that zipped file. Import takes a while. The Journal shows the progress.

All the data is now in Bibledit. Everthing is ready for export to OpenDocument files.

The OpenDocument files are used as a starting point for typesetting.


Some of the word in the OpenDocument files are long. This results in too much space between some words.

The words need to get hyphens so that part of the word goes on the next line.

LibreOffice and Adobe InDesign have hyphenation algorithms for many languages. That would solve the problem.

But the programs do not have a hyphenation algorithms for all languages.

Bibledit has a hyphenater that could assist.

The output Bible is called 'Ndebele-hyphenated'.

Use this Bible from now on.

Exporting to OpenDocument files

Make an initial export just to see how the text looks.

The Logbook shows the progress. Proceed when it is ready.

You will see the Bible exported into several formats.

Open the books in LibreOffice to see how they look.

The divine name will be underlined in the OpenDocument files. The divine name is within this markup: \nd_...\nd*. Some prefer this in small capitals, not underlined.

This can be changed in the stylesheet.

The verse numbers are in superscript. The verse numbers are small and difficult to read.

The intended audience prefers the verse numbers in bigger print.

The text in the OpenDocument files has been divided into paragraphs. New paragraphs start when appropriate in the context. This is how the USFM files have been marked up.

The people who are going to read this Bible prefer each verse to start a new paragraph.

Since each verse starts a new paragraph, there is no longer any need to indent the first line of that paragraph.

Some verses are short. Chapters that start with short verses no longer have the chapter number in drop caps in LibreOffice.

This is because this verse is all on one line, and thus there is no space for drop caps, as these need two lines of text.

Setting the text in two columns in LibreOffice solves the problem. The drop caps are back.

The letters of the Bible text are too big. This takes up a lot of space. The Bible would get too many pages.

Find out which styles start paragraphs. In the Ndebele Bible, these are the styles p, s, nb, d.

Set these styles to have a font size of 10 points.

The letters of the notes and crossreferences are too big.

Set the fontsize of the styles ft and xt to 6 points.

Parts of the footnotes are in bold or italics or both. You may prefer it all in normal script.

Update the relevant footnote styles and switch bold and italics off. The styles are fk, fl, fq, fqa.

Typesetting guidelines

  1. The following needs consideration if the Bible includes more than one book. Does the next book follow on the same page on which the previous book finished, or do the books follow on from one another in a different way? Whatever method is chosen, it needs to be applied consistently throughout the Bible.
  2. Line spacing should be consistent throughout and should be placed line on line across all pages. It means that all lines should line up with each other all the way down the page and across all pages. Then when the Bible is printed, the printed text will be back to back and not show through from one side of the page to the other. In the typesetting software, this can be implemented by setting up a grid in the document, and then aligning all text to this grid.
  3. The space after the verse numbers would be the same and consistent. Bibledit exports the text to OpenDocument format using 'en spaces' after each verse. This ensures a consistent width of the spaces after the verse numbers.
  4. The verse numbers should be set closer to the text that follows than to the preceding text. Many fonts have half spaces and hair spaces that can be used for this. Or set the kerning to a specific amount for the verse numbers.
  5. Superscript numerals could also be considered for verse numbers. They are less intrusive while at the same time just as readable and easily found if they are not made too small. They should be larger than any note citations in the text. The size of the superscript would be between 70 and 80 percent of the size of the main text.
  6. The alignment of the drop caps chapter numbers to the text beside it is to be consistent. There should be some space between the numbers and the text. Drop cap characters should not be too large and not rise too far above the height of the other letters on the first line. The top of the highest letters should reach to about the same height. The drop cap characters in the body of the text should not be indented.
  7. The chapter divisions would also benefit from some more space between them and the text of the preceding chapter. When there is no heading above a chapter, it may be visually better to start the chapter number with a line space before it.
  8. The amount of space given to the Bible book headings should not be too much. But they can do with some space above and below them.
  9. Subheadings should not appear squashed amongst the rest of the text and would benefit from some space.
  10. Subheadings do not need to be set on the grid. They are much better set a little closer to the text that follows.
  11. Subheadings are an addition and not Scripture, so it is appropriate to put these in italics.
  12. The space between the text and footnotes should not be too tight neither unnecessarily large. Keep the gap between the references in the footer and the main bock of text as consistent as possible.
  13. The footnotes and crossreferences should not have a large variation in how far they finish from the foot of the page.
  14. In the crossreferences it is pleasing to have the chapter and verse number kept together with the book name, especially as the small font on long lines gives scope for this.
  15. The columns should start at the same height and should be balanced at the ends.
  16. The gap between the columns should be between 4 and 5 mm.
  17. The centre line dividing the two columns should start about level or very slightly above the top of the highest ascenders on the first line of text in a column and finish about level with the bottom of the lowest descenders on the bottom line. The centre line may also be omitted, as most modern Bibles do. The pages looks cleaner then.
  18. The Psalm headers need consistent spaces before and after and should be positioned closer to the Psalm that follows than to the Psalm before.
  19. A 10 mm margin is okay for the top and bottom margins. A 12 mm margin is good for the outer margin. The inner margin needs slightly more, for example 14 mm.
  20. For singable Psalms, readability would be helped by distinguishing the verse numbers visually.
  21. It is helpful to distinguish the running head, perhaps by using a semi-bold version of the same font.
  22. One way in which the number of pages in a volume could be reduced without loss of readability would be to choose a font with slightly shorter ascenders and descenders and then tighten the leading (line spacing) slightly.
  23. When producing PDF output, the text needs to be monochrome black, not black consisting of three or four colours.
  24. The last line of a verse or paragraph should not appear on its own at the top of a column. The typesetting software will have a setting for 'orphans' to control this. An elegant way of avoiding orphans is to increase or decrease the tracking of the text. This is the overall spacing of the letters in a paragraph or on a line.
  25. Avoid hyphenations in the headings.
  26. Many book titles consist of a main title and a subtitle, like 'The gospel of Matthew'. 'Matthew' is the main title, and the rest is the subtitle. It is good if there is a clear contrast on size between these two. Say 24 points bold for the main title, and 14 points regular for the subtitle.
  27. The number of hyphens used in a row should be few for enhanced readability. The number of hyphens used in a row should not amount to more than three consecutive hyphenated lines. At times a word that is now hyphenated can be forced down onto the next line, and become a non-hyphenated word there, without opening up the gaps between the words too much on the line where the word came from. Hyphenation should be set to the optimum result for the column width but then it is usually necessary to go over every page and make corrections manually.
  28. The main page numbering should start at the first page of Genesis, or Matthew in case of New Testaments.
  29. To avoid what are sometimes referred to as 'rivers' in the text. This is where large spaces between words cause rivers of white space to be seen running through the text. The use of hyphenation or tracking adjustments are tools that can be used to minimise the problem. But as always they need to be used with discretion.
  30. As a general rule text will be justified on the left and the right.
  31. A word, part of a word, or very short line should not appear by itself at the end of a paragraph. This result in less much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.
  32. The main page numbering starts at the first page of the text of the Scripture. This first page of Scripture starts on the recto for left to right reading scripts. The recto is the right side of a two page spread. For right to left scripts it starts on the verso. This is the left side of a two page spread.
  33. Due to subheadings starting in a new column, there may be spaces at the foot of pages. They can be filled by carefully adjusting tracking in one of the paragraphs. The paragraph would then take up an extra line to fill that space. It may not always be possible to fill gaps completely without creating unsightly spacing within paragraphs. It needs to be handled with common sense.

The typesetting

The typesetting can be done in LibreOffice. This is free software.

The organisation may want to use specialized typesetting software like Adobe InDesign.


Adobe InDesign