Amount of people needed to print a book in human skin?

…yes, the family friendly subject of “Anthropodermic bibliopegy,” which is now my new favorite term.

So, say I want to print (well, write, anyway) a book of unspeakable evil sorcery in parchment made from human skin. Not just bind it in skin, mind you, every page. Say it’s roughly equivilant in size and format to a Vellum copy of the Gutenberg bible, with a single volume about 340 leaves at 307 x 445 mm.

My question is: how many cultists/people would I actually need to get enough material for each book? The details of parchment production aren’t my strong suit, nor is calculating the usable surface area of a human body.

I humbly eagerly await reply…those who help may get the chance to beeaten first. ( :wink: )

SkipMagic, I await your consistency

It really depends on your followers/victims - if they are large, you will get more source material. You can’t stretch skin by much, so you are limited by basic human surface area. And you don’t want to have joins in the surface, so you need large expanses.

A simple experiment with a piece of A4 paper indicates that I (as a large 5"9 male) could supply at least 15 clear A4 sheets - 4 off the thighs, 2 off the calves, 2 off the arms and 6 off the torso, and an expanding sheet of paper that will probably do A3 :wink: .
You may get more. Of course, you will have sheets that include nipples or elbows - YMMV.

So maybe 25 starters. If you select big or tall (or both), you need less.


From the perspective of just area - not including stretching it in any way - dozens of people.

The surface area of human skin is in the area of two square meters. Each page is 0.136615 square meters, so that’s maybe 14 leaves per person, if you’re extremely efficient. Odds are that number would be much lower, since it’s tough to turn earlobes and whatnot into pages. So, we’ll say lower estimate, 8 pages per person, upper estimate, 14. We’re looking at around 25 to 48 poor fools.

Boy, I hope this is idle curiosity or research for fiction, because if it’s a practical question…

Anyway…obviously, there’ll be a lot of variants - are all the victims adults, what’s the range of heights and weights, how careful is the parchment maker - or conversely, how much irregularity is our hypothetical dark wizard willing to tolerate in the shape of the leaves, etc.

Preview…darnit, the calculations have been done, and the number I got for the average surface area of a person’s skin was about half everyone else’s…

So, on that note, I’ll just say my calculations agree with WoodenTaco’s (once I fix the size of the skin), but I’d say the number of victims needed should be rounded to 50, for two reasons - it gives more wiggle room for our calculations of the number of usable leaves from one person, and it’s a much more satisfying number for the dark rituals no doubt involved. >_>

Since the number 7 seems to have prominence in mysticism, 7 deadly sins, seven vurtues, 7th son of a 7th son, etc, I would think that 49 would be your optimum number. Or 7 times 7 for those of you who haven’t had enough coffee yet.

Isn’t skin going to shrink a bit when it’s dried and ready to use?

According to this “how to make your own vellum” web page, yes, it does shrink in the process.

Also, you need to find victims with good skin complexion.

Freckles, warts, hair stubble, birth marks, bruises, etc, will detract from the overall appearance of the pages.

Also, you may consider restricting yourself to using a similar “shade” of skin tone, at least as much as possible, for the same reasons.

I bet you get an easy 100 pages outa my big ass alone.


Also you probably want to avoid tatoos and stretch marks, so that larger persons will not necessarily give you more usable parchment.

This could be easily avoided by simply sticking to the backs of newborn babies. I’d say you get one page per baby. You would probably need six hundered and sixty six babies to make a text of any real value.

Or, if they are thematically fitting, just use them for illustrations! For instance, for unspeakably evil sorcery purposes, you might want to consider goths for, err, donation; the pale skin makes for easily legible writing, is environment-friendly (no bleaching! You could even get one of those ‘100% chlorine-free’ stickers!), and is likely to already be emblazoned with your standard set of pentagrams, invocation circles, horned fiends and other blasphemic symbols! The only downside is that they’re often rather skinny, so you might have to procure more raw material.

I guess you win the thread. Bravo!

Now your getting into the spirit!

There’s also the option of scribing the book on the still-living bodies, before the flaying and curing of the parchment. Or better yet, forcing every “page” to write itself at the beginning of the process.

Wouldn’t the skin will inevitably dry out and shrink, distorting your text and illustrations in possibly unpredictable ways?

Well of course! If the distortions were predictable, you wouldn’t need the human skin, now would you? You could just skip straight to casting the spells. The distortions are an essential step in deriving the spells, which would ordinarily be beyond the capability of mortal comprehension.

Er, hypothetically, at least.

Are you sure that’s a downside?

I suppose if you worship one of the Gods of Chaos, distortions in your incantations are desirable, but I’m too high strung for that kind of work. I like everything nice and tidy. Predicatable, even.