There are thumb indexes, also called a cut-in indexes (see also the images at Daumenregister). In contrast to this, there are also not-cut-in-indexes (that is, they are only printed, and leave a mark on the edge of the book).

Printed index marks Image by Montauk

The article is only available in German, but translating to English that entry says:

Handmarkes are usually mounted at the book on the front section, step-like printed, order words, letters or numbers. Usually they are coloured and help to find desired points, especially in reference works.

The Handmarke is not to be confused with the thumb index, but is often also called thumb index (English chapter thumbs).

The (Google) English translation "Hand stamp" for German "Handmarke" does not seem right for me and several other on-line dictionaries (as well as my printed ones) do not know "Handmarke" at all. And Handmarke is not thumb index.

What should I call this type of register in proper (British) English?

  • 2
    I don't know whether there is a well-known term, but I would probably call it a fore-edge index.
    – Cerberus
    Jan 31, 2013 at 19:30
  • 5
    I believe you might be more successful finding the answer on English.SE. This is probably not a "Learner's English" level question.
    – SF.
    Jan 31, 2013 at 19:31
  • 2
    I second @SF. I don't know whether a specific term exists. If so, if it likely buried deep in some tome of printer's jargon or an ancient dictionary the size of a dining room table. Thus, the good folks of EL&U are far more likely to have read it. Jan 31, 2013 at 19:37
  • I think this is Too Localised for ELL (though it might not be for ELU). Feb 1, 2013 at 23:14

3 Answers 3


From Roberts and Etherington, Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology:

edge index

A form of the INDEX consisting of marks on the edges of the pages of a book produced by means of printed rules that run to the edge of the sheet (bled) and can thus be seen on the fore edge of the closed book. Edge indexing has the advantage of being part of the printing process, and also allows the use of virtually unlimited headings, as well as adding nothing to the overall cost of binding. Its principal disadvantage is that the user does not know what the mark on the edge refers to while the book is closed. (234 )

This appears to be a very useful reference work. The 'front page', with a search box, is here.

  • Great! +1 and accepted. And "edge index" is very descriptive, too.
    – Stephen
    Feb 3, 2013 at 16:58
  • @Stephen Cerberus should get most of the credit; his comment is what set me to Googling. Feb 3, 2013 at 17:24
  • OK, I just gave an up-vote to Cerberus' comment. That is probably all I can do about it. Very fair of you to mention this!
    – Stephen
    Feb 3, 2013 at 17:29
  • 1
    I’ve always heard those called bleed tabs; that’s what my own publisher has always called them in my own books.
    – tchrist
    Feb 10, 2013 at 16:53

In my experience, these are normally called bleed tabs in the publishing industry. From Wikimedia’s treatise on Basic Book Design:

Bleed Tabs and Thumbnail Indexes

        Bleed tabs are blocks of black ink (with something written in white in the blocks) at the outer edge of each page in a chapter so that you see black blocks when you look at the edge of the book.         Bleed tabs require placing a graphic outside the text margins. A bleed tab is always placed on the outside page edge (never on the inside, top, or bottom of a page).


        Thumbnail indexes are like bleed tabs, but have paper cut-outs. Expensive dictionaries have these.

  • Looking for this on Google I found a lot of results indeed (additional to the Wikimedia book you already cited). So, maybe it is one edge index composed of several bleed tabs? Similar to a Table of Contents consisting of several entries for chapters? (+1, of course.)
    – Stephen
    Feb 11, 2013 at 20:39

It seems that it is an edge index. A Google search returns over 66,000 results. In this Ngram, it appears that the term has become more widely used over time:



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