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Large Format Printing: A Huge Case-Bound Book

I assembled and installed a large format print standee for the new Deadpool movie yesterday (called Once Upon a Deadpool). Interestingly, based on the title of the film, the standee is made to look exactly like a huge case-bound print book.

I don’t believe I’ve seen a book this large (just over 5 feet by 8 feet) since the 1960s (a huge book on the TV series Batman). What piqued my interest was its size, how closely it resembled a real case-bound print book, and the fact that both the spine and face trim (the pages) were crafted so as to curve. (Another way of saying this is that the faux book had a rounded spine, so the face trim of the pages also curved inward.)

The Curvature of the Standee’s (Faux Book’s) Spine

Let’s start with the curvature of the book’s spine and pages, since this says a lot about ways to get around the fact that paper and cardboard are usually flat or folded (but not curved).

The outer graphic panel of the book’s spine started as a flat rectangle with the title of the print book (Once Upon a Deadpool) running the length of the cardboard panel. Onto this flat surface, and using a series of die cut cardboard tabs, I attached a series of four folded boxes (approximately 1.5 feet by 2 feet, but only about 2 inches high). The edges of these boxes that were parallel to the short dimension of the standee book spine were curved outward.

Once I had firmly attached them to the spine with a series of tabs and slots, they gave a structure over which the paper of the spine could be stretched to create a curvature. Moreover, where the cardboard needed to bow or curve, there were numerous parallel scores. When the outer cardboard of the spine (with printed litho paper laminated to chipboard) was stretched across this interior structure and then locked down with more tabs, the result was a fully curved book spine that was 8 feet long.

From this I learned two things:

  1. If you fold paper, or cardboard, the paper fibers will be bent or broken. That is, if I had folded rather than gently bowed the paper over the curved spine support structure, this would not have yielded a smooth curve to the back of the huge faux book standee. The crease would have been a visible flaw. However, by gently bowing the cardboard over the structure, I could stretch the paper fibers in the cardboard without folding or breaking them.
  2. Exactly the same thing was true for the curvature of the interior book pages. Instead of bowing outward, these bowed inward (exactly as would be true in a case-bound book with a rounded back). To effect this curvature of the pages, two more curved cardboard structures were added inside the standee. These had slots into which I attached long tabs (hot-melt spot glued to the inside of the faux pages). (Imagine that I was building a cardboard box, with 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers with turned edges, a faux spine, and head, face, and foot trim—i.e., the top, front, and bottom of the pages.)

In all of these elements of the faux book that was the Deadpool standee, a series of tabs and slots held together the pieces of cardboard under significant tension. (This was to create the curvature.) If there had only been one tab, or fewer tabs, the tension (or pull against the paper fibers) would probably have torn off the paper tabs. However, since there was a tab every few inches, the pull of the curved cardboard was distributed over a wide area. In fact, once I had completed the installation, the standee was quite sturdy.

What I learned from this is that under tension, paper can be pulled into a new shape (in this case a curvature), and if the tension is widely distributed, the paper fibers can withstand the pull.

The Faux Book Covers

Another element of the faux book that matched a real case-bound print book was the structure of the 5.5-foot by 8-foot covers. These had depth. That is, there were parallel scores approximately half an inch apart along the edges of the covers, and once I had folded the cardboard inward along these scores and attached the folded cardboard to the unprinted interior of the graphic (with double-sided tape), I had created turned-edge book covers (that matched an actual case-bound print book). The parallel folds yielded square edges, giving the impression of depth to the outer edge of the book covers, all the way around the book.

These thick covers (with printed litho paper wrapped around to create a half inch depth) were then screwed to the structure that was the spine. (The front and back cover of the Deadpool book included an extra lip that had been drilled, so I could insert a series of at least ten screws through holes in the interior of the spine. This lip worked as a hinge, allowing the front and back cover to move in and out, toward and away from the book pages.)

So when the covers were attached to the spine, there was a hinge (with a shoulder), curved text pages, and a rounded spine—all elements of a highly crafted case binding.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

As soon as I got back home (and uploaded the photos to the company for which my fiancee and I install movie standees), I searched online for images, videos, and text descriptions of case binding. I wanted to refresh my memory, since the experience of building this huge faux print book had sparked my interest. Among other things, I saw videos of book binders adjusting the book covers to push out the pages to create the rounded spine (and similarly curved text pages, on the opposite side) and then hammering them to flare out the edges of the sewn press signatures.

Needless to say, exposure to the standee had renewed my interest in the art of print book binding and the specific hand-done tasks that allow a heavy text block (group of press signatures) to “hang” from the chipboard case such that all the pages are parallel and can move freely. (This clearly involves knowledge and skill, hard work, and an understanding of physics. And this art/craft has been practiced for centuries.)

So in light of this, I would encourage you to do two things:

  1. Search online for videos showing all of the separate activities that go into binding a case-bound book. I think you will find this fascinating. You can probably also see this in person in colonial reenactment sites such as Colonial Williamsburg.
  2. Then look for diagrams online showing all elements of a case-bound book, including the “crash” or “super” that gives stability to the bind edge of all press signatures; the pattern of Smyth sewing at the folded edges of the press signatures (the thread that holds all text signatures in place); the endsheets (including the pastedowns and flyleafs); the turned edges (where the outer paper, fabric, or leather of the binding is brought inward to cover the edges of the binder’s boards); and all the other various and sundry components of a case-bound print book.

Having absorbed this knowledge, you will never again take for granted all the steps in bookbinding, and you may well come to love and admire the craftsmanship and artistry in a case bound print book.

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