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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Online Printing Vendors Spice Up Perfect-bound Books with French Flaps

Online printing services can leverage their specialized knowledge of bookbinding to give your next perfect-bound job added flair. A specialized binding treatment called “French folds” can improve the appearance of an on demand book printing job, a traditional offset book printing job, a magazine, or a catalog printing job. Here’s some information you might find interesting.

I recently acquired a new print brokering client, a couple who publish fiction and poetry for a select number of friends and associates who are writers. Their products are “old school,” as they say, but in the best ways. The text stock has a rough finish and deckled edge (a rough rather than smooth “face trim”). The covers feature evocative paintings and drawings related to the subject matter of the poems and stories. And the books have French flaps. These are books made for people who love to read and who want their reading experience to be tactile. They want the feel and smell of the book. They don’t want to read the books on a computer.

For those of you producing perfect-bound books who want to add a European flair, consider adding these extra flaps. In this way you can give paperbound books a bit of the feel of a hardback book with a dust jacket. The flaps also provide extra space for an author photo and bio or a description of the book.

French flaps, which probably go by other names as well, extend approximately 3” beyond the trim of a book and are folded inward into the book. When you open the book, they look just like dust jacket flaps, but they are part of the cover.

French flaps can either be approximately 1/16” short of the cover trim or they can extend approximately 1/16” beyond the trim. The latter is far more attractive. It is, however, also far more expensive. Here’s why.

On a perfect-bound book with flaps that do not extend past the text block, the printer attaches the cover and then trims the cover and text in one pass. If the folded French flaps were to be flush with the cover face trim, the knives of the printing company’s guillotine cutter would chop through the fold of the French flaps on their way through the cover and the text pages. Then the flaps would fall away. Therefore, the flaps must be 1/16” shorter than the width of the book.

A more costly, and far more attractive, option is to have your custom printing vendor extend the covers beyond the text block. This resembles an actual case binding of a hardback book insofar as it also extends beyond the text block. To achieve this look, your book printing vendor first trims the text blocks, then attaches the book covers, then trims the books a second time.

To put the cost in perspective, on a 2,000-copy press run of a printing job I brokered, the extra cost of the flaps trimmed just short of the text block edge was $600.00, while the extra cost for the flaps requiring a double trimming by the book printer to extend the cover beyond the book pages (with flaps folded in) was $1,300.00.

As you make the decision of whether to pay an online printing service the premium for the flaps extending beyond the text, look for samples of each. Most perfect-bound books of literary or technical quality (content, in this case, rather than production quality) will have the more expensive flaps. In contrast, directories, catalogs, and the magazines you see in the grocery store, which actually are perfect-bound books themselves, will have the covers cut short. Check the magazine rack. You’ll be surprised.

Why would you not see and remember this apparent flaw in the magazines? Because publishers have done a little work to make it less obvious. In many cases, magazine publishers have either left the first page of the magazine white or made it the same color as the cover. In either case, the goal would be to have the front cover and page 1 match, so the gap between the fold of the French flap and the edge of the text is not as obvious.

Consider adding French folds to your next perfect-bound project to elevate the look of an on demand book printing job, a traditional offset book printing job, or a catalog printing job.

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