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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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Custom Printed 3 Ring Binders: Materials, Rings, and Printing Options

So you have been asked to design a binder and find a three ring binder printing company to manufacture the job. What are your options? Where do you even start? First, separate the job into two components, the binder boards and the rings or posts.

The main types of binder covers for printed 3 ring binders

There are three main types of binder covers. Think back to the blue canvas binders that were popular in grade school. These were composed of canvas stretched over chipboard. The canvas came up over the edge and was glued down onto the interior cover of the binder. Then a sheet of patterned paper covered the left and right interior faces of the binder. These are called “turned edge binders,” and various kinds of fabric and other materials can be glued onto the outside of these printed 3 ring binders. (A slightly higher-end version of this genre of binder is the leather, or faux-leather, binder. In this case, the seams are sewn, and padding of some sort is placed between the binder boards and the material covering the binders.)

Another popular style is the vinyl binder, which is also based on a chipboard structure (spine, front boards, and back boards), but instead of having fabric glued onto the outside of the boards, these binders are covered with vinyl. The vinyl is then heat sealed along all seams.

A third kind of binder, which is a relatively new design, is the poly or plastic binder. These custom printed 3 ring binders are just made of thick (but still a bit floppy) plastic with no chipboard structure. Other binders of this sort have thicker panels that are rigid. Your three ring binder printing company can screen print your logo, text, or anything else you need onto this surface.

The two most popular styles of rings for custom printed 3 ring binders

Custom printed 3 ring binders usually come with two options for rings: “O” rings and “D” rings. The “D” rings are often slanted. The rings can be attached to the spine of the binder or to the back of the binder, and the rivets holding the ring mechanism to the binder can be covered by the leather, faux-leather, or vinyl fabric, or they can be exposed.

In addition, the rings come in multiple sizes. You can get 1/2″, 3/4”, 1”, 1 1/2”, 2”, 2 1/2″, and 3” rings in your custom printed 3 ring binders. Some larger binders even have 4” rings.

The goal in choosing a ring size is to make sure your binder will hold enough pages. Just to give you an approximate benchmark, a 1″ ring will hold about 200 sheets of 50# offset paper.

Alternatives to rings

Most looseleaf binders fall into the ring categories noted above. However, if your goal is to collect a number of equal sized magazines (a year’s subscription of a magazine, for instance) in one place, you have two more options. If the magazines have been 3-hole drilled, then a “post binder” will collect all issues between the binder boards. Usually having a much wider spine than ring binders, post binders contain posts that extend from the front cover board all the way through the drill holes of all the magazines and then through the back cover board. Three sets of screws attached to the three posts hold everything together.

If your magazines have not been three-hole drilled, you have one more option. These binders contain a mechanism (called a “metal”) that holds a series of rods parallel to one another, from the top to the bottom of the spine. If you unhook the top of a post from the mechanism, you can slip the center spread of a magazine under it. If you do this to a series of 10 or 20 magazines, you can essentially bind these magazines into the metal mechanism and within the binder boards, yielding what looks like a case-bound book.

Printing on the binder covers

If you are decorating leather, canvas, or faux-leather custom printed 3 ring binders, you will probably choose some form of foil stamping or screen printing. Keep in mind that dies for foil stamping can be expensive ($350 to $500). To get an accurate cost, measure the area covered by the foil (in square inches), and tell your three ring binder printing company whether the front, back, and/or spine will be foil stamped. An even better option would be to give your supplier a laser proof or a mock-up of the job.

If you have chosen a vinyl binder, you can screen print on the vinyl, or if you have chosen a vinyl binder with clear pockets, you can print your type, logos, or other artwork on inserts (via inkjet equipment or offset printing) and then slip these inserts into the pockets (and even heat seal the inserts in place).

For the poly or plastic binders, you would normally screen print your design on the binder covers.

Don’t forget the sheet lifters

The 4″ (more or less) plastic inserts in front of and behind the paper sheets in a binder lift the binder boards away from the printed paper. In this way they keep the toner of the laser printing from offsetting from the paper onto the materials of the binder.

You can find a three ring binder printing company online or through a trusted offset or digital printing company.

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