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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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Digital On-Demand Book Printing: Short-Run Case Binding

A printer I work with sent me a case bound, digital on-demand book printing sample his company had produced. I am impressed.

My client needs to print and bind 100 copies of a case bound accounting textbook, a press run that would probably be close to the make-ready (set-up) waste for the larger, assembly-line perfect binding equipment that most book printers use.

Keep in mind that not all commercial printing companies even have such machinery on-site. Many custom printing vendors that produce a selection of print books along with brochures and other collateral will send out both perfect-bound (softcover) and case bound (hardcover) print books to dedicated binderies that bind books for numerous printers (i.e., these binderies subcontract their services to the print shops). After all, bindery equipment is expensive. It would sit idle much of the time in a commercial printing company, whereas it might be in constant use at a custom book printer. (It actually all depends on the printer. Most printers will at least have perfect binding equipment, but a large number will not have their own case binding equipment.)

That said, until recently case binding was an expensive, time consuming procedure. It was messy, and there was a lot of spoilage in the process. It was a good option for an upscale product if you wanted 1,000 copies, but not if you needed 100, like my client.

The Physical Product

So this is what I received: A case bound print book with a paper cover. The cover seems to be a matte sheet with a slight coating. It does not have quite the quality look of fabric cover material, but it looks like a trade hardback that might cost $25.00.

The sample has thick endsheets and flyleaves, and even headbands and footbands (the bits of colored fabric at the bind edge of the book, covering the ends of the gathered-paper signatures).

The title is (presumably) digitally printed on the spine, instead of being foil stamped. (In a traditional case bound book run, the foil stamping die alone would cost approximately $500.00. Foil stamping works with heat and pressure, and uses a metal die to stamp out the foil and attach it to the cover fabric.)

When I open the sample short-run case bound book, I don’t see the stitching of longer-run, Smyth sewn hardcover books. My guess is that the printed book signatures are stacked, their edges are ground, and adhesive is applied to glue the book blocks into the cases (i.e., just like perfect-binding, but using a hard cover rather than a paper cover).

But overall, the product is quite good. As I noted before, it looks like a trade hardcover from a bookseller: not a coffee-table book, but quite usable. And you can make five or 100, without the set-up costs of traditional case binding equipment and without needing to hand bind each copy.

The Limitations of Short-Run Case Binding Depend on the Specific Print Shop

In order to keep costs down, this particular custom book printer sets certain limitations (i.e., the company purchased specific on-demand book binding equipment that could not perform all case binding activities).

  1. The paper comprising the casing can be a matte coated sheet or an uncoated sheet glued to the binder boards.
  2. The case material cannot be cloth.
  3. You can digitally print on the front and/or back cover and the spine, but you cannot foil stamp the title on the front or spine.
  4. You cannot add a placeholder ribbon (which would be handwork) or any other inserts.

These are fair and reasonable limits for this kind of short-run product, particularly one of this quality: with a curved spine, turned edge cover material on the outside and endsheets on the inside covers, plus the traditional rounded and indented (or crimped) spine.

Other Options from Other Vendors

Another on-demand case binding system developed by Xerox is called “ChannelBind.” This system uses a metal spine that can be crimped to securely hold up to 300 sheets. This particular on-demand case binding option can create linen, paper, and leather covered books. ChannelBind books also can be made using printed press sheets glued over the binder boards.

According to on-line information about ChannelBind, suppliers can also employ foil stamping, screen printing, offset or digital printing, die-cut windows, tip-ins, and embossing and debossing to ChannelBind books. Some vendors will add dust jackets as well.

I’ve also read about one patented case binding system that allows you to create a book block that includes adhesive strips and then lay it into a pre-made case using a pressure sensitive adhesive (sort of a peel-and-stick option).

So the most complete answer is that it all depends on the particular table-top case binding system in use. The vendor that sent me the sample books bought one system with certain limitations, presumably to keep costs down for clients. Other book printers will have other on-demand case binding equipment with other capabilities.

The best thing you can do is discuss your particular job with your print vendor, or with a number of print vendors.

What Are People Doing With These Books?

I have seen local vendors offering hardcover children’s books on a “one-off” basis, with the child’s name inserted in the text prior to digital printing.

I have also seen photo books in regional big-box stores and warehouse stores. For $13.00 to $60.00, depending on the finished size of the book, you can buy what is ostensibly a case bound photo album. Expensive for one copy, but only a fraction of what it would cost to set up the traditional long-run binding equipment. If you buy a few copies as special, memorable gifts, the cost isn’t that bad.

The Technical Implications

  1. These machines allow you to produce a few, or many, hardcover books with little or no waste (unlike the larger machines that take a long time to set up, that are therefore only suited to longer runs, and that have a comparatively high spoilage rate in the make-ready process).
  2. The cost is attainable, even reasonable given the product.
  3. Some custom book printers allow for high-quality sewing of printed signatures (not my vendor, though).
  4. Sizes range from small books (approximately 4” x 4”) to large books (approximately 12” x 14”).
  5. There is no need to buy standardized, pre-made covers, when you can personalize each cover.

The Deeper Implications

  1. You can produce a case bound version of a public domain title or an out-of-print book. You don’t have to settle for a paperbound version.
  2. You can print and sell your own book that you wrote (granted, this doesn’t address the issues of editing, design, promotion, storage, and distribution—just binding).
  3. At is most extreme level, this means anyone can produce a case bound book. Of course, not all books will be well-written and worth reading.

6 Responses to “Digital On-Demand Book Printing: Short-Run Case Binding”

  1. This website offers quality articles and other data.

  2. miles morgan says:

    Keep in mind that not all commercial printing companies even have such machinery on-site. This is really true.-book printing miami

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      I would agree with you. Many do not have such machinery on-site.

      However, I would go further. Many of the printers I work with must subcontract both perfect binding and case binding. And it’s not always easy for them to control the quality of work provided by a subcontractor. From time to time, when a job has gone awry, I have needed to explain to a client that a bindery has had problems, and that making the job right may take extra time.

  3. Hi there, I found your blog by means of Google while searching for a comparable subject. Your website is very good. I have added to my bookmarks.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I’m glad you found the website useful.

      Please keep checking back from time to time, or set up an RSS feed.


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