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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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Commercial Printing: Seven Mechanical Binding Options

There are a plethora of binding methods ranging from saddle-stitching (short print books, no spine) to perfect binding (paperbacks with a spine) to case binding (hard cover books). Beyond these are some of the less common options that are flexible and durable but that often involve handwork (i.e., they can be expensive).

Plastic Comb Binding

Also known as GBC binding (the name of the table-top device you use to insert these plastic combs), plastic comb binding is used for short run, multi-page print books. First you punch a series of holes parallel to the bind edge of the book, and then you insert a coiled plastic comb (a spine and curved tines) through these holes. The tightly coiled tines of the plastic comb then tighten through these holes in a manner reminiscent of a spiral notebook, leaving a plastic spine running the length of the book.


  1. You can take the comb out again to add or replace pages.
  2. You can print a title on the plastic spine with custom screen printing equipment.
  3. The open print book will lie flat on a table.
  4. You can find these plastic combs in up to 2” diameter, which will hold more than 400 pages (depending on the paper weight).


  1. You can only punch a limited number of sheets at a time using a GBC machine.
  2. Therefore, it’s a slow process and an expensive one. You would use this option to prepare documents for a small group meeting rather than cartons and cartons of print books.

Velo Binding

Here’s another option for binding a limited run of booklets, perhaps for a convention. Velo binding a booklet involves first punching holes parallel to the bind edge (as with the plastic comb process). Then a flat plastic bar with tines is added, with the tines protruding through the holes. Another bar is added on the opposite side of the binding (picture two thin strips of plastic running from the top to the bottom of the 8.5” x 11” sheet at the bind edge). The tines go through the second plastic bar, and then they are cut off and melted to form a permanent bond. Therefore, the two flat plastic bars running the length of the book hold all the pages together and also give you a spine (of sorts) to hold while reading.


  1. Good for short runs
  2. Durable


  1. You can’t really remove them, add pages, and attach them again, as you can do with plastic comb binding.
  2. The open books don’t lie flat.

Tape Binding

Picture a strip of tape covering the spine of a short booklet and then extending onto the front and back covers, just enough to hold the cover and text pages together.


  1. Good for short runs of a short book
  2. Cheap


  1. You can’t remove the tape, add pages, and assemble the book again, as you can do with plastic comb binding.
  2. You can’t print on the spine; after all, it’s just tape.

Screw and Post Binding

First you drill two or more holes along the bind edge of the book. Then you assemble the screws and posts, which include two pieces each. You insert one piece from one side of the print book (let’s say the front cover side) and one post from the other side of the book. Then you screw them together (they are threaded to attach to one another). It’s like screwing the book together from opposite sides (front and back cover) as though it were a collection of thin wood pages.


  1. You can unscrew the binding to add or replace pages (up to the width of the screw and post set).
  2. Durable


  1. This is handwork. It gets expensive if you are producing a lot of books.
  2. There’s no spine on which to print the book title.

String Binding

You’ve seen the books before. They look exotic. You basically thread some flexible substance, like string or twine, through holes along the bind edge of the book, and then you tie the book together. It will then look a little like a photo album. Depending on the material you choose, you can make it look very environmentally conscious.


  1. You can untie the binding to add or replace pages. It also looks cool and exotic.


  1. This is handwork. It gets expensive if you are producing a lot of books.
  2. There’s no spine. Then again, if you’re creating a limited edition of an exotic book, you may not care that you have no spine on which to print the book title.

Coil Binding

I’m sure you’ve used these in school at one time or another. They come in two varieties. Metal or plastic coil notebooks are bound with wire that spirals from the top of the bind edge to the bottom. When laid flat, you’ll notice that the left and right pages don’t align precisely. That’s because of the nature of a spiral.

If you want the facing print book pages to align, you can choose “Wire-O” binding instead. This binding consists of parallel metal “O”s attached to a vertical wire post.

The coil for coil binding comes in plastic (of various colors) or metal. In contrast, the “Wire-O” binding material comes in only one variety: metal wire.


  1. You can fold the covers and the pages back to create a “tablet” (half the size of an open, double-page-spread book).


  1. You don’t have a spine to print on.

Ring Binders and Post Binders

You can write a book on all the options for ring binders, but essentially they still fit into the category of “mechanical binding.” They would include everything from vinyl that has been heat welded over chipboard to expensive fabric glued over chipboard.

They would also include “poly” binders (plastic thick enough not to need binder boards under the material—as with vinyl binders–but also more flexible than vinyl-covered binder boards). And they would also include thicker, rigid plastic binders.

Post Binders have posts running the length of the spine (in a metal apparatus affixed to the spine). You can remove the posts, insert them into the center spreads of a series of magazines, and then put the posts back into the “metal,” essentially creating a bound year’s worth of magazines.


  1. Binders come in a multitude of thicknesses, from about 1/2” to about 3”.
  2. You can easily add or remove pages.
  3. Binders have a spine. On some binders with transparent plastic exterior sleeves, you can slip printed paper sheets into the transparent spine pocket as well as the front and back cover pockets. On other binders, you can screen print your artwork directly onto the covers and spine.


  1. Useful, but a little clunky compared to other options.

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