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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 Printing: Thoughts on Adding Inserts to Your Magazine

I received a magazine in the mail yesterday from AAA, the roadside assistance company. I like to read this periodical because it tells me about exotic locations while also discussing practical matters such as insurance.

To my surprise, when I opened this month’s magazine, I found a little magazine in the center of the book. This supplement (which looked to be about 7.75” x 9.5”) was bound into the center spread of the host magazine (which looked to be 8” x 10.5”). Moreover, it had it’s own saddle stitches (it’s own binding staples), so when I pulled the supplement out of the main book, it held up as a fully-bound, independent publication. Basically, it was an upscale, 8-page listing of AAA’s products and services, complete with dynamic photos and drawings. I was impressed. It was attractive and useful. I wanted to keep it.

What We Can Learn from This Supplement

First of all, I have seen many such supplements over the years. In fact, when I consulted for a local publisher of government magazines, we used to add supplements to the magazines on a regular basis, so I became conversant with their options and specifications.

You may ask why AAA inserted such a short publication in the center of their magazine rather than including the information directly in the pages of the main periodical. Because the information stands out more dramatically this way. When I opened the magazine, I was immediately struck by the addition. It felt like a surprise, a gift, so I pulled it out immediately and saved it. Clearly it had won marketing points for its format.

But not all supplements are formatted in this way. Some that I have seen have been the same size as the host publication. Personally, I don’t like this approach. Particularly when the paper stock is the same. I think it defeats the purpose. You can’t immediately grasp that the booklet is a special addition to the overall magazine. You don’t even necessarily know where the supplement begins and ends if it is the same size and on the same paper as the host publication. In fact, if the numbering of the pages is different in such a supplement, it can be downright confusing. You jump into the supplement and then back out into the main magazine without knowing where one ends and the other begins. This is particularly confusing if you’re depending on the host magazine’s table of contents and page numbers.

But in this case, the supplement was smaller, and this made everything easier.

I have also seen small inserts that don’t fall in the center (top to bottom) of the center spread of the host periodical. Some “jog” to the “head” (the top of the page), and some “jog” to the “foot” (the base of the page).

If you’re specifying a bound-in insert such as this supplement for a magazine, you will need to speak with your commercial printing vendor about the binding requirements and options for inserts. Among other things, you will need to know whether the inserts will jog to the head or the foot of the page or, as in the case of the AAA publication, if they will float in the center.

If they float in the center (top to bottom), they will probably not fall exactly between the top and bottom (or head and foot trim) of the page when actually bound. That is, it’s easier to be precise when the insert aligns with the very top or bottom of the page. In the case of the AAA booklet, if you look closely, you’ll see that the stitching holes where the insert is bound into the main book are not exactly positioned between the head and foot trim of the supplement. However, no one would see this if they weren’t specifically looking for it. (Instead, they would be focused on the little magazine in the center of the host publication.)


As noted before, the insert had its own staples. Not all inserts do. Some depend on the staples of the main book. Once you pull out such a supplement, the pages will fall apart.

Another issue is where the insert will fall within the host publication. In the case of the AAA supplement, the insert fell right in the center spread of the magazine. But it didn’t need to. The magazine designer could have placed it anywhere between press signatures (the 4-, 8-, or 16-page groups of pages on a single press sheet, folded and trimmed into the nested “booklets” that comprise the overall magazine). Inserts must fall between signatures. It’s a rule based on the physical requirements for saddle stitching nested groups of press signatures into a full magazine.

However, as I mentioned earlier, inserts don’t need to fall in the center of a magazine. In fact, they also don’t need to be stitched into the magazine. The AAA designers could have chosen to affix the supplement directly on an outside page of a press signature using fugitive glue (like rubber cement). Or they could have used a “hanger” (a piece of paper that slips between the saddle stitches and to which the supplement can be fugitive glued).

A hanger has a “low-folio” side and a “high-folio” side (the former in the front, before the center spread of the magazine, and the latter in the back of the book, after the center spread). A hanger gives you something to which you can attach an insert so it won’t fall out of the main book.

The benefit of using fugitive glue in such a case is that you can peel the supplement off the hanger without tearing the paper. Like rubber cement, when you pull carefully with even pressure, the fugitive glue bond releases. Then you can roll up the glue with your finger to remove it.

More Options

If the insert were smaller, say a small return mail card, you could even refrain from binding it into the book entirely. You can add a “blow-in” card that is just thrown (by machine) randomly into a section of the host publication. Among the other benefits (which include its being an inexpensive option), blowing in an insert does not require placing it between signatures, and you don’t have to add staples, position the insert precisely, or use fugitive glue to attach it to the magazine. That said, it’s also not very precise, and you would only use this option for a small, light, single-page card. You may have noticed when you have opened a magazine at a news stand that sometimes the blow-in card will just fall out and drop to the floor.

What About Perfect Binding?

Bind-ins, blow-ins, and other inserts can be added to perfect-bound magazines as well as saddle stitched ones. (In the case of the AAA magazine, the host periodical was saddle stitched.) Instead of stitching the insert between nested press signatures (or fugitive gluing it), you would just place it between “stacked” signatures, and the binding glue placed in the print book spine by the perfect-binding equipment would keep the insert in place. For a multi-page supplement, you would just perfect bind a hanger into the spine and then fugitive glue the supplement to the hanger.

Talk with Your Printer Early in the Process

Your commercial printing vendor’s binding equipment will have requirements for inserts such as these. This may include size, position, and even whether there is a “lip” or “lap” (one longer side of the insert that will allow the saddle stitching equipment to better grasp the insert, pull it from its pocket on the stitcher, and affix it between signatures). Using a saddle stitcher or perfect binder is a complex, physical operation with various rules and regulations to make the process work (i.e., to make sure the insert doesn’t fall out onto the floor during binding). So make sure your insert has the blessing of the printer. In fact, it’s wise to send your custom printing supplier an actual sample of the supplement or a trimmed color proof for testing (with lots of lead time, before the actual press run).

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