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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: Gatefolds and Inserts (Perfect Binding vs. Saddle Stitching)

Photo purchased from …

I was looking through the art books in the thrift store yesterday and saw a perfect-bound print book with a few gatefold pull-outs in various places scattered throughout the text. Since I’m more familiar with gatefolds in saddle-stitched magazines (such as the Playboy magazines I saw in the ‘70s), I had to think for a while about just what prevented the gatefolds in the art books from being easily pulled out.

In light of this, I also thought back to some of the graphic design magazines I had received in the mail back in the ‘90s. They had regular text papers (probably 80# gloss text) for the editorial pages, but in multiple positions throughout the design magazines there were bound-in paper samples printed on much different stocks. These were samples intended to inspire designers to specify cast-coated press papers or heavy, uncoated papers with a rough texture.

Just how did these stay attached in the perfect-bound magazines without being easily pulled out?

The Answer

The second example was easier to understand. I took apart one of the magazines with an X-Acto knife. Without its spine, the perfect-bound magazine separated into press signatures and inserts (between the press signatures).

Keep in mind that pages of a magazine or book are laid out (imposed) on a much larger, flat press sheet, such that when the press sheet is folded, you have a little booklet of consecutive pages.

To understand this, you can make a paper folding dummy. Fold a piece of laser paper in half, then in half again and again, until you get a little booklet with eight pages on either side of the (unfolded) sheet. If you number these pages consecutively, when folded, and then open up the sheet, you’ll see that the page numbers aren’t consecutive.

All of your multi-page documents are created like this. Both saddle-stitched and perfect-bound books are made up of 4-page, 8-page, 16-page, and 32-page signatures. The longer the signatures, the fewer the press runs needed for a complete book.

To take this a step further, in a saddle-stitched print book, these press signatures are “nested” or inserted into each other and then stitched (stapled) through the fold. (A saddle-stitched book has no spine.)

In a perfect-bound book, the press signatures are stacked, not nested. In both cases, the binding equipment (saddle stitcher or perfect binder) includes a certain number of “pockets” or little hoppers into which you feed stacks of press signatures, inserts, or the covers of the books. On a saddle stitcher the signatures are opened and dropped onto other press signatures (those closer to the middle of the print books) on a central “saddle” (on a conveyor) that holds all nested signatures of all books until they can be stitched.

On a perfect binder, the signatures are dropped next to one another (in book order), and then the bind edges are roughed up, glue is added, and the covers are wrapped around (and pasted onto) the book block.

How Does This Relate to Gatefolds?

If you add a gatefold to a saddle-stitched book, more often that not you will bind it in as the center spread. This is convenient, since it’s in the prime attention-getting spot. You just start the binding with this piece and nest all remaining 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page signatures around it. Then you staple (stitch) the print book.

If you have two gatefolds, that’s a bit harder. All pages of a saddle-stitched book have two component parts: one in the front of the book and one in the back (the stitches are in the middle). So if you put a gatefold somewhere other than the center of the print book (or include a second one), you need to include a “hanger” (a piece of paper slipped between press signatures, providing a flap in the earlier part of the book (the low-folio side) and a flap in the back of the book (the high-folio side). To this flap you would then attach the fold-out (gatefold): that is, you would glue it to the part of the hanger on either the low-folio side or the high-folio side of the saddle-stitched print book. You would use either hot-melt glue or (if you want to be able to remove the gatefold) fugitive glue (similar to rubber cement).

Inserts have to go between signatures. Therefore, if your saddle-stitched book includes two 32-page signatures, and you have a gatefold in the center spread and an insert “tipped-onto” a hanger between signatures, depending on the placement you might have to break one of the signatures into two or more press signatures (a 16-pager and two 8-pagers, for instance). This adds extra press runs. And extra press runs add time and cost more.

The same is true for inserts and gatefolds in a perfect-bound book (although it is the binding glue that holds the pages together rather than saddle-stitching wire).

Let’s say you have a 96-page perfect-bound book that you have chosen to perfect bind because of its length. (That’s three 32-page signatures, which would probably be too large for a saddle-stitched book anyway. If you tried to saddle-stitch a 96-page book, depending on the thickness of the paper, the center pages might pull out. Even if this didn’t happen, the book would probably bow out like a barrel with that many pages. And/or you might want the more professional look of perfect binding. Or you might want to include type on the spine, which is impossible with saddle stitching because there is no spine.)

If you want to add gatefolds, or inserts printed on different paper stock (as in the case of my design periodicals from the ‘90s), you have to think carefully about where they can be placed. They always go between signatures.

If your perfect-bound book is 96 pages (three 32-page signatures) and you want the gatefold or single-page insert to go anywhere but between any two consecutive 32-page signatures, you have to break down the print book into smaller signatures. Maybe you could break down one of the 32-page signatures into two 16-pagers. Or, if you’re publishing the graphic design magazine I mentioned earlier, and you want to include five or six paper samples on unique stocks, you might need to break down the book into even smaller signatures.

Unless you can break up a single press sheet into two flat press signatures (prior to folding into booklets) side by side (i.e., two copies of the same “form” on one press sheet), you’ll have to increase the number of press runs. In fact, you might need to also make two passes on the binder if you get up to a high enough number of press signatures. (Let’s say your perfect-binder includes eight pockets for press signatures plus a cover pocket and an insert pocket, but you have still more press signatures to include.)

So this can run into money and time. It bears thought—early in the process.

Presumably, this is exactly how the production coordinators of the graphic design magazines I read in the ‘90s approached their binding issues. And when they wanted to include a gatefold along with the sample printing stock inserts, they would consider the best way to break up the magazine into press signatures such that there would be fewer rather than more press runs.

How to Use This Information

This is complex and perhaps even confusing/maddening information. Your printer will probably have to help you with these decisions. Only he knows how to economically break down the signature lengths and page-counts optimally for his own commercial printing presses and binding equipment.

However, if you understand the gist of the approach I have described, you can discuss press signatures and inserts or gatefolds thoughtfully with your printer. Moreover, you can better consider where to place additional bind-ins to save money. (For instance, maybe the insert doesn’t need to go right next to the paragraph that describes it.)

Also, consider making one of the folding dummies I mentioned (one laser paper sheet folded over again and again until you get eight pages on either side).

Now open up the little booklet again so it’s one flat sheet. Notice that you can tear these flat sheets into four-page signatures or eight-page signatures as well (with either two or four pages on either side, respectively).

This will give you more of a physical reference as to how flat press sheets get folded into the little stacks or nests of booklets (press signatures) that comprise both saddle-stitched and perfect-bound print books.

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