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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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Book Printing: Selected Binding Options, Tips, and Tricks

Photo purchased from …

If you look closely at the photo above, you’ll see a man hand stitching several press signatures into a text block for either a Smyth sewn paperback book or more than likely a case-bound print book. You’ll note that the signatures are stacked next to each other. The stitching (within each signature and between signatures) will significantly strengthen the overall binding of this print book and would therefore be an ideal option for a paperbound art museum book or a case-bound book.

Personally, I also find this interesting to see since most binding operations are now automated for speed and cost. So it’s nice to see the handwork because it reminds me of the roots of the craft of book binding.

Options for Binding

The stitching of signatures being performed in the photo yields a book text block. Once the text block has been hung on binder’s boards (the case of a case-bound book) or glued to a paper cover, the resulting book will have a spine. If the book is very short, perhaps a printed title will be too large to fit on the spine and still be readable, but for books of 80, 100, or more pages, this would not be an issue. Having a spine adds to the aesthetics of a print book and provides room for the book title, but some books (and magazines) are still too short to be perfect bound or case bound. Therefore, these books are saddle stitched.

With saddle stitching, the press signatures are nested into one another. That is, instead of being stacked next to one another, each is slipped into the center of the prior one, and then metal stitches are inserted mechanically through the pages (at the fold, or where the spine would be if this were a perfect-bound book) and then crimped shut in the center of the folded book. If you open such a book on the table, it will lie completely flat. However, it will not have a spine on which to print the book’s title.

Length of Saddle-Stitched Books

The length of a print book you can saddle stitch will depend on the thickness of the paper. Thinking back to my time as an advisor to a local congressional publisher, I remember their main weekly magazine started to get unwieldly for saddle stitching when it exceeded about 88 pages plus cover. At 96 pages it was somewhat “bloated” at the fold (the magazine didn’t lie completely flat when closed). When the magazines exceeded 96 pages, the center page spreads started to come out of the saddle stitches.

So if you’re a book designer or production manager facing the big question of whether to perfect bind or saddle stitch a book, ask your printer for advice early in the design process. Moreover, I’d ask for a paper dummy (an unprinted mock-up of the magazine using the same paper as the final printed product). This will show you for sure how much the magazine will bulk up (not lie flat) when closed and how sturdy the center pages will be once stitched.

“Creep” or “Push Out”

Since press signatures are nested rather than stacked in a saddle-stitched book or magazine, the pages of each successive signature (toward the center of the book) will stick out just a little bit farther than the others. Once trimmed on the three-knife trimmer (that cuts the “head,” “foot,” and “face” of the book—i.e., the top, bottom, and page edges that face the reader), the central pages will be shorter than the outer pages of the nested print book. This is called “creep” or “push-out.”

Here’s why this can be problematic. If you have folios (page numbers) or any other text too close to the face-trim margin, this text could be cut off entirely, or it could wind up painfully close to the trim.

Therefore, when your saddle-stitched book starts to get longer (say 64 pages and up), it’s wise to ask your printer about creep, and to ask when and how far to move folios and other text back from the trim of the print book.


An alternative to saddle stitching that not everyone knows about is paste binding. It’s like saddle stitching without the staples.

This is not the same as what you see in some tabloid newspapers, in which 4-page press signatures are often nested inside one another and then just folded (but not stitched). Occasionally, in the case of some tabloids, such nested signatures are saddle stitched at the spine, yielding what looks like a magazine printed on a lower-quality paper stock like newsprint.

In contrast, paste-bound signatures are actually glued together in the spine. A bead of hot melt glue is placed along the interior length of the folded 4-page press signature, and the next 4-page signature is laid in (nested) against it. The glue attaches one to the other and yields a sturdy, printed product (that has no risk of the pages’ falling out). It also eliminates the need for stitching, saving time and money.

What makes this ideal is that the entire print production operation can usually be done on a heatset web press with no need to take the folded and nested press signatures into the finishing department for binding. The downside is that depending on the paper, it’s usually only appropriate for four-, eight-, twelve-, or possibly sixteen-page printed products. And since the printed product is being done on a web offset press, it’s usually more suited for longer press runs (longer than would be cost-effective on a sheetfed press).

If you’re interested in such binding, ask your printer about paper choices and acceptable page counts. If your printed product is suited to this binding option, one of the benefits you will reap is that the folded product will lie flatter than a saddle-stitched booklet or magazine of a comparable page count.

Loop Stitching

Let’s say you’re producing a short saddle-stitched booklet that you will want to insert in a ring binder with other printed materials. Furthermore, let’s say you don’t want the printer to three-hole drill your saddle-stitched booklet. What are your options?

Here’s one: loop stitching. This is really just a larger than usual saddle stitch with a loop extending outward from the folded, nested signatures. You just hook these loops over the wire rings in a binder, and you’re done. No drilling needed.


If you’ve written notes on a pad of paper, you’ve seen this kind of binding. Sheets of paper are stacked on a piece of chipboard (unfluted cardboard, i.e., not corrugated board), and glue is slathered across the bind edge. Then the product is trimmed on three sides. Very convenient. Very cheap. And if you print your brand information on the pages, your clients will have your brand subliminally reinforced in their memory every time they write a note.

Wire-O vs. Spiral vs. Plastic Coil

All of these are mechanical binding options. They involve handwork, so while they are good for a short run (print books for distribution at a professional conference, for instance), they get expensive for longer runs.

Spiral binding involves looping a spiral metal wire through pre-punched holes in a text block (usually with a front and back cover). When you buy a spiral notebook for school, that’s what you are buying.

A similar option, Wire-O, is not actually a spiral. It is composed of wire loops held parallel to one another and attached perpendicularly to wires running along the bind edge of the notebook. What’s nice about Wire-O binding is that when you open the notebook, the facing pages actually align with one another. (Due to the nature of a spiral, facing pages of a spiral-wire-bound notebook are always just slightly out of alignment.)

Also, wire bindings can be crushed, making them irritating at best and useless at worst. A way around this is to use Plasticoil. Plasticoil is a plastic spiral binding that comes in various widths (tiny coils, larger coils), which will hold various numbers of pages. In my experience, they tend not to get as large (hold as many pages) as spiral wire or Wire O. (But this may have changed over the years.) Since they are plastic, they have memory. If you step on or sit on the binding by accident, the coil will spring back to its original spiral, unlike wire products.

In all of these cases, ask your vendor for samples and for the number of pages the coils will hold (using the particular paper you have chosen). If your book has too many pages for these products, you may have to choose GBC binding, also known as comb binding. On the plus side, you can add and remove pages from a GBC-bound book (although this is difficult), and GBC binding provides a printable spine. On the negative side, pages can come accidentally unhooked from GBC binding, and this is irritating.

Other Options

These are just a handful of options. Books could be written on the subject of bindings. You may also want to research side stitching, tape binding, Japanese stab binding, screw-and-post binding, and velo binding–as well as perfect binding, saddle stitching, and case binding–just to name a few. Keep in mind that the more automated options (perfect binding, saddle-stitching, and such) will be more economical per unit—except for short runs—than any of the mechanical options that involve handwork.

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