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Archive for the ‘Book Binding’ Category

Book Printing: Options for Layflat Binding

Monday, December 11th, 2023

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The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

A client of mine called me out of the blue this week and asked about options for 50,000 copies of a 4-color print book containing voting records from Capitol Hill. She needed the book to lie flat, though, and she knew this would drive up the price.

A Plethora of Choices

I told my client that most of the options would be expensive because of the handwork involved. These would include such mechanical bindings as Wire-O, Spiral Wire, Plastic Coil, and GBC (or comb binding). All of these methods are accomplished by hand with minimal automation, so a 50,000 press run would raise the price, beyond the extra cost of printing 4-color ink throughout the book text. But here’s what I told my client (which will also serve as a review for your own commercial printing work).

Spiral Wire

The bind edge of the book is drilled with little holes parallel to the trim and a coil of wire is fed into these holes. If you used a spiral notebook in school, you know what this is. You also know that the coil of wire can be inadvertently crushed. Spiral wire comes in a few different colors.

Another downside is that due to the nature of a coil, facing pages don’t align exactly when the print book is open and lying flat. In addition, the coils come only in standard sizes (widths) that accommodate standard page counts. If you choose this option, make sure your book printer offers spiral wire coils that will match your book length.

Plastic Coil

This is like spiral wire, but it is made out of plastic. Therefore, it has “memory.” It will squish up a little if squeezed, but it will come back immediately to its original form. This is a huge benefit. Again, it involves expensive handwork, it comes in only a handful of colors, and you need to make sure it will accommodate your print book page count.


Wire-O is metal (like spiral wire), but it is composed of double-wire loops that are parallel to one another and attached to a metal post running the length of the spine. The double wire makes the binding stronger than spiral wire, and the fact that the wire loops are parallel to one another (rather than in a spiral) makes the facing pages of an open print book align across the gutter. The same issues apply with the cost of handwork, page count, and color options.

GBC or Plastic-Comb Binding

If you completely unwind and flatten a GBC binding coil, it will look like a comb (hence the name). The tines of this comb are fed (i.e., handwork) through holes drilled in the book text block. When the coils jump back into place, you have a coil holding all the book pages together. What you also have (which is not available with Wire-O, Spiral Wire, or Plastic Coil binding) is a printable spine. Since the plastic has “memory,” it jumps back into place. You can therefore add or remove pages, but in my experience over the years the pages always seem to pull out, fall out, or tear out.

3-Ring Binder

This is an interesting option because you can easily add or remove pages. It’s the same as the binders you had in grade school. Binders come in numerous spine widths, so the page count of the print book need not be an issue. You can even print the text block, shrink wrap it, lay it inside the closed binder, and make the reader assemble the product.

Background vinyl colors are numerous, and some even have clear plastic pockets heat welded to the outside of the binder to allow you to insert slipsheets. That is, instead of custom screen printing art and text on the outside of the vinyl binder (which would be an expensive addition), you can print 4-color single sheets that you can slip into pockets on the front and back covers (and spine), embellishing the binder without paying for screen printing.

Layflat Perfect Binding

Somebody really earned their money when they invented this bindery method. Apparently it’s durable (I was worried, so I checked). And it really is much the same as case binding (hardcover, edition binding) in its approach.

Here’s how. On a perfect-bound book the stacked, printed press signatures are notched or ground off at the bind edge. Then glue is applied to the spine edge of the text block. Finally, a paper cover is wrapped around the text block, adhering to the spine and a slight bit of the front and back cover. Then the book printer trims the book.

In contrast, on a case-bound print book the text block is not attached to the spine. It is glued to a “crash,” (also called a “super” or “liner”), a piece of gauze running the length of the spine and extending slightly outward on both sides. In the case-bound book these gauze flaps are attached to the front and back (binder’s board) covers of the print book and then covered with the endsheets and flyleaves (end papers).

So the text block essentially hangs on the edge of the front and back covers and (in most cases) is not attached to the (inside of the) spine.

Layflat perfect binding works the same way, but instead of using thick binder’s boards (front, back, and spine covered with fabric or leather), the binder attaches the print book text block (all printed, gathered, and stacked press signatures) to a gauze strip, which he then attaches to the edges of the front and back (perfect binding) paper covers. Just a strip is enough (just like case binding).

The text block never touches the spine, so the book lies flat when open on the table. In fact, this option is often used for photo books (personally printed for you using your photos) in stores like Costco, because the open pages (which align perfectly with one another) make full-bleed photos seem to be connected at the spine as if they were one huge, double-page, full-bleed photo. The overall experience is breathtaking.

This does not involve that much handwork (when compared to the mechanical bindings noted above), so the overall cost per unit does not have to be prohibitive, even for longer press runs.

The process (only one of the variants of layflat binding) is called Otabind.

And here are more characteristics/features/benefits:

  1. The glue used in the process is a hot melt, exceptionally durable glue (EVA, PVA, or PUR glue). So the print books last a long time, and pages don’t easily pull out.
  2. The cover is scored a number of times (at the spine, and outward from the spine parallel to the bind edge). This scoring, along with the fact that the text is not actually attached to the spine, allows for an extremely flexible and durable book which will lie flat when open.
  3. This process, especially because of the specific glue used, when combined with deep “notching” (cutting notches into the bind edge of the folded press signatures to allow the glue to really seep in), provides surprising strength.

The Takeaway

No matter what you want to do in printing, there are usually a number of ways to do it.

That said, those methods requiring lots of handwork will be expensive (overall and on a unit-cost basis, because there are no economies of scale for handwork). With that in mind, such automated layflat options as Otabind can help make up for this.

If, on the other hand, you only need (as an arbitrary, small number) 200 copies, you might choose vinyl binders, Plastic Coil, Wire-O, Spiral Wire, or GBC comb binding. These are especially good for cookbooks and manuals, or anything else you need to refer to when you’re using both hands for something else.

Book Printing: A Selection of Creative Cover Options

Monday, October 2nd, 2023

Photo purchased from …

The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

What you include on a book cover in the way of graphic design, or creative, or imagery, is just one element of print book cover design. The physical presentation, including what materials you use and how you combine them, is equally important, and it sets the tone for the whole print book as well.

Stab Binding (from Japan, China, and Korea)

I know this sounds grisly (only the book pages and cover pages get stabbed), but it is actually an elegant and ancient Asian bookbinding technique. (I included a photo of this binding option at the top of this blog article.)

The process does not involve any glue (unlike perfect binding). All you do is stab holes into the cover and book pages and then lace up the book over the spine edge with string. If you Google this process, you’ll see that you can make a number of different geometric patterns with the string.

This might be a unique binding method for a writing journal or sketch book. You could even use special paper (maybe seed paper, with actual seeds in the paper stock, or paper containing flecks of flower petals—anything to make the finished product more tactile and organic).

Stab binding has a long history (centuries) as a binding method in China, Japan, and Korea.

Unfortunately, stab binding, which really is similar to the current method of side stitching (in which case you would use staples instead of string), will not allow the open book to lie flat. But if lying flat is not an essential characteristic of your print book, this may be a good option. Personally, I consider it a unique, aesthetically appealing option for a “hand-crafted” look.

A Few Options for Case Binding

I have a number of books from the late 1800s that were case bound. This option is very durable. But it also provides at least three variations that come to mind immediately.

Leather, fabric, or paper can be wrapped around the binder’s boards used in case binding a print book. Binder’s boards are thick chipboard (a kind of dense cardboard stock). A flexible spine is added to the book between the front and back covers, and the interior text block is actually suspended from this “casing,” allowing the pages to be turned, and allowing the print book to lie flat when open.

In terms of book decoration, the front cover image and title, for instance, might appear not on this paper, fabric, or leather book cover but rather on a separate dust jacket wrapped around the book.

Alternatively, you can use hot-foil stamping (heat and pressure applied to a roll of metallic foil) to punch out lettering for the book title and affix this to the book cover material. And then you can add a more elaborate dust jacket for a repeat of the cover text and an added cover photo.

The dust jacket, by the way, would be a large printed and perhaps UV coated or film laminated press sheet with flaps that fold around the book binding boards. In this way you can design a more intricate and complex cover than you can with the foil stamping on the main fabric, leather, or paper cover.

One thing to keep in mind with the foil-stamping process is that you will need to pay to have the printer’s subcontractor create a metal die for the foil stamping, and this can be expensive. It will also add to the overall book production time.

That was the first option. Another option is to print the book covers on flat press sheets and then laminate them directly to the binder’s boards and spine of the case-bound print book. If you think back to many of your high school or college textbooks, these were produced this way, with colorful covers but no separate dust jackets.

If you skip the dust jackets and print the book covers directly on press sheets that can then be laminated to the binder’s boards, you can avoid producing (and paying for) metal dies to cut the hot-stamp foil (noted in the prior book decoration option).

The third option for case binding is really a hybrid, mixing “Wire-O” binding with case binding. You may have seen these books in the cooking section of the bookstore. Metal wire loops are stacked parallel to one another and are affixed to a wire running parallel to the spine. This wire apparatus (with the text of the book attached to it like a spiral notebook) is looped into the cardboard spine of the case-bound book. (The loops are often visible from the outside of the spine.)

On the interior front and back covers of such a book, you can see that endsheets have been pasted onto the binder’s boards (as in case-binding work). With both the wire loops and the case binding, this is an especially durable option, which is probably why publishers often choose this method for cookbooks. The books also lie flat when open, which is useful when you’re using both hands to prepare food.

You can assume that this will be an expensive binding option, since the “Wire-O” portion of the binding involves handwork. But for the right product, it can be a very attractive and functional option.

The Usual Suspects: Saddle Stitching, Perfect Binding, and Mechanical Binding

To round out this discussion, I’d like to briefly mention the more traditional, and less expensive, methods you can choose to bind your books.

Saddle stitching involves nesting book signatures inside one another (when bound and trimmed, these would look like a stack of four-page signatures, one on top of the next, folded, with staples in the center). This is probably the cheapest option. It’s often used for magazines and journals. But the main downside is that you don’t have a spine on which to print the book title, and you have a size (page-count) limit of about 96 pages (three 32-page signatures) or less. I’ve seen pages fall off the center staples in magazines exceeding this length. Wherever you look online, you’ll find a different page number limit (because it all depends on how thick your paper is), but 96 pages is a good place to start discussing binding options with your printer.

Perfect binding is like case binding without the hard case (and binder’s boards). It’s for longer print books. Unlike case bound books, the text of the book is not suspended from the heavy cardboard book-cover boards with endsheets. Rather the paper cover (usually of a thicker stock than the text) is just wrapped around the text block (the stacked press signatures of the text, as opposed to the nested press signatures of saddle stitching). The paper cover is glued to the spine, and the book is then trimmed on three sides (top, bottom, and front or face margin).

Perfect bound books are durable, and they come at a reasonable price. Almost all of the paperbacks you’ll find (that aren’t saddle stitched) will be perfect bound. Ask that your printer use PUR binding glue. It’s flexible, and it doesn’t dry out and get brittle as it ages. It’s worth a little extra money.

The third option, mechanical binding, includes tape binding, spiral wire (like spiral notebooks), plastic coil (a plastic wire version of the spiral wire), Wire-O (mentioned above in the composite binding for the cookbook), Velo binding (a plastic strip on the top and bottom of the text block running parallel to the bind edge and attached to one another through holes drilled through the text), and GBC (or comb binding). The list goes on. I’m sure there are more.

What you need to remember is that mechanical binding almost always requires handwork. So the unit cost can be expensive. That said, if you are producing a handful of reports to distribute at a conference, this will save you the make-ready expense of perfect binding or saddle stitching your print book.

As to the design of saddle-stitched, perfect-bound, and mechanically bound books, these really aren’t very exotic—at least not like the Asian stab binding. So in these cases you’re pretty much dependent on the visual design of the covers rather than the intricacies of the binding itself for the “Wow” factor.

That said, a client of mine prints a number of 5.5” x 8.5” perfect-bound book titles each year. And they (husband and wife) always specify French flaps. This is a 3.5” extension to the front and back covers. The flaps fold inward over the interior front and back covers and make the book look like it has a dust jacket. This is more of a European approach (so it looks stylish), but it also provides space in the front and rear of the book for an author photo and bio and perhaps some marketing text.

So in this case it is possible to make a perfect-bound book look sexy.

The Takeaway

Consider both the creative design and the physical construction of all of your book binding options. Think about utility, price, length of the press run, and schedule (for instance, cookbooks that mix case binding and Wire-O binding cost more per unit and take longer overall to produce).

Look at printed samples, and think of not only the appearance but how the binding method will feel in the hands of the reader. Will he/she need four hands in order to both cook and refer to a cookbook that doesn’t lie flat?

Appearance and utility. These are two key concepts to keep at the top of your mind when selecting the perfect binding approach for your print book.

Book Printing: Selected Binding Options, Tips, and Tricks

Sunday, February 6th, 2022

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. (more…)

Book Printing: Unique Book Binding/Finishing Formats

Monday, October 8th, 2018

My fiancee recently brought home from the thrift store two intriguing books for the grandchildren. The first is The Slant Book, written by Peter Newell, and the second is How Does the Show Go On?, written by Thomas Schumacher.

What makes both of these books particularly interesting to me is their unique binding methods. Both are striking. I’ve never seen anything quite like them before. In addition, the uniqueness of each reinforces the theme of the print book. That is, the special effect is not gratuitous. The form reinforces the meaning. (more…)

Book Printing: What Is Library Binding?

Sunday, July 15th, 2018

A few days ago when my fiancee and I were at the thrift store looking through print books of paintings and drawings for our art therapy classes, another teacher approached us. After a brief discussion of our respective work, she gave us a number of books she was about to donate. Not only were they a great overview of the history of art (in about fifteen volumes), but they were also very nicely bound. (more…)

Book Printing: Smyth Sewing Books for Strength

Friday, April 14th, 2017

For our rest and relaxation, my fiancee and I spend long hours in thrift stores. She likes the clothes; I like the books. One benefit for my work as a commercial printing broker is that I see how print books age. I see the yellowed paper in the books from the ‘70s and ‘80s and the pristine paper and binding work in books close to 100 years old (i.e., due to their superior materials). (more…)

Book Printing: Short-Run Perfect Binding Equipment

Friday, April 10th, 2015

I just saw a video of the new Muller Martini Mitabook, a short-run digital perfect binding machine. I personally think it’s the wave of the future. I think it also says a lot about what we want in our print books at this juncture of publishing. (more…)

Commercial Printing: Seven Mechanical Binding Options

Friday, November 22nd, 2013

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). (more…)


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