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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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Archive for the ‘Book Binding Options’ Category

Book Printing: More Ways to Cut Costs

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

In a few recent postings, I have been describing an ongoing book printing job. My client wants to reduce the cost, and she has therefore been considering various formats, bindings, and color schemes.

The way I have approached this challenge has been to identify the two lowest-cost book printers in whom I have developed a deep level of trust. I had bid the job out to four vendors initially and had chosen two printing companies with quality samples, knowledgeable account representatives who are proactive in offering suggestions and options, and low prices relative to the other commercial printers.

I requested bids for the following three options and disclosed the budget target: $4,500.00:

Option #1:

Qty: 5,000
Paper: 65# Cover, 50# Matte Text
Text: 56 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Covers: 4C/4C, with bleeds
Trim size: 8 1/8″ x 10 7/8″

Option #2:

Qty: 5,000
Paper: 65# Cover, 50# Matte Text
Text: 72 pages: 16 pages 4C + 56 pages black and white
Binding: Perfect-bind
Covers: 4C/4C, with bleeds
Trim size: 5.375″ x 10.875″

Option #3:

Qty: 5,000
Paper: 65# Cover, 50# Matte Text
Text: 100 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Covers: 4C/4C, with bleeds
Trim size: 5.5″ x 8.5″

Analysis of the Options

  1. As you can see from the specifications, the press run had to stay the same: 5,000 copies.
  2. I had also reduced the cover paper weight from 100# to 65#, and the text weight from 60# to 50#.
  3. I offered three size options (from close to a standard 8.5” x 11” letter size down to a digest size of 5.5” x 8.5”). Obviously this affected the overall page count, from 56 pages to 100 pages. (The smaller format would require more pages to contain the same amount of information, although I also suggested to the client—respectfully–that reducing the amount of text or moving some information to their website would reduce custom printing costs as well.)
  4. I suggested two different binding methods: saddle stitching and perfect binding. I knew that if the book were over 64 or so pages, perfect binding might be necessary to avoid having a bulky binding job that might not lie flat.
  5. I suggested black-only text and an option for a sixteen-page color signature and the balance in black ink.
  6. In all cases I opted for a cover printed in full color on both sides of the press sheet.

This was the pricing from one book printing vendor:

Option #1:
56 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Trim size: 8 1/8″ x 10 7/8″

Option #2:
72 pages: 16 pages 4C + 56 pages black and white
Binding: Perfect-bind
Trim size: 5.375″ x 10.875″

Option #3:
100 pages: black and white
Binding: Saddle-stitch
Trim size: 5.5″ x 8.5″

Clearly, none of the prices even came close to the $4,500.00 target. However, they still provided insight, specifically:

  1. On this vendor’s equipment, the length of the book seemed to make more of a difference than the color usage. (Note the difference between Option #3 pricing and the pricing for the other options.)
  2. From this I surmised that on their 28” press (which I learned about from their equipment list), more pages require more press signatures and therefore more press runs. Printing four-color or one-color text on a single press run seems to matter less in the overall pricing structure than the number of separate times the commercial printer must wash up and prepare the press for additional press runs.

This was the pricing from the other book printing vendor:

Size: 8.125” x 10.875”
Pages: 4-page cover + 56 pages of text
Cover: 4/4 (4-color process)
Text: 1/1 (black only)
Binding: saddle stitch

Size: 5.5” x 8.5”
Pages: 4-page cover + 72 pages of text
Cover: 4/4 (4-color process)
Text: 16 pages print 4/4 (4-color process); 56 pages print 1/1 (black only)
Binding: perfect bind

This book printer didn’t keep to the exact specifications but rather made suggestions that came closer to the target price of $4,500.00. This custom printing vendor has a 40” press and a press slightly larger than 50”. (Again, I learned this from their equipment list.)

From them we learn:

  1. It’s cheaper to print black text only in the larger format (closer to the standard 8.5” x 11” letter-sized sheet).
  2. But it’s more economical—i.e., a better value—to go with the smaller, digest size product, since you can print a longer book with both black text and a 16-page color signature rather than a shorter book with black text only (for only about $400.00 more).

Here are some considerations:

  1. All of this depends on the commercial printer’s specific equipment (check their equipment list). Not all printing companies have the same equipment.
  2. Remember to account for shipping costs. Some local printing companies will deliver your job to you at no extra cost, but commercial printers located several states away will usually charge freight, and this can add up (books, in particular, are heavy). In addition, shipping takes time, an important consideration if your material is dated.

Book Printing Case Study: Getting Bids for a Coffee-Table Photo Book

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

Normally I can get coffee table book printing costs for my print brokering clients rather quickly and easily. I work with printing companies of every sort (printing services that specialize in books, large-format banners, marketing collateral, etc.). But a unique project came to me recently that posed challenges, a small book of photographs. The photographer had solicited pricing from various on demand book printing suppliers she had found on the Internet and had opted instead for higher quality and a lower unit price.

Specifications for the book printing run

My client wants to print a 6” x 6” case-bound book, 200 pages in length, with process color throughout, in a press run of 500, 750, or 1000 copies. The cover will be printed and will have no dust jacket. The text will be printed on a silk-coated text sheet. My client also wants a “ribbon placeholder” (like you see in Bibles and appointment books). This is a coffee-table book requiring the highest production values.

Focusing only on book printing suppliers

For coffee table book printing costs estimates, I chose eight book printers that I had worked with at one time or another. I only approached book printers, since I knew they would be proficient in the case-binding component of the job, and since I knew they would provide the most competitive pricing (i.e., they would be cheaper than commercial printing services).

I compared my short list of printing companies to a list of book printers across the United States that I had found online. To be safe, I just used the list to jog my memory. I only approached book printing vendors I had worked with before and trusted completely.

Surprised by the response to the bid requests

To my surprise, five of the eight book printing suppliers “no-bid” the job due to the process color usage throughout the text. The majority of book printers either produced black-text-only books or primarily black-text-books with process color inserts (one or only a few signatures printed in color with the balance of the text pages in black ink or black and a PMS color).

One of the three printing companies that did provide a bid, planned to produce the job in Mexico to remain competitive, and stipulated a thinner text sheet than I had requested. This book printing vendor also could not add headbands and footbands to the book, but could add the ribbon placeholder (by hand, which would be expensive). All changes to the specs were suggested by the printer to keep the pricing competitive (i.e., this is what their Mexico plant could handle, and this printing plant was their best bet for the job).

The two other printing companies bid on the specs exactly as presented. However, their prices were twice what I had expected. Here’s why:

  • Process color throughout is very expensive.
  • It’s more expensive to print a press sheet and laminate it to chipboard than case bind a book in fabric and then add a printed dust cover.
  • The ribbon placeholder would be hand-work, which is always more expensive than an automated procedure.
  • The endsheets of the book would be printed (heavy ink coverage), which costs more than adding unprinted (white or tinted) endsheets.

I was actually surprised to find that, for one custom printing vendor, the makeready estimate alone exceeded the cost of makeready for a 700-page, black-only-text, case-bound book they had just printed for another client of mine—by 50 percent–due to the specs noted above.

A few printing options for my client

I received two suggestions from printing companies that approached the job in a different manner. One printer bid the job in a 5” x 5” format (rather than 6” x 6”) on uncoated Finch Fine paper. This printer’s price was a little over half the high bid (granted, based on slightly different specs).

A few printing companies that had “no-bid” the job actually came back to me with suggestions. One offered to print the job on a web-fed inkjet press. A different printer suggested a sheetfed digital press based on electrophotographic technology (i.e., color xerox). In both cases, I said I would need to see outstanding printed samples.

Finally, a printer that had “no-bid” the job came back to me with a price for a perfect-bound version, instead of a case-bound version. The total cost of the perfect-bound option, even with color throughout, would be less than a third of the high bid for a case-bound option.

What we learn from the eight vendors

  • Printing process color throughout a book is very expensive. Not all book printing vendors will do such a job. Most are used to producing only color inserts.
  • Hand-work (the ribbon placeholder) is expensive.
  • Printing heavy-coverage ink on book endsheets is expensive.
  • Headbands and footbands seem to be best for longer books (more pages).
  • Laminating a printed cover sheet to chipboard is expensive. In some cases it’s cheaper to cloth bind the book and add an extra printed dust cover.
  • It’s wise to ask the printer what technology is more economical based on the page count and press run: digital or offset.
  • This is not an exact science. The printing companies made changes to the specifications based on their own equipment (size and format of their presses) in an attempt to do the work in-house and keep their prices low. You may approach other printing companies and have a completely different experience than I did.
  • Ask a lot of printing companies to bid on your job, and keep your specifications fluid as long as possible. You may have to change certain specifications to keep within budget.
  • Finally, keep looking. There may be a printer out there that can do your “exotic” job for a good price.

A final stroke of good fortune

The printer with the highest price just contacted me today, as I was finishing this article. His plant had looked at the job again. Instead of printing the book on a 40” press (28” x 40” press sheet), they could print the job on a 51” press (38” x 51” press sheet). This would allow for larger signatures (more pages per signature and hence fewer signatures, fewer press runs, fewer plates, fewer wash-ups, etc.). They would drop their cost by almost half.

So now my client has a number of options.

Book Printing: “Wavy” Pages, or Fluting, Can Ruin a Book

Tuesday, September 27th, 2011

An attache at the Embassy of Chile, who had just taken delivery of several thousand perfect-bound books for the ambassador, called me and said that the entire book printing run had “wavy” text. The covers were flat, but the text blocks were consistently rippled. I hopped in a cab and went right over.

The attache and I opened a number of boxes and checked random book printing samples for occurrences of the wavy text paper, and, in fact, he had been right. The problem was pervasive.

Why does fluting occur in book printing?

The technical name of this printing flaw is “fluting.” Fluting occurs in web offset presswork because the paper absorbs moisture during the inking process, and then the drying units of the web press “flash” away the moisture with brief, intense heat. As the paper comes to equilibrium in the web press chill rollers and later on the pressroom floor, the paper again absorbs moisture. All of this happens unevenly. Fluting usually doesn’t occur in the covers of these perfect-bound books because even web printing companies usually produce the covers on sheetfed presses.

The paper weight, paper type, and design (i.e., ink coverage and placement) significantly influence the presence or absence of fluting. Printing companies cannot do anything to eliminate this problem, although over time the waviness relaxes somewhat and the paper lies flatter. In addition, printing companies cannot do anything once fluting occurs, and, until the job is on press, there is no way to know whether fluting will occur.

How can you minimize fluting in book printing?

Fortunately, there are ways to minimize fluting, so keep the following in mind as you design your web offset custom printing job:

  1. Lighter-weight paper shows fluting more dramatically than does heavier-weight paper.
  2. Heavy ink coverage on the front and back of a press sheet shows the most fluting. If you print heavy coverage four-color process work on one side of the sheet, consider limiting the other side to one color.
  3. Uncoated stock shows fluting more than coated stock.
  4. Create your publication design, and work closely with your printing companies, to position heavy coverage pages in line with one another to minimize fluting. That is, when looking at an unfolded press sheet (for instance, a sixteen-page signature with eight pages on one side of the sheet and eight pages on the other, with four pages on top and four pages below), the pages with heavy ink coverage should be above or below each other, not side by side.

Good fortune and drier weather saved the book printing run.

Sometimes you get lucky. After it was clear what had happened, I got on the phone with the custom printing vendor. Since fluting is outside the control of printing companies, the printer wouldn’t budge. He was sorry it had happened, but he could do nothing to remedy the situation. Sitting across from me in his office, the Chilean attache was unhappy. He understood what had happened, but he was not pleased that the book printing run appeared to be flawed. And he knew the ambassador would be unhappy.

There was one last resort. When the custom printing vendor had delivered the books to the Chilean embassy, it had been raining. The air had been damp for a number of days. As an experiment, the attache and I put some books under a heavy weight. I called him a few days later, and learned that the fluting had subsided markedly as the weather had improved and the air had turned drier. That gave the Chilean attache a measure of hope. We touched base a few times over the next several weeks, and thankfully the combination of time, dry air, and weights on the books had completely solved the problem.

Book Printing: How to Discover the Source of a Printing Flaw

Monday, September 26th, 2011

I recently emailed a client to follow up on a book printing project. I hoped, and expected, to hear good things. Unfortunately, there were three problems with the books:

  1. There were bubbles and scratches on the gloss UV cover coating.
  2. The text was not centered on the spine (not equally distant from the fold line of the front and back covers).
  3. A subscriber had called my client to complain that the pages were falling out of the binding.

Ouch. Part of the job of a printing broker is to discover the cause and extent of problems like these, and find a solution that will satisfy both the client and the custom printing vendor.

Check samples to confirm the extent of the problem.

First I asked my client to spot check samples from the book printing run in the approximately 40 cartons that comprised her 3,000-copy delivery. She didn’t need to check all boxes or all books in any one box. She just needed to make a thorough random review. My client checked about ten cartons thoroughly and found no further flawed books. Most of the books in the first box she had opened had problems, but the problem books seemed to be contained in that one carton.

I also asked the custom printing vendor to check all books at the plant. He found no problems.

What about the spine that fell apart?

That’s a serious and worrisome flaw. However, only one subscriber had called my client and requested a replacement book. If the problem had been pervasive, a number of subscribers would have requested replacements.

I called the business printing service again. The sales representative did some research and found that the perfect binding run had gone smoothly, with only a few brief stops of the perfect binding equipment during the run. He found out that PUR glue had been used for the hot-melt glue binding (to hold the pages in place). This particular glue has “brand equity.” It has been around for a long time. It is well regarded by printing companies as a durable glue that is flexible enough to allow bending of the spine but relentless in holding onto the pages. It has stood the test of time. Printing companies swear by it.

This was the real cause of the problem.

The custom printing vendor did find out one thing, though, from his research in his bindery. If the perfect binding equipment is halted for more than a short time, one or two books that have received the glue application but that have not yet had book covers attached will have problems with the glue. If the glue has started to harden or cure, and then the machinery is started up again, the book cover will not adhere properly to the book block, and the pages will eventually come out. It is the operator’s responsibility to remove these few books from the machine prior to restarting the perfect binder. It seems that he did not do this.

So apparently that was the cause of the problem, and that was its extent.

Trust but verify.

The fact that only one subscriber had called my client for a replacement book corroborated the custom printing supplier’s findings about the bindery problem. That said, I asked for a guarantee from the printer that if another subscriber, or multiple subscribers, were to call my client in the future and complain that the book pages had fallen out, the printing company would stand behind its work and resolve the problem to my client’s satisfaction. The printer agreed. Now the printer and my client can do business in the future with a level of mutual trust.

What do we learn from this?

Here are some thoughts:

  • If you receive a custom printing job and open the first box only to find that there are problems, don’t assume that every book is bad. Do a spot check throughout the run. Document the problem and its extent.
  • Distinguish between the inevitable flaws and the unusable books. Occasional bubbling in the cover coating, or even the presence of scratches localized in a few books, is not the same as binding that falls apart.
  • Ask the custom printing vendor to research the problem as well.
  • If the problem seems to be small, ask the business printing service to agree to stand behind the printing work should the problem be revealed over time to be more severe.
  • Depending on the severity of the problem and its extent, you have options, including a reprint or a discount.
  • Look to your business printing supplier as a partner, not an adversary, in remedying the issues. This will yield better results. The only goal is to produce the proper number of acceptable copies of your job. Laying blame does not fix the problem or ensure that it won’t happen again.

Book Printing: Nothing Shows Printing Companies What You Want Better Than a Sample

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

I met a potential new client at an art opening this weekend. We discussed an upcoming book printing run. She wants to produce a 5” x 5” case-bound book of her photographs. I started thinking about how to approach this new job prior to our upcoming meeting to determine how I might be most helpful. First off, I asked her to start collecting book printing samples that she likes, with formats, sizes, and materials she thinks most closely reflect the nature of her photography. Nothing communicates a client’s goals for a new project like a physical printed sample. Printing companies can understand and reproduce what they can see. If you’re designing a book and are faced with a similar situation, consider these sources for sample books.

From Used Bookstores

The best reasons to start your search for samples at a used bookstore are the low cost of the books and their wide variety. You can afford to collect a number of different samples, odd formats, unique materials, and bindings that are out of the ordinary. Used bookstores often have books in their stacks from the last twenty to thirty years, so the different book printing design trends will be evident in their manufacturing and style.

From Paper Merchants

Paper merchants (intermediaries who broker papers from a number of paper mills) can get unique samples for you for free. Their job is to interest you in a specific paper, so you will encourage your custom printing vendor to buy the paper for your job from them. Not only do paper merchants have access to promotional pieces showcasing the best design work on various press sheets, but they often have extensive knowledge of custom printing technologies, paper options, bindery methods, etc.

From Business Printing Vendors and Binderies

Printers have access to the same paper merchants (and samples) that you do. However, they can also provide samples of custom printing jobs they themselves have produced. And they have direct knowledge through personal experience of the benefits and pitfalls of various materials and processes. Don’t forget specialty printers such as letterpress vendors. It even behooves you to request samples directly from binderies, since they will know more about this aspect of book manufacturing than even the printers.

From Paper Shows

Design trade groups such as AIGA (American Institute of Graphic Arts) present periodic trade shows. Custom printing vendors, paper merchants, binderies, letterpress shops, and other related suppliers attend these shows and bring samples of their best business printing work. It’s worth the nominal fee to attend the show and peruse the vendor floor, going from booth to booth and collecting samples of what you like.

What to Look for

  • Binding methods (perfect binding, saddle-stitching, side-stitching, and mechanical bindings such as plastic coil, plastic comb, etc.)
  • Shape (upright, oblong, square)
  • Size (from ultra small to ultra large)
  • Cover material (fabric, leather, paper, even wood)
  • Cover diecuts, embossing, or materials such as photos inset into, or glued onto, the cover of the book
  • Interior paper (thickness, color, texture)

This list is just a start. If you take some time to visit a used bookstore, visit with your paper merchant or custom printing vendor, or attend a paper show, you will start to develop a “swipe file,” which will help you get ideas for your next book project and also communicate these ideas to your client, your boss, and your business printing service. Nothing communicates your intent like a book printing sample.

Book Printing With Online Printing Companies: Subliminal Design Elements

Wednesday, July 20th, 2011

A dear friend and I recently had a misunderstanding based on the imprecise nature of Internet communications. Fortunately he called me on the phone, we reconnected, and everything was good. We had both been trying to be respectful and kind through our emails, but the inability of email to reflect tone and nuance of speech had hindered our communications.

“The medium is the message”

Marshall McLuhan, a Canadian educator and philosopher, coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” By this he meant that the form of a message influences how the audience perceives the message.

The brightly back-lit computer screen can give undue harshness to the words in an email or on a website. In addition, unlike other venues on the Internet, email carries with it no aural information. You can’t hear anything. When you speak with someone face to face, you have the visual cues (the person’s body language, their carriage). You have the sound and inflection of their voice. And you have the words themselves. In an email you have only the words. From a straightforward email without these cues, one might infer a tone of sarcasm or an overly formal and distancing tone—even if none were present—because you can’t see the person or hear his or her voice.

How can we apply this to book printing?

We have been talking in previous posts about the message carried through such additions to a perfect-bound book as French flaps, cream stock, and a deckled edge (or rough-front trim). If the medium is the message, these components of the books my clients produce send a message. Perhaps it is a subliminal message, but it is a powerful message nevertheless. My clients want their readers to relax, relish the tactile experience of reading a print book (as opposed to an e-book), and immerse themselves in the story. The paper, the extra flaps, and the other elements introduced by the online printing company lend an air of luxury to the experience of reading fiction and poetry, a leisure activity for which many people no longer have the time.

If the medium is the message, it behooves the book designer to consider how the book will be perceived. After all, a book, like an email, is a communications device. The goal is to communicate something of value to the reader, and, in addition to the content of the book, its form will either amplify or detract from this message.

What elements can influence the reader’s perception?

Here is a short list. I’m sure you can think of more elements:

  • The paper on which the book printer has printed the book.
  • The binding method: whether the book printer has bound the book with a hard or soft cover.
  • The choice of typeface. Is it a classic serif face or a bold and definitive sans serif face?
  • The leading (space between the lines). Does this make it easier or harder to read?
  • Margins: Are they ample or tight?
  • Paragraph length: Does the text feel heavy and dense, or do the shifts from paragraph to paragraph make reading comfortable?
  • The imagery on the cover of the book and the tone it conveys.
  • The coating the online printing company has added to the book covers. A gloss finish can give an air of harshness, while a dull film laminate can provide a more soothing first impression.
  • Even a hinge score (the folding line running parallel to the spine) can give a sense of precision and quality to the custom book printer’s work, while making the reading experience a little bit easier.

Granted, you may not want every reading experience to be pleasurable. You may want to challenge the reader to think and act differently. If so, your design and production choices should reflect this goal as well.

Marshall McLuhan was right. Book printers and designers should take note. When you design and print a book, be mindful of the subliminal cues offered by the physical elements of the book. This is one thing that sets a print book apart from an Internet page. It may not speak in words and sounds, but it does communicate volumes.

Your custom book printer can help you make the design and production choices that will touch your readers in subtle but powerful ways.

Book Printing Case Study Update: Hardcover/Softcover Split-Run Error

Tuesday, July 19th, 2011

Online Printing Services

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog entry about a client of mine whose online book printer had transposed the number of hardcover copies and the number of softcover copies of a book he was producing for her. I just learned the outcome, and I wanted to share this with you.

To recap:

Upon learning of the error, the book printer had stepped up immediately and offered to make my client whole. He had offered her three options:

  • Accept the printing as is, but pay for the additional case-bound books at the lower cost of the perfect-bound books.
  • Cut off the hardcover cases, print new soft covers, and rebind the books with the new covers.
  • Reprint the additional 800 softcover books.

My client chose option #3. She decided to have the softcover books reprinted (only the copies that should have been softcover in the first place) at the online printing company’s expense, as he had offered.

This is why I think my client made a prudent decision:

Custom printing is an imprecise art and science. Cutting and trimming operations in particular can magnify errors. If the original book blocks had been the least bit off of “true” once the covers had been removed, the retrimming process could have made an imperceptible error into a visible one. The text margins may not have aligned exactly with the cover trim. Or, what had been an adequate face margin might have become an uncomfortably tight one. And it is possible that the trimming of the books might not have been of the same quality throughout the run.

Each copy of the book my client planned to send to her subscribers would, essentially, have been an advertisement for her company. Would she really want to risk sending out a problematic copy and tarnishing her company’s reputation as a book publisher? Her clients were paying a premium for each book.

I think my client chose the best option. The online printing service would produce the 800 books from start to finish, rather than altering the erroneously bound books. Interestingly enough, a colleague of mine noted that my client had lost a few weeks in the completion of the job due to the book printer’s error. She asked whether my client should not only have requested a reprint of the 800 books but also a discount for the late delivery.

I’m a great believer in compromise and in treating one’s printing companies as partners. The book printer had stepped up immediately and offered to reprint the problematic books. That showed good faith. Rather than asking for an additional discount, above and beyond the reprint, I think my client chose to foster the future working relationship with the custom printing vendor by compromising. She accepted the late delivery of the 800 books. That was her compromise. The book printer chose to incur a substantial extra cost by reprinting the 800 books at his expense. That was his compromise. Both parties can now feel secure working together on future projects.

As an extra point, I do want to say that removing book covers and adding new ones does have its place. I personally have seen it done successfully by another local book printer.

Speed vs. Perfection

In making the decision of whether to remove and replace the covers or whether to reprint the problematic books, I think the key is the following question: What level of quality do you need for this job? Not all jobs need to be of showcase quality. For example, an industrial parts catalog that needs to be distributed immediately might be a perfect candidate for removing and replacing the covers. In this case speed trumps perfection in binding. My client, on the other hand, was selling a reference book for a high price, and this required quality over speed.

Custom printing is a process with multiple steps, and things do go wrong from time to time. How the business printing service makes things right is what distinguishes true quality.

Custom Book Printers Offer “Mechanical Binding” Options

Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

If your next project involves custom book printing, particularly short-run on demand book printing, here are some custom book printing companies you may not have considered. When producing multiple-page printed documents, you have many more choices than just saddle stitching, side stitching, perfect binding, or traditional case (or hardcover) binding. A number of these fall under the category of “mechanical binding” and may be offered by the book printing services with which you now work.

GBC (or Plastic Comb) Binding

You will recognize this binding because of the flat, plastic tines that curl around each other and loop through holes in the bind-edge of the printed document. Plastic comb binding comes in multiple colors and provides a curved spine onto which you can imprint text. One benefit of this particular mechanical binding is that it can be used for books up to 2.5” thick. The book pages will lie flat when open, so GBC binding would be appropriate for a cookbook, for instance. GBC binding is done by hand on a small metal apparatus that allows you to uncoil the GBC tines and hook the book pages onto the plastic comb before rolling it up again. Since this is considered hand work, it can be expensive.

Wire-O Binding

Think of this as a line of parallel, wire “O’s,” one above the other, attached on one side to a vertical wire. As with GBC binding, Wire-O loops hook through a series of holes drilled along the bind edge of the book pages. Since the loops are parallel, this mechanical binding technique is good for pages with crossovers (the crossovers will line up from the left-hand to the right-hand pages). Unlike GBC bound books, Wire-O books can open almost 360 degrees (pages can be folded back over each other). This binding is metal, unlike GBC, but the wire can still be purchased in multiple colors. Like GBC, this is an expensive binding method. You may have seen Wire-O notebooks in the school supply section of discount stores, or you may have seen Wire-O cookbooks (with the wire loops somewhat hidden by the hard-cover binding).

PlastiCoil Binding

Spiral wire binding is similar to Wire-O binding, but instead of being a stack of parallel metal loops (or “O’s”), this binding is made of a single metal coil winding its way (spiraling) through all of the holes drilled in the bind edge of the book. You can open a spiral wire book to lie flat on a table, but the wire can be easily crushed, making it hard to ever again turn the pages. To remedy this, PlastiCoil (a plastic version of spiral wire binding) is ideal. Plastic has memory. If you crush the coiled plastic wire (within reason), it will snap back to its original shape. PlastiCoil also comes in multiple colors. This bindng allows 360 degree opening (like Wire-O). However, it can only be used to bind books up to 1.25” thick.

Velo Binding

Also known as “strip binding,” this process is an attractive option for thicker books (up to 3”). Velo binding comes in multiple colors and is composed of a plastic strip running vertically along the bind edge of both the front and back covers of the book. The parallel plastic strips are attached to perpendicular plastic tines that extend through holes along the bind edge of all book pages. When attached, the strip on the front cover, the strip on the back cover, and all the tines running through the text hold all the pages firmly together. These books will not lie flat.

Screw and Post Binding

Similar to Velo binding, this option involves two or three large (often metal) screws extending through all pages of the book at the bind edge. The screws (on the front of the book) attach to posts that have flat heads (at the back of the book). When assembled, the screw heads and post heads pull all book pages together (like the Velo binding does). Similar to Velo bound books, screw and post bound books cannot lie flat. Unlike most of the other mechanical binding methods, however, screw and post binding allows for easy updating of the book pages (you just unscrew and disassemble the book, then replace the pages and reassemble the book).

Short-run Case Binding and Perfect Binding

Case binding (or hardcover binding) and perfect binding (softcover binding) used to be available only for long press runs of books. The start-up costs were simply too high for short press runs. But, increasingly, small binding systems are being manufactured for on demand book printing, allowing vendors to produce individual hard-cover (both paper and cloth-bound) and soft-cover books. “One-off,” custom photo books are an example of this trend, as are individual children’s books into which your son’s or daughter’s name can be digitally inserted as a character in the story. Making one hard-cover book used to be impossible, or astronomically expensive. But not anymore.

If your next project involves custom book printing, ask your business printing services about mechanical binding options. Custom book binding services will also be of help with mechanical binding.


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