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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 ‘Inserts’ Category

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

Monday, June 7th, 2021

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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.

Custom Printing: The Romance of Printed Tip-Ons

Monday, December 16th, 2019

My fiancee recently found a print book at the thrift store replete with “tip-ons.” It was an art book with avant garde photos and such, but it also included maps, fold-out posters, and even envelopes with inserts attached to various pages. I found it rather intriguing.

What it also did was to bring me back to the 1990s, when I first received copies of several Griffin and Sabine books (by Nick Bantock), which traced a romance (perhaps either real or a fantasy of the characters in the books) based on epistles between two characters in hand-written notes and postcards attached to the print book pages.

It was very intimate and romantic, in part because you had to open the envelopes and unfold the letters before reading them. (That is, the reader’s subconscious presumably registers these letters as “real”: perhaps as though they had been sent to the reader rather than to the characters.) These envelopes and cards were interspersed with pages of printed collages of all sorts, mostly with a romantic and classical ambiance. It was one of the first times I had seen that many items affixed to pages in a print book, and I knew that it had involved both creativity and a large budget to achieve such a compelling narrative.

So what does all of this mean to a print book designer or marketer in the present decade? Here are some thoughts:

Why They Work

I have heard the term “reader involvement device” in marketing venues. Basically, readers of promotional material (and I would extend this to fiction in the case of the Griffin and Sabine books) want to participate in what they are reading. It makes reading a print book more of a tactile experience and a more immersive experience as well. In a marketing piece, this may involve tearing out a business reply card to request further information on a product. When I was growing up, it involved putting a dime in a slot and sending back the mailer to request “something further.” All of this creates a relationship between either the marketer or the print book’s author and the reader.

In fact, I would argue that (within reason) if the reader involvement device is a little more challenging, the reader likes it even more. For instance, I’ve seen similar print books that have treasure maps affixed to the interior pages, or even puzzles or other intellectual challenges you have to successfully complete before moving onward in the book. This concept of reader involvement has also been big online in the past two decades, with interactive fiction, which changes the progress of the narrative as you make different decisions during the “game.”

But in this case, what has become a staple of the online gaming world is equally effective in involving the reader in either a fictional work (a story) or an interactive marketing piece (still a story).

Options to Consider

Here are some thoughts as to how you can include extra printed items in your print books or even your marketing materials:

  1. You can “tip on” (add to the outside of a printed press signature, usually with something like fugitive glue) a transparent pouch for a CD or DVD. Given the advances in music recording (i.e., digital music files), this might be more appropriate for a computer software premium for your print book (maybe the entire book on CD, allowing readers to search content automatically by subject matter). You could also include video files or supplemental computer programs. The key is, you produce the CDs or DVDs separately and have the book printer glue the little vinyl pouches to the interior back covers of the books. Or you can include what’s called a “hanger,” a separate piece of card stock bound between book press signatures and onto which the plastic CD holder can be glued.
  2. You can fold up printed material, such as a map produced on a thicker commercial printing stock, and then glue it to a book page with a removable fugitive glue dot. What’s good about this is that the glue holds the map in place, but it can be easily removed without damaging the print book page or the additional printed map. Keep in mind that when you add something like this within the text block of a book, it makes the text block fatter (sometimes in an uneven way). As I recall from my experience back in the 1990s with the Griffin and Sabine books, the inserts were single-page letters folded and inserted into the envelopes that had been tipped onto pages in such a way that they were reasonably flat. The postcard tip-ons in the books were even flatter.
  3. If you are including a full-page addition on a different commercial printing stock, you can bind this between two press signatures (printers usually call this an insert rather than a tip-on). For instance, I used to receive promotional graphic arts magazines in the mail that included ads for various custom printing papers. The publisher of the magazine just bound these full-page inserts into the perfect-bound magazines, albeit between signatures.

Custom Printing Considerations

Tip-ons and inserts can be a powerful tool because they involve the reader. Even a single-page advertisement on a stock that differs from the main paper in a magazine will affect the reader’s subconscious. After all, her or his fingers can tell the difference even before the intellect registers this change. That said, this can be an expensive addition to your magazine, print book, or marketing piece.

To keep costs down, here are some suggestions:

  1. If you add a tip-on within a printed press signature, the addition has to be done manually. (The printer has to pay workers to add the tip-ons one at a time by hand.) Hand-work takes time, slows down production, and costs money. However, in some cases you can include an addition (like a separate sheet of paper on a different printing stock) by placing it in a different unit of the binder (just as a separate press signature occupies a separate pocket in the bindery equipment). As the binding process progresses, the press signature–or the additional, separate sheet of paper–is fed into the stack of signatures that eventually comprise the print book’s text block.
  2. If you need to position an additional insert, or tip-on, or hanger, in a particular place and it doesn’t fall conveniently between press signatures, consider breaking a larger signature into smaller ones. For example, you could break a 32-page press signature into two 16-page signatures and include the insert between the two. Keep in mind that if you break a press signature in two like this, you will have two signatures to print, and extra press runs drive up the cost of a job.
  3. Finally, ask your print provider about automated work vs. hand-work. Make a mock-up or prototype of the kind of insert you want to include. For instance, make a little plastic envelope, insert a CD, and hot-melt glue this to the inside back cover of a sample (prototype) book. (You may even want to request a printer’s paper dummy that you can modify to show him what you’re looking for.) If you can stay away from hand-work and instead modify your design to involve more automated production work, you will save money.

End Thoughts

Adding tip-ons and inserts (whether you use fugitive glue–which is like rubber cement–or regular, hot-melt spot glue), or even using hangers to add these little extras to your catalogs, magazines, and promotional pieces, can be very exciting to the reader, and it can especially add value to a graphic novel or gaming product. In fact, one of the tip-ons I found in a booklet I received about five years ago was a small video player. A short video explained a cross between an interactive computer game and a graphic novel. By pairing the sound and visual impact of the video with the printed images on the page, this particular marketing premium set itself apart from other sales tools. Such a promotional piece may be expensive, but it can also be worth the price (i.e., an investment in future product sales).

Regardless, make sure you involve your book printer early with any of these products. Ask about budgets and ways to minimize costs, but also ask for samples of what has been successful in the past. (That is, always use physical samples to communicate your goals.)


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