Bookbinding 101

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Blood, sweat and tears have led to this… a voluminous manuscript, report, catalogue or the contents of a maiden newsletter or magazine… and your reputation at stake. Being a labour of love, commissioned work or an assignment as part of your everyday chores, you are not letting anything to chance. As such, you stick closely to the designer doing your book. Could we try out this font? What about this colour?… He indulges you. After all, ‘a satisfied customer is a paying customer’, could well be an aphorism.

Now, your book is at 350 pages, your catalogue at 38 pages. So far, so good. That’s when you notice the designer trying to sneak in an extra 10 pages into your book and an extra 2 pages into your catalogue. In your mind, these extra pages translate into an extra cost for you; an extra cost that you could do without considering the quantities you will be printing. It boils down to the printing process and the finishing for your book, says the designer. In short, bookbinding. Think of it as landscaping, he adds, which makes you wonder that, perhaps, his dream was to be an architect in another life.

Simply put, bookbinding is the art or process of binding books. It involves assembling the book physically from an ordered stack of paper sheets (in your case, printed with your material) which are then folded together into sections (hence why the total pages of your publication have to be divisible by 4 – or, preferably, by 8) and bound. The art has evolved over the years, moving from hand binding where a few copies could be done in a day to mechanised binding where it is possible to bind thousands of copies in a day.

Why bookbinding? Bookbinding ensures that your book is well protected as well as being aesthetically appealing (from whence we derived the saying that ‘Never judge a book by its cover’.) Depending on such variables as the type of publication, budget, intended clientele or the client’s needs, there are quite a few types of bookbinding to choose from. The most common include saddle stitching, perfect binding and wire binding.

Saddle stitching involves stapling folded sheets together through a fold line that is basically the middle of the sheets when they are laid down flat atop each other. Once the sheets are folded after stapling, the fold line acts as the spine of the book. Besides being cost effective, saddle stitching is suitable for publications with relatively few pages (8- 80 pages or so). Publications that employ this method include exercise books, brochures, catalogues and newsletters.

Perfect binding is mostly used to bind books, both hardcover and paperbacks. It involves gluing the pages and the cover of the publication at the spine. To accommodate and protect the many pages inside the publication, perfect binding utilises covers that are heavier than the type of paper employed for the inside pages. Once the spine is done, the other three sides of the publication are trimmed for that ‘perfect’ edge and from which the method derives its name.

Wire, coil or spiral binding is commonly employed to bind documents and notebooks. It involves punching holes through the pages of a publication, then inserting coils through the holes. Its main advantages are that it is cost effective, plus it allows for the document to lie flat for when you need to reference the document as you do other tasks with your hands such as typing.