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Printing and Binding Options

To help you make an informed decision among the numerous bindery options, here are descriptions of several ways you can attach loose sheets of paper or complete signatures (printed press sheets folded multiple times to yield complete 4-, 8-, 16-, or 32-page portions of a book). Bindery methods vary according to cost, durability, and appearance.

Case Binding
Also called edition binding, this method results in what is commonly called a hardcover book. It is the most expensive option yet also the most durable. Stacked signatures are gathered and sewn together for strength. This book block is trimmed on three sides and then glued into a spine, front cover, and back cover (a single unit) made of binders board covered with paper or cloth. The first and last sheets (end-sheets) are then pasted to the board. To reduce the cost of thisbinding method, you can set perfect-bound book blocks into cases rather than first sewing the signatures together and then gluing them into the covers.

Perfect Binding
Like case-bound books, perfect-bound books are also made up of stacked signatures. These are gathered into a book and the edges of the spine are ground off (or notched). When this book block is glued into a paper cover, the glue that attaches the signatures to the spine can flow into the notches or ground-off areas. The increased surface area for the glue allows for more permanent adhesion. The covers and book blocks are then trimmed flush. Unlike case binding, perfect binding involves only gluing the spine to the cover. Without reinforced endsheets or a binders board cover material, perfect-bound books are less durable than case bound books but are significantly cheaper. Sewing the signatures and/or notching the spine rather than grinding it improves durability.

Lay-Flat Binding
Perfect-bound books do not lie flat when opened because the spines are fully glued to the cover. By using a flexible glue on only the edges of the spine, perfect-bound technical manuals or cookbooks, and the like, can be made to lie flat on a table. This method is more expensive than perfect binding and requires more time for the glue to cure.

Saddle-Stitching
Signatures are nested (set one into the other rather than stacked as in the previous methods) and then stitched through the fold with staples made of thin wire. These books can lie flat. However, saddle-stitching only works for shorter books of up to 80 pages or so. These books also have no spine on which to print a title.

Side-Stitching
Side stitched books are essentially loose sheets of paper stapled together. A paper cover can be wrapped around the entire stack and glued to form a printable spine. However, side-stitched books (National Geographic Magazine is an example) do not lie flat.

GBC Binding
Also called plastic comb binding, this method is good for technical manuals that have a lot of pages and must lie flat. The stack of pages comprising the book is punched with a series of holes along the binding edge through which a plastic comb is inserted. This comb, which curls into a cylinder along the length of the book can provide a screen-printable spine. It can also accommodate numerous pages, and pages can be added or removed as needed.

Wire-O and Spiral Binding
Both of these mechanical bindings hold far fewer pages than comb binding. Wire-O is a series of parallel wire loops attached along a wire, while spiral binding is a metal or plastic continuous loop passing through the punched holes in a spiral from the top to the bottom of the book. Neither binding method will accept as many pages as GBC. Also neither provides a printable spine or allows for pages to be added or removed. However, both binding methods allow the product to lie flat.

Plastic Coil Binding
This is just like spiral binding. However, since wire can be crushed, plastic is a resilient alternative. Also, plastic coil bindings come in multiple colors.

Tape Binding, Post Binding, and Velo Binding
These are often used for presentations. In the first case, the covers and book pages are taped together over the binding edge. In post binding, screws are used in much the same way as side stitching (but the books can be disassembled and pages can be added or removed). In velo binding, a thin, flat piece of plastic runs the length of the bind edge on the front and back of the book, and thin plastic pegs attach the two through the pages of the book.

Ring-Binders
This is exactly what the name implies: the binders we used in school. The vinyl covers can be silk screened or paper inserts can be printed and then inserted behind the clear covering of some ring-binders.

Mechanical bindings (GBC, Wire-O, spiral, plastic coil, tape, velo, post, and ring) are more expensive per unit than perfect binding or saddle-stitching, and unlike most offset printing operations, their unit cost does not decrease with increased volume. They also require ample margins since they take up a lot of room at the bind edge. On the positive side, they can allow for the inclusion of many inserts of various types and sizes within the text. Because of their cost, mechanical bindings are usually best suited to short runs.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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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