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Specifying Divider Tabs

In a prior issue of Quick Tips, I discussed specifying ring binders. A closely related topic is how to specify the tab dividers used in ring binders. The following information will also help you produce spiral bound, GBC-bound (comb-bound), Wire-O-bound, and perfect-bound books such as directories, cookbooks, etc., with tabs. You'll be surprised at how many books--including telephone books--use these dividers.

In bound books other than ring-binders, tabs are inserted between signatures and then folded in. If they extended beyond the face trim, the trimming process would shear them off. Once the book has been produced, the divider tabs can then be folded out.

Tabs tend to be specified as 1/4", 3/8", or 1/2" (in depth/height) with 1/2" being the most common. Smaller height tabs tend also to be smaller in width and come more to a bank. Most have rounded corners. Square edge tabs, or any other shape not commonly specified, would require unique (costly) cutting dies.

The term "bank of tabs" refers to a complete row, from the top to the bottom of a book or binder. A four-tab bank contains four tabs, an eight-tab bank contains eight tabs, and so forth. Tab makers also refer to the "cut" of the tabs. A one-fourth cut includes four tabs; a one-eighth cut includes eight tabs in a bank.

A bank can have between one tab (10" long, for instance) and twenty tabs (1/2" long, for instance). A good rule of thumb in specifying tabs for an 11" sheet would be to indent 1/2" on either side (giving you 10") and then divide this by the number of tabs you want (lets say six tabs, which would each be 1.66" long and 1/2", 3/8", or 1/4" deep). This is especially useful information when you're setting type for the tabs.

What happens if you can't get all the type you want on such small tabs? One option is to specify more than one bank of tabs. This would significantly lengthen the tabs and give you more room for type. Instead of ten tabs in a bank, providing minimal room for type, you could specify two banks of five (wider) tabs. Or, you could mix the number of tabs in the two banks. One bank could have four tabs, and the other bank could have six. Most tab manufacturers will provide a clear plastic overlay to help you design your tabs. These templates will show the length (how wide the tab is) and height (the depth of the tab) of various tabs as well as their spacing within a bank of tabs. They can also help you specify and fit type within the tab dimensions.

To protect the tabs you can add a strip of clear acetate over the drilled holes so the tabs won't pull out of the binder and/or a strip of mylar to cover and reinforce the tabs themselves and keep them from bending and tearing. Usually these mylar coatings can be specified in various colors, and these colors can even be mixed within a bank of tabs.

Also consider whether you will need to print text copy only on the tabs or on both the tabs and the body of the sheet (the actual sheet to which each tab is affixed). Ink printed on these sheets should be heat resistant, and wax-free varnishes should be used, due to the high heat used to attach mylar to the tabs. Otherwise the ink will run, smear, and mottle when the heat is applied.

Finally, consider using porous sheets for the tabs. Mylar can be attached more easily and successfully to uncoated stock, and coated stocks printed with heavy coverage can allow for trapped air bubbles that mar the quality of the final tab dividers. Have your printer also avoid excessive amounts of anti-offset powder since this keeps the mylar from being adequately attached to the sheet.

Copyright Information

A reader of the Quick Tips article on tinting printing sheets sent an e-mail recently, questioning the legality of photographing the texture of a brand of printing paper and printing this design as a repeating motif on the pages of an annual report. In my e-mail reply to him I explained a few nuances of copyright law that demonstrate why this was not copyright infringement. I think this information might be useful to other readers of Quick Tips. This is what I said:

Copyright law protects original expressions of authorship once fixed in a tangible medium. This includes visual art. If one were to interpret the copyright law literally, one could argue that Zanders holds copyright in every single sheet of Elephant Hide it produces. However, the copyright law is not absolute, nor black and white. Commonplace patterns and designs are not afforded protection, as there must be a minimum of unique artistic expression for something to be considered original artwork under the law. Processes and familiar symbols, patterns and designs are among the works specifically excluded from copyright protection.

In essence, Elephant Hide is a process that produces an infinite variety of marbleized patterns on a textured paper. The Zanders paper products web site describes Elephant Hide paper as having a "marble-like veining, which, along with shade and caliper, varies from sheet to sheet, giving the paper a handmade appearance.” Few people would argue that any one page of this marbleized pattern was so distinguishable from every other sheet as to be protected by copyright law. Yet such uniqueness is requisite for a copyrightable work. Again, since the amount of creativity required for copy protection is not strictly defined, each situation deserves individual analysis. When in doubt, the best solution is to contact the owner of the work or discuss the sample with a lawyer well versed in copyright law.

Automation Compatible Bulk Mail

A reader of the Quick Tips article about designing for cheaper bulk mailing sent in the following correction, noting that "in order for a self-mailer to be automation compatible it doesn't matter whether the fold is at the top or bottom of a mailpiece. Either way it will have to be sealed with a wafer seal or glue spot. If the fold [is] at the bottom, you're only required to have [one] wafer seal (in the middle). If folded at the top you must have [two] wafer seals [and] they must be within [one] inch of [the] sides."


[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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