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How Does Spiral Binding Differ from Wire-O Binding?

Both kinds of mechanical bindings may look similar at first glance. Each has loops of wire that hold together the pages of your book. However, if you look more closely, you will see that with the spiral binding, a single piece of wire extends in an actual spiral from the top to the bottom of the book. In contrast, Wire-O binding is made up of a series of parallel, double-loops attached to a wire that extends the length of the spine.

A Wire-O-bound book can lay flat on a table, just like a spiral-bound book. However, due to the diagonal nature of the spiral, when you lay a spiral-bound book flat on the table, the facing pages will not align exactly. In contrast, since the wire loops in a Wire-O-bound book are parallel to one another, when you lay the book flat on a table, facing pages will align exactly. This may be more desirable if you have images in your book that extend across two pages like a large photo or a map.

What Should You Remember About Coil Bindings?

1. Mechanical binding costs at least 20 percent more than perfect binding (the exact amount depending, of course, on printing variables such as the page count and press run), with Wire-O, plastic-coil, and spiral binding costing a little more than GBC binding (also known as plastic-comb binding). The book has to be trimmed on all four sides prior to binding, and the binding work itself is labor-intensive, requiring feeding the wire through all the holes. This usually involves handwork.

2. Both Wire-O and spiral bindings can be crushed, making it nearly impossible to turn the pages. However, plastic-coil (a variant of spiral using plastic wire) is more resilient and therefore minimizes the chance of crushing the binding (although if it is not crushed, the wire version actually lasts longer than the plastic version). Keep in mind, though, that like its metal counterpart, plastic-coil does not allow facing pages to align exactly.

3. Wire-O binding can be used to bind books that are up to 1.125” thick. Plastic-coil binding can be used for books that are up to 1” thick. Spiral (wire) binding is appropriate for books up to 7/8” thick.

4. Thicker books of this nature need GBC or plastic-comb binding. This method is appropriate for books up to 1.75” thick. Also requiring handwork (that is, time consuming and therefore costly work), this method involves inserting the long, flat plastic tines of the comb through the holes at the bind-edge of the book. The large, flat comb is made to curl in on itself into a cylinder going the length of the book (like a spine), holding all the pages together and allowing you to fold the book back around on itself so you only see one page. These books can also lay flat. Unfortunately, GBC binding is not particularly durable. With use and over time, the tines of the comb come unhooked from themselves and release portions of the pages. On the plus side, GBC comes in a multitude of colors, like plastic-coil binding.

The most important question is why would anyone specify such time-consuming, fragile, and unattractive binding methods? Basically, if you are producing a limited run (under 1,000 copies) of a manual (for instance) that will need to be opened flat for photocopying or referring to while you work on a computer (or if you’re printing a cookbook that must lay flat on a table while you cook or bake), these are your best choices. For everything else, choose perfect-binding, the usual method for paperback book binding that provides you with a strong, reliable spine. The other option is saddle stitching, a bindery method that provides no spine and holds together all the pages with staples at the fold.

What is a Hickey?

It’s not what you thought in high school. To a printer it means something else.

When dust or a paper particle sticks to the press sheet and then is covered with the ink film as the press blanket comes into contact with the paper, a small white circle is formed on the sheet with a bit of ink at its center. Basically, the fleck of paper prevents the ink from reaching the substrate.

If you look at a number of printed sheets, you will see that the hickey appears and then disappears. It is the pressman’s job to look for hickeys and get rid of the dust or paper particles, but hickeys are unavoidable nevertheless.

The one time the hickey is permanent is when the dust or paper fleck is actually in the printing plate. If dust lands on the film being used to burn a printing plate (for printers not yet using “direct to plate” technology), the dust is actually imaged onto the plate and therefore shows up on every press sheet. (Ask a printer to show you a sample so you will be familiar with what dust and hickeys look like.)

This is why it’s imperative to check the proof for dust, particularly when you’re working with a printer who images film and then uses the film to burn plates.


[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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