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Flaps on Perfect-Bound Book Covers

Perfect-bound books, known colloquially as soft-cover books, usually have covers that are trimmed flush with the text pages all the way around the book: head, foot, and face trim (everything but the spine).

This is not your only option.

Perfect-bound books can have covers with flaps. These books look like a cross between perfect-bound books and hard-cover books with printed book jackets. The look is quite elegant. Basically, the cover just extends approximately 3” beyond the text pages on the front and back of the book (for example, on a 6” x 9” book) and then is folded back to be (almost) flush with the text. You can print on the flaps (perhaps a description of the book on the front flap and a photo of the author and an author’s bio on the back flap).

The thing to remember is that the cover, with the flaps folded down, cannot be exactly flush with the text pages. It can either come almost to the edge of the text (1/16”), or it can extend 1/16” beyond the text.

In the first case, the cover is printed and then glued onto the book block with the flaps folded in. Then the book is trimmed. If the flaps (when folded-down) were to extend to the edge of the text pages, the trimmer knives that chop excess paper from the head, foot, and face of the book would trim right through the fold of the cover flaps, and the flaps would fall away. So they have to be a bit shorter than the text, when they are folded in, to avoid this problem.

In the second case, the cover flaps, when folded in, extend 1/16” beyond the text block. This looks significantly better than the former option, more like the cover boards of a case-bound (hard-cover) book. However, to achieve this effect, you first trim the text block and then you attach the covers. When this is done you trim the book again.

The first option requires one bindery operation. The second requires two. On a 2,000-copy perfect-bound book I recently priced for a client, the first option cost $600.00+ (the extra cost just for the flaps), and the second option cost $1,300.00+ (just for the flaps).

Why would anyone choose flaps that don’t quite reach the edge of the text? One word: money.

What can you do to minimize the ugliness if your budget doesn’t allow for the pricier version? You can choose a cover stock (and color) that matches the text. Perhaps a white cover over white text stock. The contrast would be visible but a little less jarring than, say, a cover heavily coated with dark ink that doesn’t quite reach the edge of the white text pages.

As a little test, go to the magazine rack in the grocery store or pharmacy and look at the covers of the magazines. My guess is that you will find at least a few covers with flaps (usually only the front cover flap in this case) that don’t quite reach the face trim. More than likely the contrast between the text and cover is minimized through paper and ink color choices, and the effect is less disturbing. And a perfect-bound magazine is really no different from a perfect-bound book. If the magazine is a weekly, with significantly more than a 2,000-copy press run (compared to the example above), the savings realized by using this “short fold” method would be dramatic over a 48- or 52-week publication schedule.

Embossing and Blind Embossing

What is the difference between embossing and blind embossing?

First of all, embossing involves the use of heat and pressure on a letterpress (as opposed to an offset press) to raise (emboss) or lower (deboss) portions of the paper (usually type or simple geometric forms like a logo). The printer uses a die of the image backed by a counter-die. The paper fits in-between.

A good way to envision this process is to think of a Notary Public’s seal (the two sides of this little machine crush the paper in-between into a round seal, raised from the surrounding paper).

Embossing and debossing give the paper an element of depth, like a sculpture or, more specifically, a relief.

Embossing and debossing are expensive for two reasons. First, you need to have a set of dies made ($500.00 or so). Second, you will usually need two passes on two different presses (offset and letterpress). Since most printers do not have both, the job must be sent out for embossing/debossing once the first printer has applied the ink to the page.

The first thing to remember about embossing or debossing is that it always follows the offset printing process. First the paper is printed; then it is embossed. Trying to do the reverse and feed an embossed piece of paper through an offset press will guarantee its being crushed by the press rollers.

The next thing to remember is that an embossed area on a job can be printed, foil stamped, or neither (blind). The first process lays down ink on the page, then extrudes the three-dimensional image. The second applies foil to the flat sheet, then extrudes the image. And the third process only uses the extruded paper to create the image. There is no ink or foil; hence, the embossing is “blind.” (In fact, the Notary Public’s seal, mentioned above, is an example of blind embossing.)


[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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