Tag Archives: Print on demand

Binding Better Books

Photo of hand-bound book

Over the years I have experimented with a lot of different ways to bind books. After learning to bind flat sheets with glue using the perfectbinding process, I moved on to more advanced methods involving folding and stitching signatures and attaching them to hard covers. Casebinding is a great way to add beauty and durability to books, and to protect the pages from unnecessary wear in normal handling. These sturdy and handsome books just feel really good to hold and to read. The coptic stitching and casebinding processes are lengthy compared to softcover perfectbinding, but the results are far superior.

Closeup photo of arched spine

Detail showing arched inner spine

A properly made book of this type should lay open easily without damage to the spine, and of course, close satisfactorily and remain so. The inner spine should form an arch, bending away from the case, allowing the leaves to lay over to either side.

Diagram of nested pages

Four sheets of paper nest to make a 16-page signature

Planning the text layout is the first step in building a book. Beyond all the regular page conventions regarding margins, gutters, type selection and formatting to position the text properly on each page, the layout must be imposed for the press sheet. This process locates each page so that when the press sheet is folded down into signatures, the pages are ordered properly. Four-page signatures are easily accommodated in most word processing programs by use of a booklet utility, which will order and position the pages automatically. Eight or more pages per signature are usually handled by the digital printer with special imposition software.Sixteen-page signatures are the most common, consisting of four sheets of paper inserted within each other. However, any number divisible by four will work.

Diagram of stacked 16-page signatures

Ten 16-page signatures stack to make a 160 page book

The signatures are stacked and stitched into place next to each other by any of several methods. Coptic stitching binds the pages to each signature and the signatures to each other to create an assembly called the text block. The text block is glued to a flexible mull with wings that will attach to the cover boards.

Photo of comparison between round and square backs

Flat vs. round backs

There are basically two kinds of spines: flat and rounded. The rounded spine is more traditional and was developed to reduce the added bulk offered by the cord used to stitch the signatures. The additional spread is fanned out at the spine, resulting in a book that is more uniform in thickness. The flat type, sometimes known as smyth sewn, utilizes finer thread and more stitches to overcome the same problem. Either method results in a durable binding that will stand up to normal usage for many years.

If you decide to bind your own books, a lot of your time will be invested in doing so. If you value your time, it only stands to reason that you should use the very best materials that you can lay your hands on. However, I would suggest that the beginner start with anything they can get for the purpose of learning. Good stitching technique takes practice. I know I made at least ten books from start to finish before I had anything that I was unashamed to show. My first efforts were crooked, too tight on one end or too loose. I missed stitches and tore out holes. I had big nasty knots that bulged at the spine, and my books didn’t open or close properly.

But now, with thousands of stitches behind me, I can say they are looking quite respectable. It takes time and patience to get it right. Learn when and where to tug on the thread, and how hard to pull so that it is just snug. Concentrate on consistency so that your stitching looks even and orderly. I spent a lot of evenings in a comfortable chair stitching signatures and listening to a TV or radio program.

Photo of stitching frame

Home-made stitching loom for Coptic stitching.

During this sojourn into stitching signatures, try out different types and weights of thread, different needles and spacing between stitches. Check out the difference between using waxed vs. unwaxed thread.  Read up on the various methods of stitching with cords or bands. Try your hand at ethiopian coptic stitches or try to emulate smyth sewing.  Any of these methods will produce good books. It is really only a matter of choosing the way you are most comfortable with and then practicing until you get it right.

I like waxed thread and stitching with bands made from scrap bookcloth. For my 6×9 journals I use three bands each 1.25″ wide. I punch eight holes into four sheets at a time making sixteen page signatures. I use the kettle stitch on each end and loop through the cross stitch over each band to tie the signatures together. I keep my stitches snug by tugging parallel and tight to the spine at the end of each course.

Endsheets go before and after the textblock. One leaf is glued to the cover board and folds to make the first and last loose pages. They serve as hinges between the cover and the pages.  Although many bookbinders will add the endsheets afterward using glue, I prefer to stitch my endsheets to the textblock.

Photo of first PVA application

Applying first coat of PVA

When the assembly and stitching of the textblock is complete, I apply a single coat of PVA cement over the threads and between the signatures at the spine, making sure that the block is nice and square and not twisted.

Photo of rounding the spine

Gently rounding the spine

Once the PVA has set up a bit (not tacky, but still workable), I round the spine by pinching the textblock and hammering lightly along the seams, driving the outside pages slightly away from the center ones. By gently working the spine alternately from side to side using the hammer and your hands, the spine takes on a rounded appearance, and the leaf side opposite the spine has a marked concave shape to the block.

I work the block until it is almost to the desired shape, but yet a little flat, and at this point I choose to trim the three sides on the guillotine cutter.  I then finish rounding of the spine, which results in a much shallower concave profile on the leaf side. Alternately, I could round the spine completely before trimming in order to produce a flat result.

Photo of headband as it is glued to the bookblock

I made a pseudo headband using a Post-It note wrapped around a piece of twine. The clamp is used to help maintain the spine’s shape as the glue is applied.

Photo of comparison between rounded and flat spines

Rounded and square bindings

When the spine is rounded and the block trimmed to my satisfaction, I apply another coat of PVA. To this I add the mull and attach decorative headbands. A final coat of PVA is applied over the entire spine and allowed to dry completely. I should mention here that up until now a lot of effort is made to ensure that the textblock is shaped properly. If it is not cut squarely or is lopsided it will be impossible to correct beyond this point.

Spine laminates and bookboards

The cover base is made from davey board and construction paper. I cut my boards the same width as the nominal page width and 3/8″ taller. The spine width is determined by holding the boards in place and wrapping a piece of paper around the spine. Score the paper by running a fingernail along the edge of the boards. Transfer this measurement to two pieces of construction paper and score them similarly. I made a jig for forming a round spine by gluing the two pieces together around a piece of PVC pipe inset between two boards. I assemble the two pieces of scored construction paper with PVA between, working them until they form tightly around the curve of the jig. You will have to experiment a little to find the right size pipe and inset specs to make it work for your book, or if you are a competent scrapbooker and crafter, you can just form the sandwich by hand and eyeball it to get the right shape.

Photo of rounded spine jig

Rounded spine jig for laminating

Photo of trimming the laminated spine

Trimming the laminated spine

Trim the wings from the bottom layer so that only one pair extends to approximately 3/4 to 1 inch to either side. Assemble the boards by gluing to the wings either side of the spine, leaving a small gap equal to the thickness of the bookboard between the spine and the boards. Adjust the curve of the spine if needed to approximate the textblock thickness by placing weights on the boards and allow to dry.

A simple but very nice effect can be added at this point by gluing paper cutouts to the davey board prior to covering with bookcloth, producing an embossed look. I like to glue bands across the spine to represent the cords used in medieval binding.

Photo showing cutouts glued to bookboards

Any sort of shapes can be used

Any number of shapes can be utilized to create depth. But there are limits. A bit of experimenting will help you to find the right thicknesses and shapes to use to achieve the right effect. To be successful at this bookbinding stuff, one has to dive in there and make a lot of books. Doing so will increase your knowledge of materials and methods. It will also increase your reverence for those that went before us in pioneering the art, develop your style and hone your craft to a more respectable level.

Photo showing the gluing of decorative spine bands

Gluing Decorative Spine Bands onto the formed spine.

Anybody can cobble a book together. It is the fine points and the details that set the novices apart from the true crafter. Choosing the right covering for your book is part of that experience thing. It took me a while to discover the right properties, mainly because I ignored the bookbinding suppliers at first, being mesmerized by the selection of fabrics at JoAnn’s. I used transfer adhesive to stick the fabric to the boards and they looked great! At first, it seemed the way to go because for one thing, the bb suppliers had a minimum order policy. What was I going to do with ten yards of the same material? I wanted variety, man! Besides, the dealers only had limited choices.

The fabric stores had a rainbow of colors and surfaces, and I could purchase small amounts. But as my journey continued, I began to see that my earlier books were starting to sag, looking tired and even wrinkled. I discovered that the adhesive I had used was starting to fail after about four years. This was not good. I had settled on transfer adhesive because it was not as messy as glue. Production orders could be processed in less time with no risk of damaging the books with glue on unwanted surfaces. It seemed a no-brainer.

But now I think that was a mistake. Bookcloth is designed for the purpose of covering books. It is stiffer than regular cloth and it has a coating on the back side that prevents the application of liquid glue from bleeding through to the front side. In comparing costs, I found that the cost of the transfer adhesive plus the fabric exceeded the cost of real bookcloth and liquid adhesive! (Dang! Those bookbinder guys really have it together!).

Photo of rubbing the cover with a stylus

Rubbing down the cover with a stylus to enhance the cutouts

But now I had to learn to use the liquid glue, despite the obvious drawbacks.  So I opened my mind and researched the process. To my surprise, I found it to be not so difficult and very beneficial. In fact, I kicked myself for taking four years to discover it. (Dang again!). The two main things that sold me on PVA were the much lower cost and its versatility. Once I learned to work with it I decided it was the only way to go. Here is a good tutorial on gluing by a master craftsman. In fact, I recommend watching all of his videos for dozens of good tips on bookbinding. Remember, it’s the details and fine points that set you apart from the others.

I like to have a one inch wrap margin for my covers. I start by coating the bookboards and spine with PVA using a roller. I then center the bookcloth and proceed to rub it down starting from the spine and working outward, being careful to push the cloth down into the crevices with my fingers as I go.  Once I have it fairly smooth and even, I trim the corners at 45 degrees and wrap the long sides first, taking care to burnish the surface well, and wiping off excess glue with a damp cloth. Then I crimp the corners and turn the short sides in.

Photo of burnishing leather spine

Using a bone folder to burnish bonded leather to the formed spine

Photo of Butterflies book

Paper and string beneath bonded leather bookcloth

To finish, I continue to rub and burnish the bookcloth, using a stylus and bone folder to work the surface to form around the cutouts, to produce the embossed effect. The finished cover should be placed under weights to ensure that the bookboards dry flat, due to the wet adhesive applied to only one side. Otherwise they will curl as the glue cures. Be sure that all the glue has set and the cover is dry and the boards are flat before proceeding to the final assembly.

Photo of Finished Half Leather Journal

Finished Half Leather Journal

Next time I will be covering the process of making and attaching end sheets as well as final assembly into a finished book.

I  welcome comments and any suggestions you might have for future articles. I love to talk and write about bookbinding and publishing, so hit me with some feedback!

Until next time,

Michael

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Book Authors Drop Old Paradigms and Pick Up New Tools

No question about it, computer technology has radically changed the way authors develop their books.Photo of Michael Faris

The old publishing paradigm presented some formidable hurdles for an author. Aside from writing the book, the remaining task of formatting and otherwise readying a manuscript for printing and subsequent publishing used to be a daunting and expensive process..

In the past authors inspected galley proofs from the typesetter for errors and typos. Once they were satisfied their copy was correct, they waited (sometimes for weeks) for the book printer to generate proofs in the form of a blueline. Photographs and pictures needed to be rendered by a completely different process that involved color separations and halftoning. Proofs were made from the same films intended for platemaking.

All in all, the process was painstakingly slow and unforgiving. Visualizing the final outcome took some experience and imagination. All the parts had to be wrestled into place with careful considerations about the way everything fit. Resizing or reworking any of the elements involved more time and expense, making the process tedious and pushing actual publication dates out further.

Authors had to rely on the services of graphic arts specialists in order to get professional results. Typesetters, color separators, strippers and proofers all contributed to the process. All these methods and procedures jacked up the cost of production, not to mention the cost of additional materials consumed in the prep stages.

Not only was the author forced to pay for these services (in advance), but to make matters worse he usually had to compromise design considerations in order to conform to the process. As if that wasn’t enough, the actual production was slow. By the time he held an actual printed book, there were months of time and thousands of dollars already invested. The icing on the cake was when additional errors were discovered on the five thousand (or more) copies, all printed and bound.

Today most of the middle operations associated with publishing have been eliminated and replaced with a new workflow designed for digital production of printed books. Now the creative and motivated author is able to visualize the final product on his desktop computer. Most WYSIWYG programs are fairly accurate in their page renditions, within the limits of what can be seen on a monitor as compared to printed page.

Now you have ultimate control over content and design. Electronic tools are available that allow you to work with pictures and graphics to format your work any way you want. Changes can be accommodated with the click of a mouse. Different versions can be set up using modifiable styles that change the appearance of the document instantly. Image quality is better than it has ever been, owing to the recent advancements in color control and imaging technology.

Perhaps best of all is that with today’s tools an author can produce a finished document, one that he has generated completely on his own, all formatted and press ready without any outside assistance whatsoever. In some instances, he can submit a file for printing and get it back in his hands —the same day! Not only that, but this first proof is exactly what the finished product will look like —the paper, the image quality, the page order and positioning —in short it is just like the finished product will be in production, because the proofing process is the same as the production process.

This opens up vast opportunities for authors. Now there is an economical way to produce material that can be marketed in small quantities and then revised and re-issued. These test cycles make it easy to improve the effectiveness of a document and help to tailor it for a specific purpose. Without this ability, many good ideas are abandoned because of the expense of adequate testing.

The new tools are rapidly evolving, offering better ways to communicate. Small quantities of quality printed books can now be created on demand by just about anyone.

So what’s next? The writing’s on the wall… er monitor. The industry has taken great steps to streamline, economize and otherwise develop systems to produce books with less impact on the environment. All of this research and investment in machines and technology to print on paper will continue to evolve as the old school dies out. In its place will be the children of the future. These people will not remember paper-based books because all of their interests and needs will be delivered electronically. The information is too timely, too fleeting to be recorded in print media. Storing printed books will not be practical. Traditional books will become dinosaurs of the past.

But complete control over content and appearance will likely remain in the hands of the creator. Imaginative authors will be able to add additional media (videos and sound clips) to the electronic versions of their work. They will be able to deliver content targeted at specific profile characteristics in small focused quantities. Building, modifying and enhancing archived data will continue to get easier as more software tools become available.

On-demand printing on paper is clearly a temporary niche in publishing. Its features pale compared to those offered by completely electronic media. It will certainly fade into the background as people gradually change the way they acquire and absorb information. It is only a short run to the next level. The real challenge, more than ever will be to be heard in this growing mass of confusion. Where will you fit in?

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

Self Publishing’s Biggest Hurdle

Photo of Michael Faris - About Time Publishing

Michael Faris

So you hear about this great book that you simply gotta have. What do you do?

Most folks go online to Amazon and do a quick search. Payment is by credit card and the item is either shipped or made available for download. Simple and effective. Customer gets product and seller gets paid.

This seems like a very efficient system on the surface. But is it really?

Why did the consumer even want to buy this book? Was it something that Amazon did? Is the fact that they were able to find the book listed at Amazon have anything to do with promoting the merchandise?

I have an idea that building a demand for your work is the biggest chunk of a successful author’s marketing plan. It is far more important than developing distribution systems, because if there is no demand for the product, then there will be no sales. In fact, it could become a drag because of associated costs, such as inventory or membership or listing fees. Distribution arrangements must be managed, which takes valuable time. Further, you could be subject to restrictions that could compromise your flexibility when it comes to setting prices and selling in other venues.

I’m not saying that that you don’t need a way to distribute your products. But I am raising a few questions:

  • Is a big worldwide distribution channel really necessary for your work?
  • Does an author need to share revenue by way of sales commissions to a distributor?
  • Are there other potentially more profitable ways to set up a supply chain?

True, dyed-in-the-wool DIYers thrill at the chance to produce something through their own ingenuity. To create a work of art is a beautiful thing. To be able to sell it is even better than beautiful! But sometimes production costs for small quantities of quality goods leaves no margin for profit when you go to sell it. That’s why it is important to examine every aspect of your plan to market your work.

Since profit equals the selling price minus the costs ( production + distribution), it would stand to reason that anything that can be done to reduce the cost will increase the profit. This goes for anything that influences these costs.

I will be covering some ideas about shaving the cost of producing and marketing books for writers and self-publishers in later posts. I invite feedback and suggestions. What are some of the best ways a fledgling author can promote and distribute their work.

I would like to leave you with some food for thought:

Search engines can find just about anything, including the distributor of your books… even if the only distributor is You!

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing

POD Books on a Digital Press

Freedom of the press has taken on a whole new perspective. Control is finally in the hands of the author. Gone are the expensive and time-consuming middle steps that used to limit the production of printed material. In its place are user-friendly tools to communicate with state-of-the-art technology designed to print on demand.

Digital presses evolved from electrostatic copiers. The technology does not require plates in the traditional sense. Instead, the image is transmitted to the imaging cylinder electronically. Each revolution builds a new image. This makes it possible to print consecutive pages in order as they come off the press. Not only do they print consecutively, but the run can also be configured to print both sides of the sheet. This is how digital books are printed.

Electronic printing is not in its infancy. It has evolved from the smeared and often dirty-looking black and white copies to the sophisticated full color quality printing we see today. Mainstream software to communicate with these new printing machines is available universally. The interface is intuitive, making the preparation of materials easy and quite flexible.

In most cases, an author can submit a complete book, consisting of consecutive pages formatted to the desired page size. The digital press operator can drop the file into standard templates that will arrange the pages on the press sheet according to the chosen binding method. Documents can be created in most word-processing programs such as MS Word, or any program that will yield a PDF, a standard of the industry. After uploading your file, many online facilities provide simple tools to help you finalize the look of your project. You can even request a single proof copy before committing to any quantity.

Many printers who use Print-on-Demand technology have finishing services, such as binding, laminating and stamping. Printers who specialize in books have auto-binders that run inline with the press. The cost of digital printing is very competitive, so it is wise to shop around and compare services. Don’t forget to figure in the cost of shipping.

I purchase the printed sheets off the digital press and bind my own books. Over the years I have written and produced several books made in this way and have found the process to be efficient and economical. I can make as few or as many as I need at a time, even produce different versions in the same press run. I can add color pages at any position, photos, charts, diagrams and anything that I can get to work in my page layouts.

I will post some information about binding your own work in the near future. It is fun and very rewarding.

Soon,

Michael Faris

About Time Publishing