Book Binding Guide

Book Binding: The Ultimate Guide

There are a number of methods of binding books and each has its advantages and disadvantages depending on the purpose of the book or print product. Did you know that binding actually predates the invention of printing, paper and the alphabet system of writing? When the ancients moved from drawing symbols and pictographs onto stone and clay to writing on more pliable materials such as palm leaves, parchment, bamboo, wooden slats and papyrus, they needed ways to logically and neatly organise their larger documents by tying, sewing and gluing loose sheets together.

From there, binding methods were adapted, changed and progressed with technological advancement. From Chinese logographs, to the Archimedes drill and the steam engine powered press all the way to offset lithography and 21st century print communications, the history of binding is the history of the passion for language and literature.

In this guide, we discuss some of the most common binding techniques, highlighting each method’s characteristics, genre or book type and process to help you make an informed decision about which method is right for your project.

The binding method is usually dependent on a book’s physical size and thickness, its functionality and cost. However, within these limitations, there is scope for a variety of design possibilities. As such and because of the fact that binding decisions are typically based on practical considerations such as page count, number of critical crossovers, bulk and weight of stock, shipping, distribution method and printing quality, it is one of the most overlooked design options – in reality, a binding method can become an integral part of the editorial content of the print product.

Before we have a look at the most common binding techniques, here are some useful definitions to have in mind.

Book Binding – Key Terms




Also called a press form, a large sheet of paper printed with several pages, which upon folding becomes a section or all of a book. Folded signatures are gathered or inserted into one another to make a larger book.

Creep (push out / bulge)

Tendency of the inner pages of a saddle-stitched or sewn book to extend further from the spine than outer pages. The more pages, the more likely that this will occur.



Process of creating a ridge on paper to produce an accurate fold and prevent cracking. The width of the score should equal the caliper of the paper.

Mechanical binding

Any binding technique, including the use of combs and coils, that does not involve adhesives, sewing, or stitching.

Text block

Bound block of trimmed  signatures, including end sheets, which is then attached to the case.


Straight cut intended to remove excess paper or folds of signatures.

Sewn binding

Any method that uses thread to sew the signatures together.

Lay-flat binding

Stack of pages is adhered to a “cap” which binds the covers of the book so the pages move independently from the spine.

Adhesive binding

Versatile method of binding in which pages are adhered together with glue.

SOURCE: Sappi, The Standard, 06, 2015.

Perfect Binding / Paperback

Perfect Binding Overview

Perfect binding is the most widely used type of binding and is utilised for softcover books and trade paperback books. For this reason, it is also known as softcover binding. It was introduced in the 1920’s and enabled the mass production of inexpensive magazines, directories and paperback books. The printing method forms a flat printable spine, allowing for a title or information on the spine and the cover is usually made from a heavier weight cardstock paper that is coated or laminated to protect the ink on the cover.

The pages are held together using a strong adhesive. “Perfect binding” refers to the pages that have been cut out to be the same size allowing them to stack perfectly.

Perfect Binding Book Types

Trade, paperbacks, graphic novels, colouring books, literary journals, quarterly magazines, catalogues, soft cover children’s books, poetry books, autobiographies, collections.

Perfect Binding Process

Folded signatures (pages that are folded into sections) are stacked together in page order. The spine side is trimmed to get rid of the folded edges and made more rough to expose the paper fibers and increase the bonding of the glue. Strong thermal glue is applied along the spine and the book cover is wrapped around the block pages to adhere to the glue along the spine. After the glue sets, the book is trimmed.

Perfect Binding Characteristics

  • Perfect bound books do not lay flat when open.
  • The flat edge allows for the printing of a title on the spine.
  • It is a more economical alternative than hardback binding.
  • It has a neater appearance than stapled or saddle stitched booklets.
  • Easy to stack, package and ship.
  • The cover fold must be parallel to the paper grain.
  • The presentation is of a high quality with perfectly trimmed edges.
  • Less durable than hardcover books.
  • If there are too many pages, the head and foot of the book will damage over time.
Figure1: Example of paperback or perfect binding in different sizes

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A note on PUR:

PUR (polyurethane reactive) adhesive binding uses the same technology as standard perfect binding but since PUR is much stronger, this type of binding is highly resistant to thermal shocks from the environment. PUR has better flexibility characteristics and therefore less glue is required. It is the strongest bookbinding glue available. Due to its performance advantages over traditional perfect binding, PUR is a slightly more expensive binding option.

Hardback / Case-Bound Binding

Hardback Binding Overview

Hardcover binding is also called case binding and it is the most durable binding technique. All the major books used to be hardbound books. Thick cardboard is typically wrapped in cloth, leather, vinyl or another durable adhesive material to form the cover. At times, depending on the technique, a decorative headband is glued on the top and bottom edges of the signatures to give a finished look. Hardcover books are bound differently than softcover books and also use different types of paper. Case binding allows for more creativity in cover design as beautiful and intricate handwork, for example, is possible. Some hardcovers also have dust jackets as an extra layer of protection. Hardcover books can also come in different spine variations, namely, rounded spine, flat backed and soft spine.

Hardback Binding Book Types

Special edition gifts, photo books, special edition autobiographies, titles that can command higher prices and have a high or long lasting value.

Hardback Binding Process

Pages are arranged in signatures and glued or sewn together to form a book block. The book block is trimmed and placed into a cardboard cover called a case. End sheets are then glued to the inside covers and attached to the first and last signatures of the book with a thin strip of glue.

Hardback Binding Characteristics

  • Durable but expensive.
  • Longer production time.
  • Able to use special materials and design features on the case.
  • Able to use artistic finishing products on the hard cover.
  • Superior standard and high-end.
  • Looks impressive, has a weighty feel and air of quality.
  • Signatures can be sewn, perfect bound or side stitched.
  • Heavier product which can translate into higher shipping and distribution costs.
Figure 2: Examples of hardcover books in different sizes.

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Saddle Stitch or Stapled Binding

Saddle Stitch Binding Overview

Saddle stitched or stapled booklets have thousands of uses and is the most frequently used commercial binding method. It can accommodate books of various sizes. For books that might have short-term use (or those with a small number of pages), saddle stitch binding is an excellent alternative.Stitching can be done with or without a book cover.

Saddle Stitch Binding Book Types

Softcover booklets, direct mailers, annual reports, commercial and technical brochures, programmes and prospectuses, manuals, catalogues, newsletters, less permanent materials.

Saddle Stitch Binding Process

Printed and folded signatures are stacked onto a gathering device. The gathering device begins transferring the pages to a saddle bar – the way in which they are loaded onto the conveyor makes the books look like saddles – to complete the stitching and trimming process. The assembled publication is carried to the stitching heads where staples are driven through the spine and thereafter the bound publications are trimmed.

Saddle Stitch Binding Characteristics

  • Highly economical.
  • Opens flat.
  • Handles a wide range of sizes and formats.
  • Too many pages result in nesting of pages that can cause creeping.
  • Accommodates both self covers and separate covers.
  • Less durable, cover can be easily damaged.
  • Thickness limitations dictated by staple’s capabilities.
  • Can be used for short and long production runs.
  • Most printers have in-house stapled binding.
  • Fast turnaround time.
  • Lacks printable spine.


Figure 3: Example of stapled binding method.
Figure 4: Example of saddle stitch binding method.

Note on Loop Stitching

Loop stitching is a variation of stapled binding where a loop extends a staple wire beyond the spine to form a loop that can be placed onto rings without punching holes into the paper. Loop stitching is ideal for reference materials and training manuals. This type of binding allows the stitched material to lay flat. However, this technique is considered a dated form of binding and not used widely anymore.

Figure 5: Loop stitching binding method. Credit: Will Miller /

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Wire-O / Spiral Binding

Wire-O / Spiral Binding Overview

These binding methods are also sometimes known as ‘punch and bind style’ binding. In both these techniques holes are drilled or punched along one side of printed pages and either a wire is moved through the holes or a spiral is threaded through the holes. These types of binding do not provide a spine but usually have covers made from a heavier cardstock or plastic. This type of binding allows for the removal and adding of pages and also allows pages to rotate 360 degrees, making it easy to write on pages without bending the spine.

Wire-O / Spiral Binding Book Types

Presentations, theses, reports, staff handbooks, training manuals, recipe and cookery books, student diaries, educational planners.

Wire-O / Spiral Binding Process

Single pages are stacked and evenly spaced holes are punched along the length of the spine. Then, wire loops or a plastic coil (spiral) are put through the holes to create a flexible spine.

Wire-O / Spiral Binding Characteristics

  • Customisable with a range of colours.
  • Books can be opened and placed flat on surfaces.
  • Wires or spirals are usually durable, making it perfect for books that will be used frequently.
  • Works well with books of all sizes.
  • Lower expense for short runs.
  • Limited quantities can be bound in-office or by portable binding machines.
  • Long-lasting and practical.
  • Ideal for documents paged through and annotated.
  • Allows easy updating of documents, removing or adding sheets.
  • Spiral binding offers the advantage of opening the book back on itself.
  • Spiral can be fully or partially concealed with a wrap around cover.


Figure 6: Example of spiral binding method


Figure 7: Example of wire-o binding method

Note on Comb Binding

Comb binding is, like Wire-O and Spiral binding, another useful binding method for small run binding, limited print quantities and custom binding. It is a very economical and low-tech binding method where holes are punched through the spine side and a plastic ring with “teeth” is threaded through the holes. For heavy use booklets however, combs may not be as robust an option as Wire-o or Spiral bound.


Figure 8: Comb binding technique

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Other Binding Types

The above binding types are by far the most popular, but there are some rarer-still techniques which are typically used in highly specialist applications.

Screw or Post Binding

Screw or Post Binding Overview

Screw or post binding is a popular and cheap binding method for books that need to be updated frequently. This binding method makes it easy to add and remove pages. Depending on the purpose or need, one or more screw posts can be used for binding. A single screw post can also be used to create a fan or deck-style document for sales samples, colours or textures.

Screw or Post Binding Book Types

Menus, portfolios, scrap books, wine lists, sales samples, other books that have removable pages.

Screw or Post Binding Press

Screws are used to hold pages together between two covering boards or individual covers back and front. Alternatively, pages are screwed into a hard case with a square spine and the pages are then screwed onto the backboard of the case. Another option is to make the binding screws invisible. This is achieved by turning the edge of the cover boards to create a hinge allowing the covering boards to cover the screws. A spine piece of material is added and the screws are only visible when the book is open.

Screw or Post Binding Characteristics

  • Sturdy enough to swivel without breaking.
  • Comes in a variety of metals, plastics and variations of post lengths to accommodate different thicknesses.
  • Allows you to add spacers inside the spine for extra space to hold thicker pieces (e.g. photos).
  • Pages might bend when opening the book as pages do not lay flat.
  • Easily able to add, remove and rearrange pages.
  • Can use a wide range of paper types.
  • Affordable and convenient.


Figure 9: Screw/post binding examples.
Figure 10: Screw/post binding examples.

A note on other binding tools and methods:

EyeletsAn eyelet is a piece of metal that is bent around a hole. This allows for the securing together of two or more pieces of paper or to create swatch books. Eyelets are typically small and best suited for binding a limited number of pages.

GrommetsA grommet is two pieces of metal usually used to secure fabric, vinyl or other rigid substrates. Grommets come in a wider range of sizes and are made with a heavy-duty metal in order to pierce thicker materials.

Prong FastenerProng Fasteners are used in small-run binding and is an inexpensive way to organise papers. They are made for a standard two-hole punch and come in different sizes and finishes.

Tape BindingThis method is also used in small-run binding. The tape comes in various widths and colours and gives an aesthetically pleasing and neat look to bound book blocks that do not have covers.

Plastic GripsThis is an off-the-shelf solution for binding smaller size documents. A plastic grip simply slides onto the spine of the book or pages.


Figures 11, 12 & 13: Eyelet, grommet and prong fastener










Pictures sourced from:,,,,

Figures 14 & 15: Tape binding and Plastic grip





Sewn / Smyth Sewn Binding

Smyth Sewn Binding Overview

Smyth sewn is considered one of the highest quality book binding methods and is used by libraries and for collectable art books. This method is extremely durable, allowing books to withstand frequent handling and the ability to open flat.

Smyth Sewn Binding Book Types

Public Library Editions, Collectible Editions, Art Books

Smyth Sewn Binding Process

Signatures are gathered and stitched together individually along the folds. The threads are stitched through each page before being tied off once. A book block is finished and it is sewn together with another book block using thread. Finally, glue is applied along the edges to seal the spine and the cover of the book is attached.

Smyth Sewn Binding Characteristics

  • Sewn bound books can lay flat when opened.
  • Ideal for books with images that span across two pages.
  • Pages cannot be removed without damaging the entire book, making it popular for sensitive documents.
  • Costly and significant amount of production time.
  • Extremely durable and high quality.
  • Designed to last and therefore an excellent choice for books used frequently over time.
  • The pages won’t fall out because of the way in which the signatures are sewn together.

Figure 16: Sewn binding example. Credit: Star Print Brokers
Figure 16: Sewn binding example. Credit: Advantage

Other Sewn Techniques: Center and Side sewn, Singer sewn, Japanese stab Binding and Coptic Binding



Center and Side Sewn

Center-sewn books use thread to sew a single straight line through the center of nested signatures. The stitching is often in a different or contrasting colour as a decorating accent. With Side-Sewn, the thread is sewed through the side of the signatures making it a very strong and durable book.

Singer Sewn

Also known as ‘thread stitched binding’, this method uses an industrial sewing machine to stitch the book cover and pages together. The thread is usually a different or contrasting colour for decorative purposes, making it perfect for gifts such as journals or notebooks.

Japanese Stab Binding


This method originated in China and Korea but was perfected by the Japanese. The technique is often associated with Japanese handmade papers and colourful silken thread. It involves threading a series of loops around and through the spine of the book. It results in a beautiful and bespoke product.

Coptic Binding

This binding method was used by early Christians in Egypt around the second century. The method involves hand stitching that looks like embroidery. Books can open to a full 360 degrees and can lay completely flat, making it perfect for journals and albums.

Figure 18: Side sewn binding example Credit: Images:
Figure 19: Side sewn binding example Credit: Images:
Figure 20: Singer sewn binding. Credit:


Figure 21: Japanese stab binding. Credit:

Image: Figure 22: Coptic binding. Credit:

Book Binding – in conclusion

Hopefully, the methods and techniques discussed above have shed light on the different binding possibilities available for your project. If you are still unsure of which binding type to choose, consider contacting us. We are here to help and advise you as best we can!