Twenty Tips for Perfect Binding Success

by Gary Markovits, published in Printing News

Many factors go into making a perfect bound job perfect. My company has been binding books for decades and we've seen a lot of the same problems reoccur. Good planning and communication are essential for smooth running and profitable jobs. The following list of tips should help you prevent perfect binding problems. Often all it takes to keep your clients happy is simply asking your perfect binding partner a few questions ... before you lay ink on paper.

  1. Select the Right Paper. Since uncoated paper has more exposed paper fiber than enamel stock, it achieves a more durable bond. Tightly calendered and clay-laden coated stock is more difficult to perfect bind, but certainly not impossible. If in doubt, have your bindery test your paper before printing. Recycled stock has shorter fibers and may not adhere to glue as well as virgin stock.
  2. Grain Direction is Important. Whenever possible, keep the grain direction of your paper running parallel with your spine. A perfect bound book with the grain running the wrong direction tends to have a short life and is susceptible to a wavy and cracked spine.
  3. Don't Use Flood Paper Coatings. Flood coatings on signatures can cause problems. Many paper coatings such as aqueous, UV, varnish and wax-based ink repel glue and cause poor bonds. Raw paper fiber must be directly in contact with glue or else poor adhesion will result. Keep paper coatings at least 1/8" away from the gutter of any perfect bound project. Less is possible, but ask your trade bindery first.
  4. Keep Hinge Score Areas Coating-Free. Since the contact area between the cover and text is critical, keep the hinge and spine areas of your inside cover free of ink and paper coatings. For full-bleed inside covers, overlapping coatings and hinge areas 1/16" is acceptable.
  5. Crossovers and Line-Ups Must Align. Since individual readers open books to varying degrees, nonparallel crossover images are difficult to align. Avoid finger pointing and let your perfect binding services company fold all your signatures. If a job is poorly folded, there is little a bindery can do to achieve good crossover and line-up registration. Allow at least 1/8" face trim margin – and preferably more – so your perfect binding operator can pull images deeper into the spine without worrying about under-sizing the book.
  6. Layout Forms Consistently. To be well registered, perfect binding jobs need all signatures, inserts and leaves to have consistent head or foot trim margins.
  7. Spine Color Breaks Require Planning. Before laying out the artwork for your cover, get a pre-production sample (bulking dummy) made. Paper bulk varies between manufacturers and even different lots of the same brand of paper. In addition, the weather and humidity affects paper thickness. Many covers with color breaks on the spine are thrown out because the book block is thinner or thicker than expected.
  8. Insist on Perfect Binding Machines with Electronic Image Scanners. Ascending 1/8" printed spine markers are a thing of the past for companies with the latest perfect binding technology that scans body copy and text. With these systems, it is virtually impossible to mis-load pockets.
  9. Protect Your Outside Covers. For front and back covers with dark or metallic ink, be safe and add a paper coating such as film lamination, UV coating or at minimum, dry-trap varnish. If you choose lamination, specify stay-flat laminating film. Avoid polypropylene laminate because it scratches too easily.
  10. Allow Adequate Cover Overhang Margins. Overhanging covers trap excess glue. To get good production rates and product quality, allow at least 1/8" overhang on the head and 3/8" on the foot of your cover.
  11. Don't Assume Grind-Off Margins. Every bindery has its own preferences for grind-off margins. For example, our company's new Muller Martini StarPlus perfect binder runs great with 1/8", but some other binders need more than this for top quality work. Foldout pages should have enough clearance so they don't get glued shut. Spine perforated pages must be positioned so that the perfs don't get ground-off. And lastly, crossover images often need to be pulled in for proper alignment. When in doubt, ask.
  12. Carefully Plan Die Cut Registration. If properly executed, die cuts registered to ink look great. If your cover is die cut, make sure you look at a pre-production sample before laying out your book for all the same reasons as spine color breaks. When the first page of text is die cut registered to page three (i.e., an annual report fly sheet), run your book without a hinge score so the hinge doesn't pull the flysheet out of register as the book is opened.
  13. Place Tabs and Bind-Ins Between Signatures. Save yourself a lot of headaches and place foldout tabs and bind-ins between signatures, or be prepared for a high cost. In addition to your normal grind off margins, allow another 1/8" face clearance so that your foldout tabs function properly.
  14. Place Two-Page Forms Away from the Cover. Two page forms are difficult to run if they're positioned in the front or back of a book block. If you can bury two-pagers somewhere in the middle of your text, do it.
  15. Preflight Your Job. Prior to running a job, make sure someone gathers all job components, trims the cover, collates the signatures, cuts off spines and assembles the job. Look for problems such as bad pagination, mis-aligned crossovers and cut type. Take your time and examine each page. Often, you'll be glad you did.
  16. Squeeze Out Air with Perforations. Perfect binding clamps must be tight during the spine grinding process. Air trapped in non-perforated signatures can prevent this from happening. Large perforations on both the head and spine allow trapped air to be squeezed out during clamping.
  17. Use Hinge Scores. Hinges improve utility and appearance. For traditional perfect binding, typically hinge scores are placed ¼" away from the spine edge. Lay flat perfect binding (Otabind) requires an additional hinge score to allow for the detached spine.
  18. Test Your Products. The industry standard for perfect binding page-pull strength is 3 lbs. per linear inch. For lay flat perfect binding, it is 2.5 lbs. Properly planned and executed projects will easily achieve and often greatly exceed these standards.
  19. Don't Be Pound Wise and Penny Foolish. Protect your perfect bound products by shrink wrapping them. Think of this as well-spent insurance money.
  20. Pack Properly. Offer guidelines but not specifics about how books should be packed. Good binderies know what types of boxes to use for reducing transit marking. Requiring specific boxes frequently gets you nothing but headaches. If a box is packed too loosely, books will be susceptible to rubbing and scuffing. If a box is packed too tightly, bent corners and scratched covers may become a problem.

These twenty tips by no means cover everything in the complicated perfect binding world, but it's a start. Good communication and foresight go a long way toward maintaining healthy profit margins, happy clients and a stress-free professional life in the graphic arts industry.

PS. Did you notice that over two thirds of these tips involve planning before the first drop of ink is laid on paper?

Gary Markovits is President of E & M Bindery, a full service mechanical bindery. He can be reached at (800) 7EM-BIND.

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