The history of the written word starts between 3400 and 3300 BCE. Once humans began writing, they needed ways to organize those writings. Early binding methods originated in India about 100 BCE, with twine used to bind numbered pages of religious writings. As the centuries progressed, so did binding methods. Traditional book binding methods as we know them can be seen as far back as the 1st century in the Roman Empire.

Contemporary human society is still deeply ingrained in using paper to record and organize information. Even with the innovation of computers and the promise of the paperless office, offices in the U.S. use about 12.1 trillion sheets of paper a year. And, companies on average lose about 7.5% of their paper documentation each year.

Binding can help you reduce waste and preserve printed records, whether catalogs, standard operating procedure manuals, employee handbooks, financial reports, annual reports, or other types of material.

If you are developing a printing project that will need binding, it is important to understand at the outset what your binding options are, as well as the pros and cons of each one. Many factors will affect which type of binding is best for your project, such as paper type, page count, page size, cover style, and intended usage. This guide will provide an overview of the different types of binding so that you can give your printer clear direction when you request a quote.

Basic binding terminology

Components of the bound product:

  • Spine – This is the bound edge of the printed material; it is the backbone of the bound product.
  • Face – This is the opposite (parallel) side from the spine.
  • Leaf – This is a single sheet of paper.
  • Page – This is one side of the leaf.
  • Head – This is the top of the bound material, when standing upright on a bookshelf.
  • Foot – This the bottom of the bound material, when standing upright on a bookshelf.
  • Text block – This is the core of your finished printed piece, it is all the pages in your book, magazine or other printed and bound material.
  • Endpaper – This is commonly found in books. It is a sheet of paper (usually blank, sometimes decorative) that is glued to the inside of the cover and the first page of the text block.

Organization of the sheets of paper in a bound product:

  • Folio – This is a sheet of paper on which is printed the contents of four different pages. The folio is precisely folded in half to create four pages in your printed book, magazine, or other product. (A folio can also be folded a second time, in which case it is called a quarto.) If, for example, you are printing and binding an 8-page booklet, it has two folios. The first folio will be printed with pages 1 and 2 on the left of the fold, and pages 7 and 8 on the right of the fold. The second folio will be set on top of the first and will be printed with pages 3 and 4 on the left and pages 5 and 6 on the right.
  • Signature – This is a group of folios, usually three or four, which produces 12 or 16 pages. A commercially printed book may use signatures of four folios, for example.

Commonly Used Types of Binding

Saddle Stitching

In the first century AD, the codex style of book binding was invented in the Roman Empire. This style featured papyrus or vellum pages sewn with thick thread. By the fifth century, the codex method had fully replaced scrolls and wax tablets. This process has evolved into what we know as saddle stitch binding.

Contemporary saddle stitching uses industrial staples instead of thread to “stitch” the pages together.  Saddle stitching is accomplished by stacking the sheets of paper, folding them in half, and then stapling along the center line. As the folios are stacked together, there is ‘creep’ in the relative lengths of the pages: the outer folios will end up being shorter than the inner folios. To address this, the bound product will be given a final trimming to make the bound pages even.

  • Flat lay – The printed product will lie flat when being read.
  • Flexible page count – The number of pages you can have saddle stitched is dependent on the type of paper used. Using newsprint, you can bind up to 200 pages with saddle stitching. However, when using thicker paper the page count will be lower.
  • Affordability – Saddle stitching costs less than perfect binding.
  • Speed – Saddle stitching is generally a faster process than perfect binding.
  • Light weight – Saddle stitching doesn’t add bulk to the final product, which may help ease your shipping costs.
  • Look and feel – If your product needs a polished, high-end look, perfect binding may be a better choice than saddle stitching.
  • Durability – Saddle stitching may be less durable than perfect binding.

Perfect Binding

In 1895 perfect binding was invented but wasn’t used until 1931 for paperback books. Still primarily used for soft cover publications, it’s a more expensive binding option. Use perfect binding when you expect the publication to be in use for a long time or want a high-end look.

Perfect binding can be used with newsprint paper, which is less expensive than glossy magazine paper. Phone books and directories are examples of the use of perfect binding with newsprint paper.

Perfect binding is accomplished by gluing sheafs of pages to a cover that is printed on heavier weight paper than the interior pages. The glue used is a hot, melted, clear polyurethane glue called PUR glue which is pressed into the spine of the book block. After that, the cover is pressed against the spine and held in place with clamps to dry. The final step is to trim the three open sides (head, face, and foot) to the intended final size.

  • Durability – Perfect binding is a durable binding method.
  • Flexible page count – The number of pages you can have perfect bound is dependent on the type of paper used. Using newsprint, you can bind up to 400 pages with perfect binding, which is more than you can bind with saddle stitching.
  • Look and feel – Perfect binding gives a polished, high-end look to the finished product.
  • Not Flay Lay – The printed product will not lie flat when opened; readers might need to press down on the opened booklet or magazine to force it to stay open, which can damage the binding.
  • Expense – Perfect binding is more expensive than saddle stitching.

Spiral, Comb and Wire-O-Binding

Spiral, comb and Wire-O binding are all forms of coil binding and use slightly different approaches to achieve the same result: affordably binding multiple pages so that they lie completely flat. Coil binding was developed in the United States in the early 1930s at the Spiral Binding Company. Wire was initially used as the coil material. However, during WWII, a switch to plastic coils was made because of metal storages.

Spiral binding is still used today with the most notable example being school notebooks. Spiral binding allows notebooks to lie flat so that it is easy to write on the pages to take notes. Cookbooks are another common example of the use spiral binding so that the cook can easily read the recipe without having to hold open the pages. Spiral binding uses one long coil (plastic or wire) that is wound through the holes in the pages. This is a durable binding option that can be used for large page counts.

Comb binding uses a round plastic comb to connect multiple pages. The pages have holes drilled to accommodate the comb. Comb binding is an excellent choice for calendars, notebooks, cookbooks, or projects that use laminated pages. Comb binding is very flexible with regard to the number of pages, with applications ranging from just a few pages to about 400 pages.

Wire-O binding is like spiral binding but does not use a single continuous coil. Wire-O binding uses wire loops that are c-shaped and pre-formed into a circle. It tends to look more professional than spiral binding but may be a little less durable. Wire-O binding may be best for items that are not subject to heavy use, such as an annual report. Wire-O binding can accommodate a wide range of page counts, just like spiral and comb binding.

For all three of these binding styles, the sheets can be printed digitally and collated as a full block of pages, then hole punched, bound, and covered. Or, the sheets can be printed on a web press and folded, trimmed and gathered into a block. Typical hole punch patterns include three, four or five holes per inch. Often, clear plastic covers are added to the front and back, and indexes are also commonly added.

  • Flat lay – Spiral, comb and Wire-O binding all allow the finished product to open completely flat for easy reading and handling. In fact, these binding methods go beyond laying flat and can be opened 360 degrees, which is more than either saddle stitching or perfect binding.
  • Affordability – All three methods are low-cost.
  • Flexible page count – Generally, this type of binding can accommodate up to 400 pages, or 2” thickness, depending on which of the three methods is used.
  • Color – The coils may be available in a color that matches your brand.
  • Durability – Spiral, comb and Wire-O binding are not the most durable methods of binding.
  • Look and feel – These are utilitarian methods of binding, not generally suitable for a glamourous presentation.

3-Hole Drilled with Ring Binders

3-hole drilled paper inserted into a ring binder is a flexible type of binding. Printed pages are punched with three holes and clipped into a ring binder. Ring binders accommodate colorful dividers to separate different sections. Ring binders have different ring options for holding the pages:

  • O-rings – As the name suggests, these rings are totally round and are the traditional binder ring.
  • D-rings – These rings have one flat surface and can hold about 30% more paper than the O-ring.
  • Slant rings – These also hold more paper than O-rings, but not as much as D-rings.
  • EZD rings – These rings have no gaps. They allow for easy page turning and hold 50% more paper than the O-ring.
  • EZ Turn ring – Allows for pages to lie flat and is also good for ease of page turning.

Ring binders are ideal for uses that demand the ability to easily update the binder contents over time. Examples include standard operating procedure manuals, training manuals, seminar/presentation packets, technical manuals, and marketing plans.

There are several different types of ring binders:

Vinyl binders – This is a cost-effective choice relative to other binders. These binders have a vinyl cover around chipboard. The covers are available in a wide range of colors and can be imprinted or foil stamped to reflect your brand’s identity or can be finished to look like suede or leather. These binders are good choices for moderate use.

Clearview binders – These are vinyl binders but with the addition of a clear plastic cover that is bonded to the exterior and/or interior. The clear plastic cover will have an opening at the top so that a colorful printed cover sheet can be inserted to easily customize the look of your binder. There may also be interior sleeves in which to insert printed pages.

Encapsulated binders – These are the same as the clearview binders, but the exterior plastic sleeves are sealed shut after the insertion of the printed cover sheets. This reduces flexibility and requires a longer lead time for production, but can provide a more polished final look.

Polypropylene binders – These binders do not have the chipboard core, like the vinyl binders do. Instead, polypropylene binders are simply a thin sheet of semi-rigid plastic that has been folded and shaped, and the rings attached. These binders are very durable because they are 100% plastic and they come in many colors. However, the final look of these binders is less polished than some of the other options.

Card stock binders – This can be a cost-effective binder when printed in large quantities since it is simply heavy cardstock paper with the rings attached. However, this is not a durable binder style and is best when you want a low price and are planning on light usage.

Turned-edge or casebound binders – These binders are the most polished ring binder. A preprinted and/or laminated material like cloth, paper, linen, or simulated leather is wrapped around the chipboard core. Then the rings are attached and the paper inserted. Because of the materials, this is typically a custom order and is a high cost. However, if you project demands both flexibility to add/remove pages, and a high-end look, this could be a good choice.

  • Flexibility – Ring binders are the only binding method that allows the user to insert or remove pages, or even entire sections.
  • Flat lay – Ring binders lay totally flat when opened.
  • Flexible page count – Ring binders come in a wide range of sizes, from half-inch to four inches. A half-inch binder can hold about 75 pages, while a four-inch binder can hold about 800 pages.
  • Durability – With a good quality binder, this can be a durable binding method.
  • Look and feel – This is generally a simple binding method for practical uses. Look and feel can be improved if a turned-edge (casebound) binder is used.
  • Cost – Ring binding can be expensive because of the cost of the ring binders.

Hardcover (casebound) binding

This type of binding is commonly used for books. Hardcover (or casebound) binding uses a sturdy paperboard cover that is wrapped in a printed paper cover in a matte or glossy finish. This type of binding is like perfect binding because the finished product will not lie completely flat. It is also similar to prefect binding because the folios can be glued to the spine of the cover. Alternatively, the folios can be gathered and sewn.

  • Look and feel – Hardcover binding is the top-tier, premium biding method.
  • Durability – Hardcover binding is very durable.
  • Flexible page count – Hardcover books can hold over 1,000 pages.
  • Cost – Hardcover binding carries a premium price tag.
  • Not flat lay – This type of binding does not allow the finished product to lay completely flat.

We hope you have enjoyed this beginner’s guide to the basics of binding. If your company is the mid-Atlantic region (Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Virginia, West Virginia, Ohio), Susquehanna Printing, in Lancaster County, offers top quality printing, binding, and mailing services at affordable prices. We are experts in coldset newsprint printing and we have state of the art digital printing capabilities, including variable data. Our team has deep expertise in U.S. Postal Service mailing software to save you time and money. Contact us to get a quote for great printing, mailing, and personalized service.