MonthSeptember 2016

5 Design Considerations Before Binding Printed Matter

Humans have been binding pages together since the second century. Bindery is a true testament to our desire to organize information and package it for convenience and safe-keeping. Modern bindery has some terminology that is good to know and modern bindery also has some pitfalls, the same pitfalls that have been around for nearly two thousand years!

Number of Pages Believe it or not, this can get kind of crazy… the counting of pages. I have had customers who only count the printed pages, not the blank pages and customers who count the number of sheets of paper as the number of pages. Needless to say this can get very confusing when your are receiving quote specifications. When you count pages the total page count must be an even number. It is impossible to have a physical document with an odd number of pages. Both sides of a sheet of paper are counted. When referring to the page count, you do not count sheets. Instead, you count pages. Each sheet has two pages.


The parts of a page, head and foot, recto and verso.

Signatures A signature is a large sheet printed with a multiple of four pages. When it is folded, it becomes a section of the book. Signatures can be any multiple of four pages, but 8, and 16 are the most common for letter size pages.

Imposition Imposition is the arrangement of pages on a press sheet in the proper order and orientation for the formation of signatures. Knowing imposition is important when designing features such as crossovers or large solid color areas on which you want exact color matches.

1. Design around Creep
Binding by stapling sheets together where they fold at the spine is called saddle stitching. Saddle stitching is economical and practical but has the disadvantage of creep. Your saddle-stitched booklet may have a cover that is thicker than the pages (this is referred to as pages plus cover) or the cover can be the same weight as the pages (this is referred to as a self-cover). You can have as few as eight pages saddle stitched or as many as 100 depending on the thickness of the paper. When a binding is saddle stitched, the signatures nest inside one another.


Allow for creep in your design. When the book is trimmed to make it even all around, the center pages are going to be narrower than the front and back pages. This is referred to as “creep.” If you are producing a 12-page catalog, the “creep” might not make much of a difference. For instance, if the catalog’s pages are 100# book weight, the bound catalog will be 1/32nd of an inch thick. A graphic element that repeats from page to page (such as a page number/folio) and is 1/8th of an inch from the edge of the sheet will have shifted 1/76th of an inch in the center of a 12-page catalog. Creep is more noticeable in a 72-page catalog, which is 3/16th of an inch thick. In this case, the same element in the center spread has shifted more than 1⁄16th of an inch, or half of the distance between where it was positioned in the center spread and the edge of the page. The diagram below illustrates how noticeable creep can be. If your print provider is using imposition software, this difference will be adjusted in the prepress department by changing the size of the gutter or page width in very tiny increments. (Moving things in imposition is known as shingling). To avoid noticeable creep, place elements far enough away from the edge of the page so that the shift will not be noticeable after saddle stitching.


2. Allow for Gutters
Perfect binding and case binding do not have the same problems with creep as saddle stitch binding, but there are other factors to be aware of. The most critical is the thickness of the finished document. Perfect binding requires a minimum thickness that changes slightly depending on the machinery used and the type of glue. Basically, count on a minimum thickness of 1/8 in. to be successful. If you use fewer pages, you run the risk of the binding not holding together.

Because perfect binding is far less costly than case binding and is similar in appearance, it is popular. Remember that when using perfect binding, the finished product does not lie as flat as books that have been saddle stitched or case bound. Therefore, allow more room in the gutter. “Lay flat binding” is a type of perfect binding with more flexible glue and a score on the cover to facilitate flattening the book, but it still does not result in as flat a product as other binding methods.

When specifying paper for the cover of a perfect bound book, it is preferable that the paper be uncoated on the side that receives the glue, a C1s sheet or uncoated.


3. Case Binding
Case binding involves gluing or sewing the pages together and then gluing them to a spine and cover that is rigid. An end paper holds the spine and cover to the pages. This paper cannot be coated and must be a minimum text weight of 80#. Because of the way smyth sewn books are put together, signatures of different page length add cost. This is why you might see a few blank pages at the end of a hardbound book. It may have been less expensive to just leave them there.

There are more decisions to make when designing a casebound book. In addition to the cover and text paper there is the endpaper, whether the back (spine) will be rounded or flat, and whether or not there will be a headband or endband. Due to the heavier weight of a casebound book, there also might be a need for extra protection for the cover in the form of lamination or a dust jacket.


4. Gatefold Considerations
A gatefold is a foldout that opens to double a page. A gatefold will never be joined end to end exactly where the two edges meet. Therefore, your printer will either leave a very tiny gap between the two edges or overlap the edges slightly. The degree of either measurement will depend on the thickness of the paper. Discuss with your printer how production will manage the gap or overlap and order a paper dummy so you can see the end result clearly before the item is printed.

When designing a gatefold, keep in mind that the thicker the paper, the greater the likelihood it will pop open. Paper up to 65# will lie flat after folding, but nearly every paper thicker than that will tend to lift. Scores made with a steel rule die (die scoring) are often preferred for a gatefold because they yield a sharper crease and more precise parallel folds than rotary scoring made with a wheel.


5. Parallel and Roll-Fold Considerations
Although the panels of a roll fold appear to be divided evenly, that is not the case. For example, a trifold, or letter fold, appears to be divided in thirds, but actually the first fold is shorter than the center panel, and the last fold is longer than the center panel. This gives the finished piece the appearance of being evenly folded because the edges will line up.

The size of the panels will be dictated by the thickness of the paper to some degree. If the paper is thin, 80# book for example, and your design elements are not critical, you may not even need to adjust your art. But if the paper is a thick cover weight and your design elements are critical, then you will need to discuss the width of the panels with your print provider.

If you do not specify the width of the panels in your file, your printer will adjust the width in the bindery stage when placing the trim and fold. The greater the number of panels that roll in, the greater the adjustment required in the design process.



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How to Get a Good Paper Grade

Getting a good paper grade isn’t like acing a test. Paper grades are classifications with very slight deviations from the old school classifications that correspond with how printers order paper. Learning about paper grades this way will make it easier for you to converse with your printer.

Bond and Writing
Bond/writing is very receptive to ink and pencil. For that reason, it is used for stationery and letterheads. Rag bond is made from cotton and is more durable. This makes it ideal for items that are going to be around a long time such as diplomas or folded and refolded and refolded, such as letters. Bond is often watermarked. Writing refers to the lightweight sheets of a suite of matching papers, including text and cover weight papers, and bond refers to the same type of paper but does not have any matching text or cover weights.


A watermark in a writing grade paper.

Text and Cover
This grade is for fine uncoated papers. Sometimes they have a matching writing grade. This grade is never coated and includes linens, felts, and all those lovely colored papers.


Felt papers in a text and cover grade paper.

Coated papers are available in gloss, ultra gloss, dull, matte, etc. Coated papers offer high-resolution reproduction in offset printing. Although they are graded by their brightness, most coated papers exceed their grade range in brightness. This is so that a Number Two can have the brightness of a Number One. Normally another quality such as opacity or “snap” is sacrificed in order to get a number two price with a number one brightness.

The grades, in descending order of quality, are as follows: Premium, Number One, Number Two, Number Three, Number Four and Number Five. The grade directly relates to the cost, so a Premium sheet costs more than a Number One which costs more than a Number Two and so forth. Coated paper that is text weight used to be referred to as book; now it is called text.

This category encompasses text and cover weight papers, sometimes matching, that are not in the “fine papers” text and cover category. It includes offset, opaque, postcard or reply card, and newsprint categories.

Recent additions to this category are matching cover weights to the opaques. This category is the heart of everyday office papers.

Bristol, Tag, and Board
This category is a catchall for all the sturdy, but not necessarily pretty, papers.

Index is perfect for writing on with a pen and is often used for cards that need to be filled out because, in addition to being cover weight, it is also a very stiff paper. Library cards, for those who remember them, were probably made of index paper. It is generally available in smooth, vellum, and the standard “office colors.”

Bristol is a little softer than index or tag and folds better than both. It is available in cover weights in “office colors.”

Tag is strong and very receptive to ink. It is available in white and manila in various cover weights.

Board includes chipboard which is typically the bottom piece of paper on a scratch pad. It can be chip colored, (a grayish, brownish color that varies with each lot due to the characteristics of the recycled material that goes into it) on both sides or C1s and comes in a multitude of weights.


Recycled textures and colors in text and cover grade papers.

This category includes all the oddballs, such as translucent, metallic, and synthetic papers. Synthetic papers are like plastic, do not tear, and are very water resistant. Other specialty papers with surfaces that look like leather or feel like suede are also in this group. Although rarely used now, onionskin, a very thin and strong paper, is in this category. So is Bible paper, which is very thin, strong, and opaque.

swatch assort cropSwatch books showing the incredible range of colors and textures available to graphic designers.

Carbonless paper used to have its own category but, with desktop printers and digital document delivery, the use of carbonless paper has dropped tremendously. Suffice it to say that carbonless comes in multiple “parts,” such as two-part, three-part, four-part, etc., and those parts can come in different colors in whatever order you want. The standard sequence for three part is white-canary-pink, for example, but if you wanted a form to be white-green-goldenrod, your printer can do that too.

Pressure Sensitive and Gummed
This group is enormous with more specialties than you can possibly imagine. Because of the nature of pressure sensitive paper, depending on what the end user is going to do with it, your printer has a zillion options from which to choose, such as printable liner, scoreless liner, diagonal liner, vertical liner, and horizontal liner. Then there’s permanent or removable adhesive. The “face” of the label can be coated, uncoated, writing, fabric, synthetic, you name it. In fact, any paper can be converted into a label. Labels have displaced most of the items that used to be marked with tags made with tag paper and gummed papers that needed to be wet to activate the gum. Old-fashioned postage stamps are an example of gummed paper.

This is a relatively new group of papers that are used in various digital devices. Digital printing methods vary widely, and each substrate (the base material onto which images will be printed) needs to be tested as to its receptivity to the ink/toner/wet toner, etc., and also to the wear and tear the paper can inflict on the digital printing device. Large-format machines require special papers. There are approved papers for each digital device. They are available coated or uncoated, roll, or sheet-fed, and as text or cover. They are all white except for “copy paper,” which comes in the “office colors.” These papers are certified to run on various presses. That does not mean you cannot specify a non-certified sheet, but you may be disappointed in either the reproduction quality or your printer saying “no” because of the wear and tear it causes to the digital press.

Although envelopes are not really a “grade,” I am including them here because they are made from specific papers. Every writing paper has a matching #10 envelope. That is part of what makes it a writing-grade paper. Basic commercial envelopes are 24# white wove. Wove paper is smooth. Larger envelopes are 28# because they need to be thicker to hold more weight. A 10 x 13 catalog envelope is an example. With the exception of the writing envelopes in the #10 size, nearly all envelopes are white or manila in regularly stocked sizes.

You have now been given a great responsibility, choosing the paper grade your project will be printed on. The quality of the paper does affect your printed outcome in function, feel and printed quality, so be sure to choose well, young grasshopper.

Confused about digital printing?

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What is a Press-Check and What Are You Supposed to Do?

Back in the olden days of digital prepress and printing, when proofs bore no resemblance to what would show up on press, the designer would be invited to a “press check” at the printing plant. This was so that the designer could approve and sign off on the actual job in addition to already having signed off on proofs (I use the term proofs loosely, compared to what we have today they were stabs in the dark. It’s a whole other post, but there’s a difference between a proof predicting how the printed job will look and the proof showing what the file looks like when printed to SWOP standards. Like I said, it’s another post.)

So you might be invited to do a press-check. Or your boss might say, I need you to press-check every job that prints, or agency standards may dictate mandatory press-checks. The reality is there are only a few circumstances today that warrant a press-check. After learning what those circumstances are, you can decide if you want to tell your boss whether or not you need to be out of the office for half a day, I will leave that up to you ;-).

So when do you need to be at a press check? What’s changed since the dawn of digital prepress? Today we have contract proofing that really predicts what the printed job will look like. We have drawdowns made by very precise ink mixing technology. We have papers with plate curves loaded into press control panels with scanning densitometers built-in! I mean, wow, what can go wrong?

If it is a routine printing job probably nothing will go wrong, but not every job is routine.

These situations call for a press check:

  • If your printer’s workflow is Gracol certified and you are uneasy about the way the proof looks, do a press check. If you are uneasy about the proof and your printer is not Gracol certified and says “We will make sure it looks like you want on press” demand a press check.
  • If you are printing on colored paper
  • If your design calls for overprinting
  • If the paper is “unusual,” or you are working with synthetic papers, suede finishes, etc.
  • If your printer said, “We haven’t done this before, but let’s give it a shot.”
  • If your printer wants you there.
  • If you are mixing a spot color with process colors, such as Hexachrome, hifi or touch plates.
  • If you will get fired if the color is not “perfect.”
  • If you are using a printer for the first time.
  • If you are using a printing method you have never used before, or you are experimenting.

If you choose to be at a press check for a job, then you MUST take responsibility for decisions made there. It’s best to be aware of your responsibilities during a press check. So what should you be doing at the press check? Really, all you have to do is look at the proof you signed off on, compare it to the press sheet and make sure they are very similar. Sometimes an exact match is unrealistic. There is some etiquette and protocol to being on a press check. There’s also etiquette and protocol on the part of the printer. Here are the manners from both sides:

Customer Etiquette

  • Do be on time.
  • Don’t use the press check to check for trim, bleeds, spelling, dates, phone numbers, addresses, or anything that should have been caught on the proof.
  • Do check that what is on the plate is what was on the proof (i.e., the same file, same edition, etc.) We’ve all seen a wrong file make it to plating or on press.
  • Do make sure the proof you signed off on is at the press check so you can compare its color and content to what is being printed. If changes were marked on the proof, check that they are on the press sheet.
  • Do compare drawdowns, if you have them, and make sure they match the press sheet if you approved drawdowns before going on press.
  • Don’t freak out at however much money your employer is spending and decide to question everything. That press is costing at least several hundred dollars an hour, and every minute you tie up is time the printer cannot sell again. Your printer will get annoyed if you consistently make press checks take more time than necessary, or he may start to include that cost in your future estimates.
  • Do recognize that making changes on press, such as a copy change that needs a new plate or a color change, are billable alterations.
  • Do try to see your project with a fresh eye. If you go in looking for a specific problem, you are going to miss the giant red flag staring you in the face.
  • Do not be afraid of speaking up. A press check can be intimidating. If you have a concern, voice it.

Printer Etiquette:

  • Do be on time. Respect your client’s time if you want her to respect yours. Notify the client if you are running more than an hour behind schedule.
  • Do have the client’s signed-off proof and drawdowns ready and available. A client standing around and waiting for someone to dig up the proof makes your print shop look disorganized.
  • Don’t steamroll the customers into making a decision. If there’s a tough call, help them weigh their options. Make a pro/con list. Be supportive and share your expertise. Bring in senior management if that’s not your strong suit.
  • Do provide a clean, quiet area for your clients to wait between checks. Ideally, give them internet access so they can work, and coffee, tea, water, and some kind of snack. Nobody wants to have a hangry customer!
  • Don’t get your wires crossed. If the client asks for something and the rep and pressman instantly contradict one another with a yes and a no, that isn’t good. Decide who is going to answer questions at the outset.
  • Do give your clients a trimmed-out sheet for their boss. Everyone back at the office wants to see what the new brochure/gift card/packaging looks like.
  • Do listen to your customers and don’t feel personally insulted if they find something wrong during the press check. (We once had a brilliant New York agency-trained art director say that the 7pt. font wasn’t trapping correctly to the background solid, and she wanted a loupe to check. Damn if she wasn’t right! She earned our respect for doing her job and displaying her training and technical knowledge.)
  • If your customer hasn’t had a plant tour or you’ve added a capability, show him what you are up to. I have never seen a designer or print buyer who wasn’t curious about the goings-on at a printing plant. Now that the technology has changed so much and press checks are infrequent, giving a customer a tour makes even better sense.
  • Do take the time to introduce your client to the other team members who keep the jobs running smoothly, such as the production staff, estimator, prepress person, receptionist, etc.
  • If your customer has never been on a press check, give her the low down on what she should be looking for. This is your opportunity to train your client.

There is stuff on the press sheet that is for the pressman to measure what the press is doing. You do not need to know how to read the registration marks, slur marks, color bars, gray balance or any of that. It might seem a little scary to see all that stuff on the press sheet but it will be trimmed off and will not wind up on your job.


When you are done, ask for a press sheet to take back to your team and you are outta there! Wanna know more? Download a sample chapter of my book about the Press Check.

Do you have a press check experience to share? Please comment, I would love to hear it, good or bad!