Binding is the final stage of the print production
process. Done right, it’s icing on the cake. But if
not carefully planned and carried out, it can be a
budget buster and deadline derailer.
For the most part, the fastener that holds the
pages of a book or brochure together is utilitarian.
Binding—whether stitched, glued, mechanical, or
some hybrid—keeps everything organized. But binding
can also be a design element in its own right. It
can attract attention, enhance a printed product, and
even underscore a point. When it’s well executed,
creative finishing and binding is its own art form.
The secret to using a unique binding process is
to not let the binding overpower the piece. We’ve all
seen overdone invitations, booklets, and even annual
reports where an impractical binding technique
includes a sharp or unreasonable object, or makes
the pages hard to open or to read. The best unusual
bindings are those where the finishing method seems
like it was planned in tandem with the rest of the
design, not added on as an afterthought.
An additional trick of the trade is to know your
intended outcome and to work strategically to make
your vision a reality. This requires advance planning,
and in some cases, research.
Step 1: Decide what is important.
Some printed items absolutely must be designed to
lie flat, while for others it’s more important to grab
initial attention. Some items need to be easily updated,
while others have a very short shelf life. Be
thoughtful about how the finishing and binding
can affect the usability of your publication.
Step 2: Make a full-size dummy.
A mock-up of any printed piece is helpful in
trouble-shooting and heading off potential problems,
but when an unusual binding method is
added into the mix, a working model becomes essential.
In addition to allowing you to see possible
problem areas, a dummy may also inspire you to
look at different ways of executing your idea. You
may find yourself modifying and improving upon
your concept as you examine it in a physical form.
Step 3: Share the dummy with your entire production
After you’ve satisfied yourself that the design is
workable, make sure it can be produced within your
time frame and budget constraints. The best way
to assess this is to show not only the printer, but
also—if the finishing work is being done by a third
party and not in-house by your print vendor—the
trade bindery’s staff. Making a dummy will help
you determine whether your idea will translate well
in the actual production phase, as well as facilitate
understanding among the members of the production
Step 4: Match the method with the quantity.
On small print runs—typically 1,000 or less—it
is feasible to specify a variety of unique or laborintensive
finishing processes. As the quantity increases,
however, the practicality of using involved
collating and binding methods diminishes. Seek
advice from the professionals you’ve chosen to work
with. Ask if some of the processes you’ve envisioned
can be modifi ed slightly so more work can be done
in-line rather than by hand.
Step 5: Think about mailing and handling.
If the product you’ve designed will be going through
the mail, it is essential to test it for durability. By
reviewing a prototype of the mailing, you’ll also be
able to discover if your proposed design will cause
you or your client to incur handling charges from
your fulfillment or mailing house.
Step 6: Consider storage and transit.
Often an unusual binding will add bulk to the finished
product. The printed matter may simply take
up more room, and thus require special cartons or
handling. If the materials are going to be shipped,
it’s a good idea to plan the packing and transit
method ahead of time to avoid delays and cost overruns.
Be specific about your expectations for shipping.
Materials should be tightly packed to prevent
sliding and scratching.
Step 7: Account for spoilage.
In any printing project, there is spoilage or waste.
Typically, the printer will figure this into the bid
and order sufficient materials to account for inevitable
waste. The greater the number of processes—
and especially the more suppliers involved—the
greater the spoilage factor will be. Be sure to discuss
with the bindery and others involved in the final
phases of your project how much shrinkage will
typically occur in a project such as yours.
Mistakes made at any point in the printing process
are disappointing, but errors in the finishing and
binding phase can be disastrous. A project that has
been beautifully designed and printed can be ruined
by a short trim or crooked fold. For that reason, it is
imperative to take bindery requirements into account
while the project is being planned. A little extra effort
can ensure a final product that exhibits harmony
among all aspects of design.