Book-making information

Multi-purpose Bookmaker's Press

A bindery has different presses for specific jobs such as holding books flat while they dry or accurately trimming the book to size. The small-volume artist bookmaker often does not have either the money to buy this equipment or the space to keep it. With this in mind I developed the multi-purpose bookmaker's press to be functional, low cost, small, light weight and easy to store when not in use. It has the capacity to bind books up to A4 or 12" on the long edge and works equally well for left and right handed people. I use the press in my own work so I know it works!

functions of the press

multipurpose press An early version of the multi-purpose press assembled

mark 2 press This is the current Mark 2 version of the press with the bolts removed for storage

press used for trimming The multi-purpose press in use for trimming a book block

fan gluing using press The press being used for fan gluing. The press is held upright by clamping it to the edge of the workbench.

press used for nipping Here it is being used as a nipping press to keep a book flat whilst drying.

Inkjet Papers for Binding

Using an inkjet printer to make photographic books is a compromise between weight and quality: we normally want double-sided paper which, at the time of writing, limits the choice to matt papers. If you want to use archival quality paper this means using a rag paper rather than a wood-pulp paper, which in turn means using a fairly heavy paper of at least 200g/m2.

Within these limitations there are some excellent papers available. It pays to standardise on just a few papers and get your workflow calibrated so that what you print matches what you are seeing on your monitor. I haven't tried all the papers on the market and when I find one I like I tend to stick with it. These are my own preferences but I'm sure there are other very good papers:

Canson Rag Photographique Duo

At 220g/m2 and smooth surfaced, this paper is neutral white and takes a deep black with the Epson K3 ink set I use. It is just a fraction smoother than the Hahnemuhle Photo Rag but at considerably lower cost so for that reason it has become my archival paper of choice. A4, A3 and A2 sizes are all supplied long grain, which means I can cut A3 in half to get A4 short grain - it's an extra operation but it gets me the short grain I need a lot of the time.

Hahnemühle Photo Rag Book and Album

At 220g/m2 it is getting heavy but at least that means it is opaque - the image on the other side of the paper does not show through, unlike many mass-produced books. The "Book and Album" title means that it is sold with a defined grain direction and is consistently high quality. It is, though, noticably more expensive than the competition. It also seems to discolour in daylight so plan on making a slip case for any high-quality books you produce.

Epson Double-sided Matt

This is a woodpulp-based paper so does not qualify as an archival paper, nevertheless it is well-behaved for printing and binding. It has the advantage that it is relatively light at 178g/m2 and low-cost. It is my standard non-archival paper. I'd use it more but it's only available in A4 size and it is supplied long grain.

Fotospeed proofing paper

As you'd guess from the name this isn't used for archival purposes and although it is only coated on one side, the reverse side is also printable but not with quite the same quality, but for proofing and proof-of-concept photobook-making this does the job. And if your design uses one side image and the other side text, this paper is great - just print text on the uncoated side or paste the foredges together. At 170g/m2 and available in sheet and roll sizes, it is a lot more economical than art papers if non-archival use is all that's needed. I buy it by the roll and cut it as needed. The grain runs along the length of the roll.

What's missing?

There are no archival double-sided gloss papers.
It would be great to get a quality double-sided paper in a lighter weight - around 125g/m2 would be ideal for smaller books.
I wish all manufacturers would indicate the grain direction on their product description.
Only Hahnemuhle seems to realise that there is a market for short grain A4 (which folds nicely for A5 signature bindings). Come on the rest of you!

Grain direction

Most papers are stiffer in one direction than they are at right-angles to that direction - the stiffer direction is "with the grain". This is significant in the feel of a book, specifically the flexing of the paper. We normally make the book with the grain running parallel to the spine so that the paper flexes more as we turn the page. Paper grain for a bookbinder has a similar effect to wood grain for a woodworker: it takes a little more effort to cut, fold and tear across the grain than it does when working with the grain.

None of the above papers is strongly grained so you could get away with using them across the grain, but at least be aware of the issue.

If the grain runs parallel to the short edge of the paper, it's called "short grain". Parallel to the long edge, it's called "long grain". If the paper supplier hasn't told you which way the grain runs the best way is to cut 2 equal length strips, 1 parallel to the short edge, the other parallel to the long edge. hold them together at one end between your fingers and see which one flexes the most. You can also try folding a sheet to see which gives more resistance or holding sheets over the edge of a desk, but these methods aren't quite as definitive.

testing the paper grain direction  I've cut equal length strips of 200x10mm with the long-edge strip pointed to tell the difference. The stiffer of the 2 strips is parallel to the grain, which in this case is the short edge. This is reassuring as the paper I used in the photo is Hanhnemule Book and Album A4 short grain!

Lay-flat binding using glue

I like my photographic books to lay flat. The pressures on commercial binderies make hot melt adhesive binding economical but the hardened adhesive does not allow the book to flex much at the spine, which means that it won't lie flat. For the craft bookbinder, though, there is a layflat alternative using a couple of modern materials: EVA or reversible PVA adhesive and Tyvek.

Tyvek is a fibrous, breathable membrane made of polyester (an archival material) originally developed for the construction trade. It is available in several weights; I use the lightest grade of 55g/m2.

Vinyl acetate is a strong, flexible molecule that melts at a low temperature and readily attaches to porous surfaces and so makes a good adhesive for book making. It is available in lots of variants: as a hot-melt adhesive, which I don't use in binding but is used extensively in commercial binding, and as a water-based liquid. The commonest liquid is poly vinyl acetate or PVA. PVA glues contain plasticisers and that is the problem for the bookbinder: some plasticisers will slowly evaporate leaving the glue brittle and inflexible, while others will lead to yellowing over time. I have been using Reversible PVA - sometimes called PVR - it's a flexible PVA adhesive that can be re-dissolved in water (unlike regular PVA), which makes it better for long-term conservation of books. It can be obtained from good bookbinding suppliers. Now I'm starting to use ethylene vinyl acetate - EVA - which I find easier to work with and slightly more flexible than PVR. EVA doesn't contain added plasticisers and so should have better long-term stability. You don't have to use expensive reversible PVA or EVA but be careful of which PVA you use - they are not all suitable for bookbinding (some dry hard and brittle or go yellow).

The binding technique I use requires the book block to be fan glued, and if a hard cover is needed it should be quarter-joint bound. This technique was developed to re-bind magazines for libraries, where users want to lay the volume flat on a copier or under a camera but it can easily be adapted for the photobook. Pete Jermann has written in detail about the technique, but here I outline my own version of the process. I use a simplified version because my relatively thin books don't need the strength and resilience of the full quarter-joint construction as designed for use in busy libraries. Initially you might not believe that this technique will work but the Page Test proves otherwise (select any page in the book and lift the entire book up by that page. If it doesn't tear out, it is strong enough).

Creating the book block

  1. (skip this step if you already have loose pages for your book) Trim off the adhesive binding from your magazines or non-layflat book. Here I'm using my multi-purpose press and a knife (if you have a lot of binding to do a bookbinder's plough will get higher on your list of priorities as your arms become more and more tired!) Use many light cuts keeping the knife upright - think of it as cutting one page at a time
  2. trimming the spine

  3. Prepare front and back end papers. These need to be the same size as the book block. Mark a long, light pencil line on the end papers 10mm from what will be the spine. This is to help when applying the adhesive.
  4. Prepare the Tyvek strip for the spine. The width should be 20mm + (1.5 x book thickness) + 20mm. The book I'm working on here is 16mm thick so the width of my Tyvek strip is 64mm. The length of the strip is the length of the spine plus 3mm. Put light pencil marks on the Tyvek to mark the position of the spine - these will help with alignment later.
  5. Add front and back end papers to the book block.
  6. Align the pages at the spine (check that they are in the correct order!), tapping down on a flat surface and keeping the pages upright.
  7. clamp the pages between a pair of wooden laths, leaving about 15mm protruding, then
  8. clamp the pages in the finishing side of the multi-purpose press as shown here:
  9. clamp the pages in the multi-purpose press

  10. Press on one lath so that the pages are bent over to about 30° then paste along the spine with PVR and down to the 10mm mark on the end paper. You must make sure that your brush has enough adhesive to throughly wet the paper but don't let the pages separate or glue will dribble between them; pinch the laths together if necessary to keep the pages from spreading.
  11. Press on the other lath so that the pages bend to about 30° in the opposite direction then paste along the spine and down to the 10mm mark on the other end paper. Again, don't let the glue spread between pages. Return the pages to the upright position once finished.
  12. Apply PVR to the Tyvek strip but don't paste right to the long edges - leave about 10mm unpasted so that you can grip dry Tyvek between your fingers.
  13. Apply the glued side of the Tyvek centrally to the spine of the book. Starting at the centre of the spine, grip each side of the Tyvek strip and pull down so that the pages are squeezed together and the strip sticks to the block. Repeat this pull-and-squeeze action towards the head then towards the foot of the block. This should result in a reasonably tight Tyvek strip glued to the block and binding the spine. Don't worry about the un-glued edges of the strip; these will be glued when the block is attached to the cover.
  14. Remove the laths and clamp the block with only moderate pressure in the press for a couple of hours (or overnight) to dry
  15. leave the glue to dry in the press

Creating the cover, or case

If you are binding a thick book you will probably want a spine that is stiff like the covers, in which case, follow Pete Jermann's instructions.

If your book is thin - upto about 10mm - you can create a flexible spine without the board stiffener. Bookcloth or buckram optionally reinforced with a strip of Tyvek, makes a neat job.

One decision you need to make before measuring and cutting is: whether to have the foot of the book flush or not. Having the pages of the book flush with the bottom of the cover means that the pages will be supported by the bookshelf not the spine. This takes a major stress factor away from the construction: in a conventional hardback book the pages are raised and their weight is taken through the spine to the covers. If the attachment of the block to the case is weak the block will eventually tear away. In conventional binding this means adding more strength and therefore more weight and stiffness to the construction, but using stronger materials and light-weight construction can overcome this limitation. If your book is likely to be sitting upright on the shelf for a long time I recommend using a flush foot design.

Lay-flat binding without glue

There are 2 basic techniques that use a sewn binding to give a lay-flat finish: (1) Coptic stitching or (2) crisscross binding (which used to be known as Secret Belgium binding).

examples of Coptic and crisscross binding  The lower white book is Coptic stitched, the upper red binding is crisscross stitched.

There are instructions for both of these techniques on the Internet so I won't repeat them here, but you might find this diagram useful when learning the crisscross technique:

crisscross sewing sequence The sequence as seen from outside the binding. Start from the inside and proceed as shown. The spine strip is not secured with this stitch.