Post Press Finishing – Episode I: Cut, Fold, Stitch and Bookbinding

The ink is dry.  The aqueous coating has cured.  The sheets are stacked on the pallet, ready for bindery to start working on them.  Now the print process goes into its finishing stage, where the bindery team works its magic, taking a flat press sheet and turning into a finished product.  There are several post-press finishing techniques, and in this series of four Episodes, we will cover them from the simple to the complex.

CUT AND FOLDpolar-78ed

The basic bindery operation is cutting, or maybe cutting with a simple 1/2-fold or letter-fold.  Cutting is done on a programmable cutter, which uses an extremely sharp guillotine blade that slices through a stack (called a lift) of paper.  The paper is held in place by a clamp that is under adjustable pressure.  The folding of a piece is done on folders, which have “gates” that can be opened or closed, and adjusted for the length of a piece.  As the piece goes into the gate, it is stopped a a pre-determined dimension, and then rollers grab the sheet and pull it back out of the gate, stahlfolder-largepressing it between rollers which create the spine of the fold.  The number of folds being done will determine how many gates are used.  The various types of simple folds are 1/2-fold, letter fold, and accordion or Z-fold.  There are also more complex folds, such as gate-folds or double-gate folds that can go through 3 or 4 gates before the fold is completed.  The final piece comes out on the delivery, and is ready to package or box up.


03_saddle_stitch685x489Stitching, or what is referred to as saddle-stitching, is the 2nd most common process of finishing.  Saddle-stitching is the process of stapling or “stitching” the folded signatures together.  (A signature is anything that will end up being assembled into a book, and is measured in increments of 4 pages, so you may have a 4-page, 8-page, 12-page, 16-page signature that will end up “nesting” into one another.  You CAN go as high as a 32-page signature, but that is if you’re on thin paper and the stitcher can go through that many sheets of paper).  After the stitch is affixed into the spine, the books go through a delivery end where they are trimmed on the 3 sides, called the head (the top), the foot (the bottom) and the end opposite of the binding edge (the face).  From there itsaddle-stitch_000 can be boxed up for shipment.  Saddle-stitching does have it’s limitations, so as your page counts increase, you will have to look at other alternatives, such as spiral (or plasticoil) bind, wire-O or perfect binding.  There is also loop-stitching, which is used for catalogs that are to go into 3-ring binders.  Clients who don’t want copy or images punched through will request this in order to prevent that from happening.  The stitches are different in that they are NOT flush against the spine, but create a loop that is positioned the same as a standard 3-ring binder.


When you have a book that has more than 64 pages, other options for binding can have their own benefits and advantages.  Spiral or plasticcoil binding is done by collating the signatures together (they stack, rather than nest like a saddle-stitched book), taking a trim on all four sides, and then punching the book on the binding edge, and running the spiral through, download trimming off the excess and creating a hook so it won’t feed back through.  The benefit is that this kind of binding allows for the books to lay flat – excellent options for technical, software or training manuals.  Spiral binding comes in various diameters and even colors, such as white, black, blue, yellow and red.  A “cleaner” looking option is wire-O binding.  As its name suggests, the binding material is wire, and its diameter is a perfect circle, or “O”.  Wire-O binding can actually be more cost-effective on longer runs, and has a more aesthetically pleasing finished look.  The wires can come in different colors as well, with the most common being black or white.  There is the regular wire-O, where the binding shows, or a semi-concealed wire-O, where the wire is concealed in the cover, but some of the wire shows on the spine and back cover.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA  A 3rd option, called concealed wire-O, requires a cover that has 3 panels, and that 3rd3rd panel is folded over, glued and punched, and then the wire is attached to that glued panel, thus preventing and punching of the outside cover, which gives this even a more finished look.  The final binding option is perfect binding, which most consumer of books and large magazines are aware of.  Perfect binding involves gluing the spine of the cover to the text block.  The advantage of this is that there is no visible means of binding, such as wire-O or plasticoil.  However, anyone who has tried to read a brand new paperback book knows that it cannot lay flat, without damaging the spine.  In the perfect binding process, perfect-binding1the text is gathered and trimmed with bleed, and then a process called “grinding” is done to the spine,  which essentially makes the spine of the text rough, allowing the glue to adhere better.  The cover is scored for the thickness of the book, glue applied to the text, and they are married together, and finally, receive a 3-knife trim on the head, foot and face.  For thin-spined books, PUR glue is used in the process, insuring that the books will remain intact.

But this is only some of the basic means of post-press finishing.  Next week we’ll review coatings.

Connect with John on Google+Twitter and LinkedIn.


About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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One Response to Post Press Finishing – Episode I: Cut, Fold, Stitch and Bookbinding

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