Book Printing: The Relationship between Page Count and Perfect Binding
As a printer of perfect bound books, I field a lot of questions regarding page count, perfect binding, and the relationship between the two. So I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the more frequently asked questions about these topics…
What does "Page Count" mean?
The Page Count refers to the number of pages in a book. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Not really. In fact, the page count is probably one of the most miscommunicated specifications of a book. The confusion stems from the fact that what a book printer calls a page might not always be what the average person calls a page.
For example, open up a book and flip through it. As the sheets flip by, notice that each sheet has two sides. Your printer refers to each side of these sheets as a separate page. So to a book printer, every sheet within the book represents two pages. However, those new to book printing often refer to each sheet within the book as one page.
Even if a sheet in the book is blank on one side, or is blank on both sides, your printer will count it as two pages. Thus, there will always be twice as many pages as there are sheets within a book. This is true whether the book is perfect bound, spiral bound, saddle-stitched, or any other style of book.
So when you request a quote on a book project, make sure you and your printer agree on the proper page count. Otherwise the price quote will not be accurate. Just remember that each side of the sheets within a book counts as one page: e.g. 100 sheets = 200 pages.
What does "Perfect Binding" mean?
Perfect Binding is a widely used soft-cover book binding method. With this binding method, the pages and cover are glued together at the spine with a strong, yet flexible, thermal glue. The other three sides of the book are then trimmed as needed to give them clean "perfect" edges.
The many soft cover books you see on the shelves at bookstores are good examples of perfect bound books. They have a square, printed spine and the cover is usually made from heavy paper or cardstock that is thicker than the interior pages. Plus, the cover is often clear coated to provide durability and improve appearance.
In addition to authors, businesses and organizations use the perfect binding method on a variety of printing projects because of its professional appearance and relatively low cost. Perfect binding is commonly used for annual and corporate reports, manuals, catalogs and thicker product brochures.
What is the Minimum Number of Pages that can be Perfect Bound?
The answer to this question seems like it should be a finite number, but it actually varies. In fact, books with a very low page count cannot be perfect bound at all.
To understand this better, it helps to know how a perfect bound book is assembled. To assemble a perfect bound book, your printer first stacks the interior pages together to form a crisp block. Then the spinal edge of this block is roughed up with blades or abrasives. This exposes more paper fibers and increases the bonding area for the glue. Hot glue is then applied along the roughed up edge of the interior page block. The cover of the book is then wrapped around the block of pages and it adheres to the glue along the spine. After the glue has cured, the three open edges of the book are trimmed as needed to give them nice clean edges.
In order to assemble a multi-page document into a perfect bound book, the page block has to provide enough surface area for the glue to bind the pages and cover together securely. If the page block is too narrow, it cannot accommodate enough glue to hold the pages intact. As a general rule, the width of the assembled pages must be at least 1/8" thick.
So, when determining if a multi-page document is suitable for the perfect binding method it is actually more appropriate to consider the overall thickness of the page block than the number of pages. If the pages are made from heavy weight paper, it will require less pages to achieve the recommended 1/8" thickness than if the pages were made from thinner paper. And if the number of pages result in a page block of less than 1/8", then it is advisable to create the book using another binding method, such as saddle-stitching or spiral coil binding.
How do you Determine the Width of the Spine?
This is a very important question because you cannot finalize your book's cover artwork until you know how wide the spine will be. As mentioned above, the width of the spine is determined by the number of pages as well as the thickness of the paper used to create the pages. So as soon as you know the book's page count, contact your printer to discuss paper options. Then once you decide on the paper type, your printer will be able to determine how wide you need to create the spine on the book's cover artwork.
Bear in mind that the cover of a perfect bound book is created from a single sheet of thick paper, or cardstock, that wraps around the page block. So the artwork for the back cover, spine and front cover will need to be laid out accordingly…as a single sheet. To prevent delays, do not lay out these components separately. Also, be sure to include any bleeds (if applicable) as well as crop marks on your cover and page artwork files.
Can any Perfect Bound Book have Printing on its Spine?
Most can, but not all. One of the desirable features of perfect binding is that it provides a square spine which can be printed upon. However, the book's spine has to be wide enough to properly display the printing. Again, this will largely depend on the number of pages within the book as well as the thickness of the pages.
The wider the spine, the more surface area it has to display printing. Even though Perfect Bound books can be made as thin as 1/8", in my experience it takes a spine thickness of 1/4" or more to allow for printing that is large enough to be read easily.
What are the Benefits of the Perfect Binding method?
Perfect Bound books have a very professional appearance yet they're quite economical to produce. They can also accommodate hundreds of pages and be several inches thick, plus they stack and display extremely well. Furthermore, the square spinal edge formed by the perfect binding method usually allows for the book's title or other information to be printed on the spine…something the saddle stitch and spiral binding methods do not offer.
If you have any additional questions about Perfect Bound book printing, give Formax a call at (866) 367-6221. We specialize in softcover book printing and will be happy to discuss your next book project with you!
Take care! Keith