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Book Printing: 5 Tips for Laying out the Cover of a Perfect Bound Book

A stack of Perfect Bound books in a variety of sizes and thicknesses

Perfect Bound Books are one of the most popular styles of softcover books. This binding style offers a very professional appearance for a relatively low cost. Also, short runs of perfect bound books can be produced rather quickly on digital presses, while medium to long runs can be produced on a variety of offset printing presses.

Catalogs, manuals, directories, how-to guides, workbooks, biographies, novels, and magazines are just some examples of bound documents that can be produced with the perfect binding method.

Whatever the intended use for your perfect bound book may be, below are five tips for laying out the artwork file for the cover…

1) Ask your Printer to help you Determine the Spine Width -

You won't be able to finalize your book's cover artwork until you know how wide the spine will be. The width of the spine is determined by two things: 1) the number of pages in the book and 2) the thickness of the paper used to create the pages.

To ensure accuracy, it is always best to get the spine width directly from the printer who will be producing your book. So as soon as you have determined the book's final page count, contact your printer to discuss paper options. Then once you decide on the paper type and thickness, your printer will be able to precisely calculate how wide you need to create the spine on the book's cover artwork.

2) Don't Lay Out the Cover Components Separately -

Diagram A: Position the Front Cover on the Right and the Back Cover on the Left in your layout file

Bear in mind that the cover of a perfect bound book is created from a single sheet of paper, usually a thick cover stock, that wraps around the page block.

Thus, 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 submit these components separately. Also, remember to position the book's front cover on the right side of the layout and the back cover on the left side of the layout (refer to Diagram A).

Diagram B: Position the Inside Front Cover on the Left and the Inside Back Cover on the Right. Leave the Spine area blank.

If your book will also have printing on the inside cover, the layout for the inside cover will be the exact opposite of the outside cover. On the inside cover layout, place the front inside cover on the left side and the back inside cover on the right side…and create the spine area of the inside cover so it will be completely blank and ink-free (refer to Diagram B).

3) Pay Attention to the Position of any Text on the Spine -

Printing information on a book's spine, such as the title, allows the book to be easily identified whether it stands vertically on a shelf or lies horizontally in a stack. If the spine of your perfect bound book will contain printed text, be sure the printing is oriented toward the direction you intend it to be read. Whether the words run up the spine or down the spine is a matter of personal preference…there isn't really a standard to follow.

That said, the most popular orientation in the US is to have the text printed so it runs down the spine. In other words, the spine will be readable (right side up) when the front cover of the book is facing upward. Also, be sure the text is not too small and is centered properly on the spine.

By the way, if the book's spine is very narrow (less than a 1/4"), it may not provide enough room for printed text…or at least printed text that is large enough to see clearly. If this is the case with your book, it is best to forego any text on the spine than to print something too tiny to read.

4) Be Sure to Set-up Bleed and Crop Marks Properly -

Crop Marks are sets of short, thin lines placed in all four corners of an artwork layout to indicate where the paper should be trimmed after printing. When your printer receives the artwork, it is commonly printed onto paper that is larger than the final size desired. Then, using the crop marks as a guide, the paper is trimmed down to its final size.

The solid red outline represents the final trim size desired, which is the size that will be created when the paper is trimmed along the crop marks. The dotted blue line shows the extension of the bleed area, which will be cut away when the paper is trimmed along the crop marks.

A Bleed simply means that the ink coverage goes all the way to the edge of the paper…there is to be no unprinted area left at the edge. Conversely, printed pieces that show a white border at the edge DO NOT bleed. Most perfect bound book covers are designed with artwork that extends to the very edges of the cover and therefore must be set up with a bleed.

Like all printed pieces that bleed, a book cover must be printed on paper larger than its final size and then trimmed down. To make sure no white area shows at the edge after trimming, the artwork must be designed to be larger than the final trim size. To set up your cover file to accommodate a bleed, extend the design 1/8″ beyond all crop marks. These extended bleed areas will be cut off when your cover is trimmed along the crop marks to its final size.

A recurring frustration for commercial printers is receiving layout files with the bleeds and/or crop marks set up incorrectly. Needless to say, educating clients and graphic artists about how to properly set up bleeds and crop marks for print production helps to prevent delays and makes life easier for all involved. Before submitting your layout file(s), ask your printer for guidance if you need further help understanding bleeds or crop marks.

5) Keep Important Information away from the Edges -

After the cover and pages of a perfect bound book are joined at the spine with a strong adhesive, the other three sides of the book are trimmed to give them clean "perfect" edges. In fact, crisp edges are the hallmark of the perfect binding method.

Like any printed piece that will be trimmed during production, it is imperative to keep important information well inside the trim lines. Otherwise part of this information could get trimmed off, or end up so close to the trimmed edge that it disrupts the aesthetics of the book's cover. For best appearance, try to aim for a minimum distance of 1/4" inside the trim lines for text and other important information.

A related design technique to avoid is placing a border along the edges of the cover. The human eye is extremely discerning and can detect even the most subtle variances…so if a border is placed too near an edge, even a hairline shift during the trimming operation might result in the border appearing misaligned or uneven. Incidentally, perimeter borders are rarely recommended for any printed piece that will be trimmed to size.

If you have an upcoming book project and need some assistance, give Formax a call at 866-367-6221. Or, if you already know your specs and would like a quote, click here to access our easy quote request form. As always, we look forward to assisting with your book printing needs!

Take care! Keith

About the Author

Keith Beaty is the owner of Formax Printing Solutions in St. Louis, MO. Formax provides a complete array of offset and digital printing services. Specialty areas include book printing, full-color printing, laminated printing, map printing, plus mailing services. If you ever have a printing question or project you would like to discuss, Keith is always happy to help. He can be reached at 866-367-6221. Keith and Formax have been providing worry-free printing and related services since 1985.

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