The Basics of Book Binding Types

Perfect bound. Case bound. Soft cover. Hard cover. Sewn signatures. Glued signatures. Case wrap. Dusk Jacket.

Board book. Chap book. Saddle stitched.

What does it all mean? And what combination is best for your project? In this article, I will explain the basics of the most commonly used book binding types and the types of publications for which they are suited. In the next article, I will discuss book cover types.

First, what does it mean to bind a book? A book consists of the interior pages (called the book block), a binding that holds the block together, a binding that attaches the block to the cover, and a protective cover. Binding a book refers to the method used to hold the book block together and then attach a cover to the block. In sales and marketing, the book cover type is often used to describe the binding, but, as we will discuss, that can be misleading, for cover types and binding types can be mixed.

Important in the binding process are the signatures. A signature is a folded sheet of paper that makes multiple pages. A book block typically consists of multiple signatures. One signature can have 2, 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, or 128 pages.

Saddle-stitching

A saddle-stitched binding is what you will often find in magazines, notebooks, comic books, or small booklets. Staples go through the center fold of the publication. This is a fast and cheap binding type, and works best on thinner publications.

Board book

A board book is a special type of book in which the book block and binding are made from the same heavy duty paperboard. They are designed to be very durable, and therefore are used almost exclusively in children’s books. The pages and cover of a board book are typically two pieces of paperboard glued together, then the entire book is cut to shape (often with rounded corners for safety).

A board book.

Perfect bound

Perfect binding, or adhesive binding, is the most popular book binding used (it is also used in some magazines). It is also the fastest and cheapest method. Signatures are glued together to create the book block and the cover is glued to the spine of the block. In some production processes, the ends of the signatures at the spine are cut off before the glue is applied. While in other processes, the signatures are glued together intact. In the later case, sections of the signatures are milled to allow glue to penetrate into the spine of the block and thus adhere to each page. Fully cut signatures are what you will see in most Print-on-Demand solutions. They are less durable than the alternative, but cheap.

If the book block is going into a softcover (a.k.a. paperback), the cover and book block are trimmed to size once assembled.

It is important to note that hardcover books can have a perfect binding. Once again, this production method is used for cost and time. Print-on-Demand hardcover books are printed this way.

Perfect binding on a Print-on-Demand book. Note the trimmed signatures, making each leaf independent.
Perfect binding with intact signatures. Note the folded together signatures.

Sewn bindings

The terminology can get confusing here because the terms are often used interchangeably between the block binding and the cover type. Case-binding is a popular sewn binding for hardcover books, but can also be used for softcover books. Signatures are stitched together, then fabric is glued over the spine of the book block. The cover, or case, is then glued to the book block.

There are different types of sewn bindings, including oversewing and Smyth Sewing. Again, it is important to remember that sewn bindings can have either hardcovers or softcovers. Softcover books with durable sewn bindings include nature and outdoor guide books, which need to be both durable and portable.

Softcover with sewn binding. Signatures are sewn through the center fold and glued together. Softcover is attached to spine via glued endpapers.
A hardcover, case wraped, with sewn binding. Signatures are sewn at the center fold and the block glued together. Case wrapped hardcover is attached to block via glued endpapers.
Cloth hardcover with dust jacket and sewn binding.

Further Reading

Book Design: A comprehensive guide by Andrew Haslam is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to dive further into the art and engineering of good book design and production.

Excerpt from Haslam’s book.

Cover Types

But what about hardcover, softcover, case wrap, and dust jacket? I’ll discuss those in the next post.