Bookbinding – how it works? You will learn this here in 3 steps, as well as: whether the craft has a future + the most common types of binding + news.

Bookbinding is the last step in production – but at the same time the part that first catches the eye of the observer. Because the cover design conveys the content in a direct way to it. And what’s more: without saddle stitching, perfect binding or wire-o binding, and thread sewing, printed products would be nothing but notebooks. These most common types of binding are presented below. In addition to basic information on bookbinding, you will always find the latest news here.

Table of contents:


Frankfurt Book Fair: Satisfied with this year’s presence


Book market proves robust


Meccanotecnica: automatic three-knife trimmer for digital printing


Diary of bookbinding and print finishing


Books need visibility


Reading aloud and encouraging later readers


Exhibition and workshop on bookbinding in Trier, Germany


FKS expands the Docucutter family


Frankfurt Book Fair 2020 to take place

Bookbinding – how does it work?

Industrial bookbinding consists of three steps:

  1. Step: Processing the printed sheets
  2. Step: Formation of a book block
  3. Step: connection of the book block and the book cover

The more detailed processes also depend on the type of binding; they are explained in principle below.

In thread sewing, the sheets are joined together with a thread to form the book block. These and three other common types of bookbinding are presented on this page. (Image: Shutterstock/Ekaterina Garyuk)

1. Step: Processing the printed sheets

The first step is sheet processing: when the printed paper arrives at the finishing department, it is either already folded (roto-sheet) or plano – the plano sheets must first be cut and then folded. In bundle presses, the product is then given its final density and strength.

2. Step: Forming a book block

The next step is the book block formation, the superimposing and interleaving of the sheets in the desired order. This is usually done in the saddle stitcher, which also does the stitching. The section "The 4 most common types of binding" explains how this process works and how the alternatives adhesive binding, wire comb binding and thread stitching differ from each other.

3. Step: Joining of book block and book cover

Once the book block processing is finished, which consists of various elements depending on the type of stitching or perfect binding, the third and final step is to produce the cover. In the case of a softcover binding, this is called a booklet and consists of an elastic element such as cardboard or fabric. The so-called cover binding of a hardcover book, on the other hand, consists of four elements:

  • Front and back cover
  • for spines 6 mm wide or wider: spine insert, the so-called Schrenz
  • Cover material: hard-wearing paper, linen or plastic

For the most expensive covers, which are made exclusively by hand, leather or parchment are also used. If desired, the front and back covers can also be padded with a filler material by up to 4 mm. This so-called padded book cover is complex to produce and therefore also expensive.

A cover binding with a leather cover is expensive and is made exclusively in hand bookbinding.

Once the required parts have been cut and assembled, the binding is decorated. Various forms of decoration can be applied here:

  • Embossing: Blind, relief or foil hot stamping
  • Color printing
  • Screen printing
  • Inlay work
  • Gluing on illustrations

Now the book block and cover are ready and can be joined – or married, as bookbinders call it. The gluing process is the most widespread: Here, the endpapers of the block, sometimes also its spine, are glued to the book cover. For a so-called hollow spine, a tube of paper (called a. It improves the opening behavior and is therefore used above all for books of larger size. Rarely, the book block is inserted into pockets provided for this purpose on the inside of the cover.

Now comes a final pressing and – in the case of the majority of books with a hard cover – the burning in of the fold: this recess between the spine insert and the cover boards acts as a kind of hinge to make it easier to open the finished book.

Video: Craft bookbinding – as in the Middle Ages?

Today, books are being added en masse to e-book readers and entire online libraries – making bookbinding by hand, the production of a single volume, seem like a long-forgotten art from the Middle Ages. But this impression is deceptive, as the following video shows: It is just one example of countless bookbinding portraits and DIY instructions for bookbinding that are clicked tens of thousands of times on the net.

For in niches, for example when it comes to special techniques or the production of individual pieces, the classic production of a bound book is still in demand. Digitalization is probably also contributing to customers learning to appreciate the value of a printed and elaborately designed book.

Our example introduces master bookbinder Johannes Schneider, who binds a high-quality one-of-a-kind book – a family chronicle – in his more than 100-year-old workshop at Buchbinderei Gartner-Fiederling in Mainz, Germany. This begins with the selection of the leather by the client and continues with the folding of the sheets to the stitching of the layers and finally to the production of the binding.

Each work step consists of numerous hand movements. The master bookbinder uses mainly mechanical support, such as a hydraulic press or the stitching frame. One of the few machines in the narrower sense that is used is a precision cutting machine from the 1970s. Other tools and aids, on the other hand, seem directly anarchic: for example, the bony folding leg for deepening folds or a stone for weighing down the book block while the master applies glue to his thread-stitched spine.

Learning bookbinding

Anyone who wants to learn bookbinding should basically have the following qualities:

  • technical interest
  • manual dexterity
  • good responsiveness
  • Sense of responsibility
  • Ability to work in a team

A specific previous education is not prescribed, but most training companies expect at least a secondary school diploma. The training lasts three years and takes place in a dual system at the vocational school and in the company.

Before choosing a training position, it is important to consider the two main areas of the job. Because the job description is divided into manual and technical bookbinding. Until 2011, the latter was subdivided into book production and print finishing, but today it is combined in the training occupation of media technologist for print processing. In the next paragraphs both craft and technical bookbinding are presented.

Bookbinders (craft)

In this specialty, bookbinders produce small series or completely individual pieces, repair and restore old books. Accordingly, in addition to a lot of manual work, skill in advising customers and creativity are also required. The tasks also include related activities in a broader sense:

  • the mounting of plans, photos etc. on different materials
  • the production of folders, slipcases, cases u. a.
  • the framing of pictures

In addition to artisan bookbinderies, large libraries or print shops that have an affiliated finishing department with a bookbindery can also be considered as training companies.

media technologist print processing

The profession of media technologist differs from manual bookbinding in the way it is carried out by machines. Here, processes have to be planned, machines or entire production lines set up, controlled and maintained. The products are wide-ranging, in addition to books, for example, are also processed:

  • commercial work such as forms, brochures etc.
  • magazines

In this case, the binder’s tasks also include combining the printed products with elements such as stickers or product samples and packaging the end products.

Jobs for bookbinders and media technologists

If you are looking for job offers for bookbinders or media technologists in print processing – but also for all other professions in the graphic arts industry – you should regularly check the job market of drop by. Here you can search filtered by profession, industry or company as well as place of work and always find the current offers.

The 4 most common types of binding

Four types of bookbinding are particularly common today; they are described in more detail below. These are:

  1. Saddle stitch or saddle stitching
  2. the adhesive binding
  3. the Wire-O or wire comb binding
  4. thread stitching

1. Saddle stitching or saddle stitching

Saddle stitching or saddle wire stitching is usually performed by the saddle stitcher or by the gathering machine with attached bookletmaking machine. The folded sheets are collected (in the case of the gathering machine the plano sheets). The material is then fixed in the folded spine by two to four wire staples. Saddle stitching is particularly suitable for producing long runs cost-effectively.

A special form of saddle stitching is ring eyelet stitching. Instead of flat staples, staples bent to form an eyelet are used so that the products can be stapled afterwards.

2. Adhesive binding

adhesive binding is often used for magazines and brochures, but also for books. The gathered pages or folded sheets are stitched and pressed, then the spine is roughened to increase the surface area for glue application. After the glue is applied, the book block is inserted into the cover. For clean edges, the print product is given a three-side trim.

The decisive factor for the properties is the adhesive used. Gerenell three adhesive variants are distinguished:

  • Dispersion adhesive
  • Hot melt adhesive
  • polyurethane adhesive

The following overview shows their most important properties in comparison:

  • suitable paper thickness: 65 – 115 g/m²
  • less suitable for coated papers
  • suitable product thickness: 3 – 60 mm
  • suitable paper thickness: 65 – 240 g/m²
  • also for problematic, heavy or coated paper types and foils
  • suitable product thickness: 2 – 40 mm
  • less durable than other types of binding
  • sensitive to heat
  • good durability
  • insensitive to temperatures from – 40° C to + 100° C
  • insensitive to moisture

Layflat bookbinding (a type of adhesive binding) has no fold and is therefore particularly suitable for print products with large images, such as photo books.

3. Wire-O binding or wire comb binding

A binding system is used for wire-o and wire comb binding (as well as for the less common plastic comb binding and exotic bindings with screws, rivets, rings or eyelets). Here, the book block requires holes through which the binding element is fed. There is no spine. The advantage of wire-o or wire comb binding is that the product bound in this way lies completely flat when opened. In addition, only with this method can individual sheets be turned over 360 degrees; in this respect, this type of binding is used for most calendars. A wide variety of materials can also be joined here. Depending on the thickness of the book or calendar, different hole spacings are used. The loops can vary depending on the thickness of the product in question.

4. Thread sewing

Thread stitching usually means single sheet thread stitching. Here, in the thread sewing machine, the assembled book block is separated again in the feeder. The sheets enter an opening station where they are opened in the center of the sheet by sheet opening systems and then transported to the stitching station. The stitching saddle swings into the sewing center where the single sheet thread stitching is done. After each binding stitch, the bar pushes the sheet backwards into the delivery.

The tween option

Originally, all folded sheets had to be the same size for thread sewing. With the tween option, it is also possible to stitch smaller folded sheets (so-called tweens) into a book block with larger sheets and also to process different materials. This is useful, for example, for the following applications:

  • Weave inlays
  • Coupon booklets
  • Maps in travel guides
  • High-quality inserts in photo or art books
  • more elaborately folded inserts, z. B. with altar fold

What is the future of bookbinding?

According to the Association of German Bookbinders e. V. (BDBI), the future of the bookbinding trade is clearly education, this emerges from a publication on the topic of the future from the summer of 2018. Two points are highlighted in it as significant for securing the future through education:

  • The combined acquisition of young professionals
  • The better evaluation of the advanced training "restorer in the craft"

Hartmut Kohler, deputy chairman of the BDBI board, considers "incomes at the lower end of the scale to be crucial" for securing the future of the craft by attracting young talent. Therefore, the association recommends that companies raise the training fee by 50 euros per year of apprenticeship each.

To secure the future through restoration activities, the BDBI is working in cooperation with the Federal Institute for Vocational Training. The association expects the jointly developed changes to the training regulations to be published in the Federal Law Gazette in 2019. In the future, they should ensure that bookbinders with the advanced training "restorer in the trade" are less disadvantaged compared to studied restorers in public tenders.

Articles using contributions by Martina Reinhardt.
First published in 2012, last updated 26.04.2019.

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