"A Primer for Constructing Three-Ring Binders"
[Column #9, 9/95]

The ABCs of Three-Ring Binders

The three-ring, looseleaf binder is a perennially popular binding option for a broad variety of documents. everything from employee training manuals produced in-house to software manuals published professionally can be found in binders.

This product has remained a venerable favorite all these years for several reasons, it's versatile, easy-to-use and permits frequent updating so that the contents are always current. In the age of high-tech this-and-that, binders are refreshingly simple. But, self-evident as they may seem, binders are not without their own particular rules and guidelines. This month, we'll look at how to plan a binder.

Binder Basics. The material the binder is made of is determined by end-use and whether it will be decorated. Vinyl binders, made from two pieces of vinyl heat-sealed around a stiff or slightly flexible board, are a popular choice because they're sturdy, durable and stand up by themselves on a shelf. This type is typically used for cookbooks, software manuals, seminar and presentation literature, inventory lists and reference materials. A molded plastic tray for audio or video cassettes, or a plastic holder for computer disks, can be mounted inside a vinyl binder, extending its range of uses to include book-and-tape or book-and-disk combinations, such as self-instructional language courses or small business software packages.

Vinyl binders come in a wide array of colors and textures and may be silkscreened, foil-stamped or appliquéd. By adding a full-size plastic pocket to the outside front, back and spine, a vinyl binder can be made to accept inserts. This is an inexpensive way to give the binder a fancy cover and spine, simply slip your four-color artwork underneath the plastic and voila!

Polyethylene (poly) or cut-flush binders are a more durable and less costly alternative to vinyl. Because it's made of virtually indestructible polyolefin, this type of binder can withstand frequent handling and abuse. It's well-suited for workshops, construction sites and other rough-and-tumble settings. If you're going to the North Pole or to the Sahara, this is the binder to take, it holds up in temperatures ranging from minus 150 degrees to a scorching 150 degrees without cracking, fading, tearing or losing its shape.

Like vinyl, poly binders can be silkscreened. In addition, poly binders can be decorated with half-tone or even four-color printing. Both vinyl and poly can be constructed with an extra flap so that, when opened, they stand like an easel for tabletop presentations.

Once you've decided which material is appropriate for your binder, you'll need to consider the size of the sheets your binder will contain. The most common binder size holds 8 1/2" x 11" sheets, followed by binders designed to hold 5 1/2" x 8 1/2" or 6" x 9" sheets (popular sizes for software manuals and some cookbooks). There are also binders designed for legal-sized sheets.

Your next consideration is capacity, which is determined by the inside diameter of the rings, not the width of the spine. Standard ring sizes range from 1/2" up to 3," and other sizes can be special ordered. Select size based on the weight of the paper stock to be used. The chart below provides guidelines for capacity as measured in the number of sheets the most common ring sizes can accommodate.

Binder Capacity (see chart at end of article.)

Binder rings come in three shapes: round, D, and Angle D. Round rings work well for most applications. D or Angle D rings, which permit pages to lay perfectly flat along the edge that's been hole-punched, are found in large-capacity binders. These rings are shaped like a backwards D and hold up to 30 percent more than a round ring of the same diameter, for example, a 2" Angle D holds one-third more than a 2" round ring.

These are broad guidelines. If your binder has mixed stocks (cover stock for tabbed pages and text stock for the body, for example) or if you're using weights other than those listed on the chart, the best bet is, you guessed it, to consult with your finishing house as you're planning the job.

Decorating a Binder. As I mentioned above, binders can be enhanced and customized with certain finishing processes. A company name can be silkscreened onto the cover and spine, for instance, or a logo can be appliquéd or foil stamped anywhere on the binder case. Most finishing houses require camera-ready art that conforms to certain specifications. Artwork to be silkscreened should be based on a 65-line screen. Make sure graphics or lines are at least one point in thickness; vinyl isn't as porous as paper and inks will bleed more readily. Type should be 10-pt. or larger. Don't try to print pale colors on dark vinyl or poly, silkscreening inks are not opaque. If artwork is to be printed on the spine, design so that letters or images are at least one-quarter inch from the edges and rivets. If necessary, your binder can be constructed so that the rivets are concealed or located on the back cover to provide more room for art on the spine.

In preparing artwork for foil stamping or appliquéing, avoid fine lines, halftones and screens. Keep the design within a 24-square-inch area or more than one die will be necessary (increasing the cost). If the design contains reverse type, make it bold so that the letters don't fill in when stamped.

By teaming up with a finishing house that will handle the collating, binder manufacturing, finishing and packaging, many commercial printers find that offering binders as a value-added item is a sure way to boost sales.

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