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"Indexes and Tabs Make Books More User Friendly"
[Column #2, 2/95]

Making Books More User-Friendly

The other day, while thinking about all the small inventions that make our lives profoundly easier, I decided that tabs and indexes have to rank near the top of the list. Indexes are not as common in the U.S. as they are in Europe, but we're beginning to catch up here in the States. Nothing else comes close to these modest, commonplace devices in terms of organizing your printed project for ready access.

Like paper clips and the air we breathe, tabs and indexes are taken for granted. Their simple appearance is deceiving and gives no hint of the planning that goes into their design and production. They may be small, but they make loose-leaf binders, reference books and directories some of the most enduringly practical ways for people to get to information.

So, let's take a close-up look at the finer points of tabbing and indexing.

Most of us first encountered that perennial favorite, the humble die-cut tab, in 3-ring binders used for training and seminar manuals. These little guys also appear in mechanically-bound cookbooks, directories, instructional texts and some software manuals.

Adhesive-bound books can also contain tabs, which are usually folded in on themselves so that the signatures can be trimmed. The end user later unfolds the tabs to extend beyond the face of the book.

Size. Although they come in various shapes and sizes, the most common style has rounded corners and extends 1/2" beyond the other pages. Standard dies also create tabs that extend 1/4," 3/8," or 5/8" beyond the page size. The length of a tab (its vertical dimension) is referred to as the "cut," and can range from 1/2" to 10."

A little planning is necessary to determine the correct length of tabs for a given project. At Bindagraphics, we offer a template to make it easy, but figuring out the size isn't rocket science. If, for example, there are 10 sections in a 7" x 9" book, you need 10 tabs, which can be arranged in one or more separate rows, each called a bank. To compute the maximum allowable length per tab in a bank, subtract 1" from 9" (for tabs, you must indent 1/2" from the top and bottom of the page), then divide the answer by the number of tabs in the bank. Let's say you want only one bank of tabs. You'd have 8" (length of the sheet) 10 (number of tabs) = 0.8" (maximum length of each tab).

The minimum length, on the other hand, will be dictated by the amount of copy on the tab. For instance, if each will carry two lines of 10-pt. type, minimum length per tab is 1/2." But let's say the tabs in our 7" x 9" book have to be at least an inch long to carry additional type. You would then want to create two banks of five tabs each, so that each tab can measure up to 1.6" (8" ü 5).

Coating. A transparent or colored mylar is frequently used to protect and reinforce tabs. The application of mylar involves 330-degree heat-an important consideration when selecting ink and paper stock. Non-heat resistant ink will smear and leave you with unreadable tabs.

Paper. Porous stocks are the best choice, and uncoated 110# index stock is the most common. Coated stocks can trap air when the mylar is applied, creating bubbles that ruin the appearance of the tabs. As with many other finishing and binding processes, it's important to consult with your bindery in advance to avoid glitches.

Although tabs are a good way to organize a book, they have drawbacks. Because they extend beyond the face of the text, they're subject to a lot of wear and tear. Heavily-used, non-mylar coated tabs will become frayed and wrinkled.

Location. The positioning of tabs is easy on a loose-leaf project but can be challenging as it impacts page counts and signature formats in adhesive-bound books. The production process can vary greatly depending upon whether the tabs fall within or between signatures. The details are too varied and complex to discuss in this space-suffice it to say that it's crucial to consult with your bindery in advance when planning the production of a book that will contain tabs. With the bindery's help, you can reduce or even eliminate the need for handwork, bring down production costs and gain a competitive advantage in bidding the job. Of course, it's also a good idea to work with the customer at the front end to create a format that works for everyone.

The Indexing Option. An alternative to tabs, indexing has probably been around just as long. The most widely-known method is "thumb indexing," usually used on dictionaries and bibles. Rounded notches are cut into the face of the book from head to tail and from front to back.

Another method, often used in manuals and catalogs, is step indexing. This process involves die-cutting a series of indexes into the body of a bound and trimmed book (see illustration). In the old days, this was performed manually. Productivity improved with the introduction of indexing machines. Today, we use a microprocessor-controlled machine for electronically supported indexing. With this equipment, which can be programmed for up to 63 separate steps-including two-color printing of the index-step indexing is a quick and cost-effective way to divide and organize a book.

The advantages of step indexing over tabbing are obvious-less handwork, faster setup and no protruding elements to be torn or bent. Indexing can be a viable-and equally user-friendly solution for customers turned-off by the special considerations associated with the use of tabs in adhesive-bound books.

Clearly, there's more to these simple devices than first meets the eye. Think about it the tab and index were "user-friendly" before the term was even coined.

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