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"Tabs and Indexes - Simple but Effective Tools for Organizing Information"
[Column #52, 4/99]

In a world where many of us eagerly download e-mail every night to continue our chat with long-distance friends and family (and some not-so-long-distance), we often overlook the simple things that make our lives easier. When it comes to text on paper, little else can rival the organizational power of tabs and indexes. While indexes are not as common here as they are in Europe, their demand has grown. Often taken for granted, these simple but effective tools have provided assistance to all of us-on many occasions-to quickly find what we are searching for and then close the book until next time.

While tabs and indexes are simple in appearance, they do require careful planning to ensure they are the proper shape, size, and style to suit your project. In this article, I will discuss the basics of planning your next tabs or indexes project.

Die-cut tabs are usually found in three-ring binders for seminars, training, and so on. They are also frequently used in mechanically bound books such as cookbooks, directories, instructional materials, and software manuals. In addition, some adhesive-bound books contain tabs, which are usually folded in on themselves so the signatures can be trimmed. The end-user then unfolds the tabs to extend beyond the face of the book.

Although the process is not difficult, it is important to plan carefully for the number and size of your tabs. At Bindagraphics, we offer a tab design and planning guide that includes a template to make planning easier. In addition, the company you are dealing with should be happy to help you. (If they’re not, find someone else to do the job!) To assist you properly, we need to know the sheet size, trim size, type of paper, type of varnish if applicable (wax-free, UV, aqueous) type of ink (is it heat-resistant?), tab size, tab length, number of tabs to a bank, number of sets, and whether any drilling or collating is necessary.

Tabs come in a variety of shapes and sizes. The most commonly used style has rounded corners and extend 1/2" beyond the pages of the book. Standard dies also create tabs that extend 1/4", 3/8", and 5/8" beyond the page. The length of the tab (vertically) is called the “cut,” and can range from 1/2" to 10" (and even larger in some cases).

If, for example, there are seven sections in an 8 1/2" x 11" book, you would need seven tabs, which can be arranged in one or more separate rows, each called a bank. To figure the length of the tabs, you would do the following: indent 1/2" on each end and divide the remainder by the number of tabs you want in a bank. In this case, the tab length would be 10" (length of the sheet) ¸7 (number of tabs) = 1.43" (maximum length of each tab). The minimum length allowable is dictated by the amount of copy on each tab. The typical type size for a single line of type on a 1/2" tab is 12-point. Two lines of type require a minimum tab height of 1/2" and a maximum 10-point type.

A strip of clear acetate or colored Mylar can be applied to the side of a tabbed sheet to add strength to the holes and prevent tearing under heavy use. But be careful! When Mylar is attached to a tab, it is heated to more than 330°. This heat can make conventional inks look like tie dye on most stocks. (We’ve also had some problems with wax-free varnish and light aqueous coatings.)

Porous stocks are the best choice, and uncoated 90 or 110# index stock is the most common. Coated stocks, along with heavy ink coverage, can trap air bubbles under the Mylar which distort the readability of the tab. Remember, too, that because tabs extend beyond the face of the page, they automatically endure heavy wear and tear. Heavily used tabs that are not Mylar coated will eventually fray and tear. Consider reinforcing the spine as well to make them stronger so they do not rip out of a 3-ring binder.

As I mention in almost every article, it’s best to consult your bindery during the planning phases of your job. This is especially important when the tabs are inserted in an adhesive-bound book. Page counts and signature configurations can be tricky and can vary greatly depending on whether the tabs fall within text. A properly planned adhesive-bound book can eliminate the need for handwork, bring down production costs, and help gain a competitive edge in bidding the job.

Indexing, while not as popular as tabs in the United States, is a great alternative to tabs and provides another way to organize and access information. The most widely known method is “thumb indexing” and is usually found in dictionaries and the Bible. In this process, rounded notches are cut into the face of the book from head to tail and from front to back.

Another method that is growing in popularity is step indexing. This is often found in manuals and catalogs and involves die cutting a series of indexes into the thumb edge of a bound and trimmed book. While this process used to be tedious and expensive manual work, step indexing machines are now controlled with microprocessors that do the job electronically. This equipment can be programmed for up to 63 separate steps (and two-color printing) making it a quick and cost-effective way to organize a book.

Step indexing has several advantages over tabbing including less handwork, faster setup, and no protruding elements to be torn or bent. Because of this, it can be a great alternative for customers looking for a user-friendly way to organize information in adhesive-bound books.

I know, at times, I prefer to do things the old way and can be fearful of all this computer stuff, but some things will never go out of style.

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