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Multimedia Packaging Keeps Looseleaf Binding Market Flourishing
[Column #56, 8/99]

Not surprisingly, in this high-tech world, the demand for traditional loose-leaf ring binders has experienced some decline. Their refreshingly simple design, however, remains a staple in the multimedia world where we’ve seen many twists on an old product. Ring binders are versatile, easy to use, and easy to update; therefore, they remain a popular choice for a broad variety of uses, ranging from employee training handbooks produced in-house to professionally published software manuals. Nevertheless, this type of multimedia packaging comes with its own rules and guidelines and, as with any other job, requires careful planning.

Regardless of the project’s complexity, there are many factors to consider when designing a loose-leaf binder including decoration options, storage devices for various media, capacity, ring size, and ring shape.

To determine decorator options for the product (the material used in particular), consider its end-use. Vinyl binders, made from two pieces of vinyl heat-sealed around a stiff or slightly flexible board are a popular choice because they are sturdy, durable, and stand up by themselves on a shelf. Typical uses for vinyl binders include cookbooks, software manuals, seminar and presentation literature, inventory lists, and presentation materials.

The packaging for some forms of media may have special requirements. How will audio- and videocassettes, computer disks, CD-ROMs, DVDs, and the like, be inserted? Will molded plastic trays be mounted inside the binder or has the designer incorporated something else? With the advent of multimedia, many packaging houses now offer replication services as well.

Vinyl binders come in a wide array of colors and textures and can be silk-screened, foil-stamped, or appliquéd. Adding a full-size pocket to the outside front, back, and spine allows the piece to accept printed inserts. Slipping artwork in these plastic sleeves is an easy way to enhance the cover and spine and give the package a more professional, high-end look.

Polyethylene binders (sometimes referred to as “poly” or “cut-flush” binders) are a more durable, less costly alternative to vinyl. Because they are made of virtually indestructible polyolefin, this product can withstand frequent handling and abuse making it a popular design for workshops, construction sites, and other rough environments. It also withstands temperatures ranging from –150ºF (–100ºC) to a scorching +150ºF (66ºC) without cracking, fading, tearing, or losing its shape.

Like vinyl, poly binders can be silk-screened or decorated with half-tone or even four-color printing. Both vinyl and poly packaging can be constructed with an extra flap that, when opened, allows the binder to stand like an easel during tabletop presentations.

Paper board binders are typically made of 18- to 24-point stock and can be offset or screen-printed, foil-stamped, embossed, or debossed. They are diecut and run through a straight-line gluing machine; the edges of these binders are folded up and glued and then ring mechanisms are riveted in. For added strength and protection, paper binders should be film-laminated or at least UV coated.

Turned-edge binders are growing in popularity and can be made from paper, synthetic paper, cloth, or leather. The edges of these binders are “turned” from the outside to the inside cover, hence the product’s name. On the inside cover, a liner sheet seals the turned edges underneath it. Not all multimedia packaging operations offer turned edge pieces because the process is expensive and requires special equipment. The final product, however, is impressive and is often used in projects requiring a high perceived value.

Once you’ve decided which material best suits your package, consider the size of the sheets it must accommodate. The most common binder size holds 8½" x 11" (215.9 x 279.4-mm) sheets, but 5½" x 8½" (139.7 x215.9-mm) and 6" x 9" (152.4 x 228.6-mm) formats are also popular for products such as software manuals, employee directories, and cookbooks. There are binders designed for legal-sized sheets as well.

The next consideration is the project’s capacity requirements. This is determined by the inside diameter of the rings, not the width of the spine. Standard ring sizes range from ½" (12.7 mm) to 3" (76.2 mm), but other sizes may be specially ordered. Select your size based on the weight of the stock to be used. The accompanying chart provides rough capacity guidelines (measured by the number of sheets the most common ring sizes can accommodate), but when in doubt construct a bulking dummy with the actual stock and base your capacity decisions on it.
(see chart at end of article.)
Binder rings come in four shapes: round, oval, D, and angle-D. Round and oval rings work well for most applications (see diagram). The D or angle-D rings allow pages to lay perfectly flat along the hole-punched edge and are typically found in large-capacity binders. These rings are shaped like a reversed letter D and hold up to 30% more than round rings of the same diameter.

These are broad guidelines. If your product has mixed stocks (e.g. cover stock for tabbed pages and text stock for the body), or an unusual paper weight, consult with your packaging house during the planning stages.

Some designers do not realize the scope of available decorating options. Multimedia packaging can be enhanced and customized with finishing processes such as silk-screening, offset-printing in multiple colors, appliqués, and foil stamping nearly anywhere on the case. Most finishing houses require camera-ready art that conforms to certain specifications. Because vinyl is not as porous as paper and inks readily bleed, artwork for silk screening should have an 85-line/inch (6.4 mm) screen. In addition, graphics or lines should be at least 1 point thick and type should be 10 point or larger. Avoid printing pale colors on dark vinyl or poly because silk screening inks are not opaque; if there is artwork on the spine, design the letter or images at least ¼" (6.4 mm) from edges and rivets. If necessary, your binder can be constructed so the rivets are concealed or located on the back cover to allow more space for artwork on the spine.

For projects that include foil stamping or appliquéing, avoid fine lines, halftones, and screens. If the designs are not kept within a 24-square-inch area, more than one die will be needed, raising the cost of the project. If the design contains reverse type, use a boldface font so letters won’t fill in when stamped.

By teaming up with a multimedia packaging company that provides turnkey service—collating, binder manufacturing, tabs and indexes, replication, finishing, packaging, assembly, and mailing—many commercial printers find that offering loose-leaf binders as a value-added item is a great way to boost sales.

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