"Bound to Last"
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Have you ever watched a job fall apart because binding was an afterthought? Don’t come unglued. It’s my experience that up to 70 percent of postpress problems can be traced to lack of planning up front. Face it: postpress operations have been overshadowed in recent years by dramatic changes at the front end of the printing process. Printers have had to concentrate on becoming fluent in the complex new language of electronic prepress, and binding methods haven’t received the same level of attention—despite some new technology and new processes.
You can’t assume that all your reps are thoroughly familiar with current binding methods. This column, then, is a primer for less experienced sales reps as well as juniors in estimating and production planning. Length limitations prevent me from addressing all binding methods, so I’ll focus on layflat options—that is, books bound so that no assistance is needed to keep them open
Mechanical bindings. We all know that an important benefit of these bindings is that they lay flat for hands-free use—a vital feature for publishers of directories, reference books, short-run manuals and cookbooks. Venerable choices like Wire-O‚, spiral and plastic comb also remain popular because they are durable and offer virtually unlimited size options and paper stock choices. Elements like inserts, tabs and foldouts are routinely included in mechanically bound books. The three basic styles (four, if you break spiral down into wire and plastic) all have different maximum thicknesses, which are:
(see chart at end of article)
Mechanical bindings have their drawbacks, however. They take longer to produce and cost more than other methods (see bar graph for cost comparison). And the binding apparatus, whether wire or comb, creates a gap between pages that makes 2-page spreads problematic. The only mechanical apparatus that allows printing on the spine is a plastic comb, and decorating the comb by foil stamping or silk screening can add 20 to 40 cents per book. Other possible options to get printing on the spine are to wrap a one-piece cover around the book and have the mechanical apparatus attached to cover 4, the outside of the back cover. Finally, Wire-O‚ and spiral wire can cause additional expense in mailing individual copies—steps must be taken to protect the wire from being crushed.
Adhesive bindings. These methods solve the problem of printing on the spine. Traditional perfect binding methods involve the use of hot-melt glues, which are relatively less expensive, cure quickly and form a very strong bond. The downside, however, is that the perfect-bound book is not user-friendly. Because traditional hot-melt glues stiffen when they cool, the product has a tendency to snap shut when opened on a work surface.
Enter layflat adhesive binding, which allows a book to stay open while the user is keystroking or cooking. Added benefits include a cover with a spine area that can be printed and an effective image area for 2-page spreads. True layflat binding processes involve side-gluing the cover to the front and back pages of the book, allowing the spine of the book block to remain detached from the cover.
The Otabind option. The premier layflat binding process is Otabind. Developed in the 1980s by the Finland-based Otava Publishing Company, Otabind has gained widespread favor in the U.S., becoming the preferred method for many of our customers who produce software manuals, cookbooks, textbooks and reference and instructional materials.
The process calls for two applications of a cold glue—or PVA (polyvinyl acetate)—down the spine of the book block to adhere a crash liner (the crepe paper used to reinforce the spine). The cover is attached with side glue, rather than across the entire width of the spine as in traditional perfect binding methods. The use of PVA adds to the book’s flexibility, because cold glues cure to a semi-soft state and don’t crack the way hot-melts do. The Otabind method not only yields a higher quality binding, but it is also significantly cheaper than mechanical binding. For example, we recently bound more than 1 million copies of a 496-page cookbook produced by a national publisher and printed by a major book manufacturer. Previous editions of the book had been plastic comb-bound at $2.06 per unit. Using Otabind, the cost was only 31 cents per book. Word of Otabind’s quality has spread—major customers such as IBM now routinely specify it when placing orders.
Where quality control is critical, Otabind—a patented process done only by licensed binderies that follow a strict set of production and quality standards—is the method of choice. There are certain guidelines to keep in mind when recommending Otabind. We typically use it on books up to 1 1/2" thick. For maximum binding strength, paper grain should run parallel to the spine, as with all adhesive binding. Although some binderies initially shied away from Otabind because of difficulties with coated stock, we’ve found that it can be successfully used if the coating is light and the grain runs parallel to the spine. We’ve even been able to use Otabind on 70- to 80-pound, wrong grain stock. In other instances, we’ve used it for directories with tabbed pages on heavy stock.
Another layflat perfect binding option that’s emerged in recent years is RepKover, which uses a cloth strip mounted on the inside of the spine to reinforce the soft cover of a book. RepKover is frequently used for short runs as an alternative to Otabind. Because RepKover involves extra steps and specific types of equipment, it’s best to discuss both methods with your bindery before making a choice.
A cautionary note: the market is full of lesser-quality knock-offs of Otabind. When specifying binding, keep in mind that production methods vary widely from one bindery to the next. Unless you specifically ask, you have no idea which layflat perfect method will be used.
PUR (polyurethane reactive) hot melt is used by some binderies for layflat perfect binding. This relatively new adhesive is more flexible than older types of glues, works well with any type of stock and is acceptable for some applications. We don’t use PUR—it’s more costly to apply and takes 24 to 48 hours to cure, which lengthens often critical turnaround times. PURs can also be very toxic in production and don’t hold up under extreme temperatures, causing some books to fall apart.
This overview is just the tip of the layflat iceberg—there are various other styles of binding which we’ll discuss in the future. To successfully navigate the sometimes challenging waters of binding, use a bindery as your compass. By consulting with a postpress house on unusual or unfamiliar binding and finishing requirements, you’ll not only avert high costs later on, but you may also discover unexpected solutions that uniquely and effectively meet your customers’ needs. Regardless of the methods you plan to offer, the time to anticipate and deal with bindery is before you estimate a job.