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"Halloween Horrors Throughout the Year"
[Column #24, 12/96]

There isn't a week that goes by that jobs we get in the door don't give rise to some horror stories. This past week provides three good illustrations: an Otabind book that had been butchered by another finishing house; a book that had been printed cross-grain so the pages were wavy; and a small-format book that, if we'd bound and trimmed it according to art specifications, would have cut off text on the inside pages. Since Halloween is on my mind now, I thought I'd offer some remedies to some of these recurring curses.

You can scream, but nobody will hear you. When Otabind came out with its licensed layflat perfect binding method several years ago, it captured the market's attention because of its many advantages over mechanical bindings: Without the bulky wire and plastic coils, it was easier to package. Like a perfect-bound book, the spine could be easily read on the shelf. And, it was durable.

These advantages also caught the attention of binderies who tried to copy the process using their own methods and glue combinations. These efforts, unfortunately, have led to sometimes disastrous results and a mistrust of Otabind binding in the marketplace.

To repeat, Otabind is a licensed process. Binderies who purport to perform it, but aren't licensed, face the risk of being sued and the even greater risk that their products won't hold up to Otabind standards, which are stringent in the extreme. Pull and flex tests must be routinely performed on an Otabind-licensed binder's books, and the binder must rigorously adhere to procedures.

For instance, Otabind flex tests score up to 34,000 pulls before a page breaks from its binding, as opposed to the 400 to 3,852 pulls typical of other processes. Also, the Otabind method uses both PVA, EVA and PUR adhesives in an exacting combination, to which only licensees are privy. Finally, Otabind guarantees its products, which is a major advantage for printers who regularly work with high-stakes clients, such as high-tech companies.

Many pretenders to Otabind's throne as king of layflat perfect binding are simply not up to the task. The job that came in last week was a case in point. We were sent samples from a partial run by another bindery, which was purportedly an Otabind job. It was a disaster. The bindery had neglected to double score the front cover, which meant the book wouldn't lay flat. Also, while a crash backing had been applied on the spine, the bindery hadn't used a flexible glue. Another reason the book wouldn't stay open and the explanation why the binding was already showing signs of cracking.

To avoid this nightmare, check to see if the bindery that claims to perform Otabind is licensed to do so. If it's not, choose a different binding method, or a different bindery.

Spine-chilling mishaps. Wavy pages due to printing against paper grain direction is one of those issues that never seems to go away. It's understandable. In an attempt to cut costs (ours and our clients'), we all do our best to achieve maximum efficiencies. That means full-out utilization of equipment and, often, going to any lengths to eliminate paper waste. But, as the old saying goes, penny wise sometimes can be pound foolish.

In bookbinding, it's essential that the grain direction of both the text pages and cover run parallel to the spine. This is particularly true for jobs run on heatset webs, since the drying units exascerbate the rippling effect on wrong grain stock. If the job must be run cross-grain, we suggest using PUR glue for the binding. Stronger than either PVA or EVA, PUR's polymers cross link onto the stock via a chemical reaction with moisture, facilitating adherence, increasing pull strength, providing greater resistance to hot and cold and reducing waviness in wrong-grain projects.

While printers obviously know how to test for grain direction, many printbuyers don't. These days, with tree-free and other design-oriented papers, it's not always easy to know the true grain direction of a stock. Here are some simple tests you can impart to clients: 1. Moisture test. Wet one half of the sheet with a wet sponge. When it dries, the direction of its curl points to the grain direction. 2. Tear test. Tear the sheet both longitudinally and laterally. Whichever direction tears more easily and cleanly is the grain direction. 3. Folding test. Crease the sheet both longitudinally and laterally. The direction in which it folds most easily and the crease is sharpest is consistent with grain direction. 4. Fingernail test. Rip a few inches on one edge of the sheet, then another on an adjacent edge of the sheet. The edge that's not parallel to the grain will be wavy, while the other will appear smooth.

Creeps from the crypt. The creep factor is another issue that haunts us throughout the year. Contrary to what some have suggested, we don't invent creeps in the bindery. A function of the thickness of the paper, creep happens when signatures are inset into each other. The inside signatures naturally push out when outer signatures are folded on top of them. This can be particularly problematic if there are inside tabs printed with bleeds, if margins are narrow, or if pagination is close to the face edge of the page. Creep can be planned for, however. Here's a trick.

Make a dummy of your saddlestitched book, using the same stock and the same number of pages that will be used to print the job. With all the pages folded, use a razor to cut about 1/4" into the top of all the folded pages. Remove the razor and open the pages. You'll see that the cuts in the pages on outer signatures are closer to the outer (trim) edge than the cuts on the inner signatures. To compensate, make sure in the planning stages that the outside margins on the inner signatures are wider, even with the outer signature trim marks. The cuts in the dummy should provide you with a fairly accurate guide with which to plan your margins.

"Halloween Horrors Throughout the Year"