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Exercise 2.2: Paper and binding choices

Updated: May 28, 2022

Now with more knowledge of book terminology, I moved on to the main exercise of looking at paper and binding options, starting with paper types from publisher sample packs and then moving on to look more closely at how the different paper stocks in the books from Exercise 1 have been bound.


Paper Samples

At the suggestion of the exercise, I started looking for paper samples to examine. Unfortunately, my local printers are not available for me to visit as the UK is still in the process opening again after lockdown, so in the meantime I sourced sample books from online paper merchants. Having a physical object to reference from an online provider is a valuable resource, but I would still like to eventually visit a book printer in person when I can get the additional benefits from seeing fully finished examples of what is available on the market.

Book Printing UK

When I ordered my samples, I first expected to receive a fairly uniform set of pages with basic descriptions but little printed content, but when this booklet arrived, I was very impressed by the presentation. This ring bound A5 collection of various paper stocks is clearly labelled and has real samples of the type of content printed on each type of paper that it they are best suited for.

There are extracts from novels on recycled off white stock, photographic travel guides in full colour and children's story books with glossy finishes to name a few examples. Additionally, the first set of pages acts as a guide to describe common printing terms, font sizes and resolutions. All together this makes for a useful learning resource for book printing in general and not only a great showcase of products.


Mixam's samples took a different form by providing two swatch books with an accompanying booklet guide to paper types. The booklet is small and brief, but there are some good tables for comparing recommended weights and sizes for common book formats. It also describes the difference between Litho and Digital printing techniques and how this can change the results of the print, which is something I hadn't considered before.

The two A7 swatch books can be used to compare the two printing styles on the same paper, which is arranged in weight order per paper type and neatly bound with single screws that that lets them fan out. I really like this format as even though there are no images to look at, these are really easy and quick to use to reference and compare paper types as they appear naturally.


Examining my own collection

In exercise 1, I had already put some thought into how the type of paper and binding affected the character of the books in some of the examples I gave, but it was worth looking at all my books to focus on these features. When revisiting my collection, I sorted the books into three groups that each had similar binding methods so that I could make any extra observations and comparisons between them.

Softcover (Stitched & glued signatures)

These books all share the popular method of stitching multiple signatures together with thread, then gluing the book block onto a cover made of thin card to create a paperback binding. This method has a lot of versatility for books that don't use specialist papers and these four examples show that is useful for titles of any thickness where the stack of signatures doesn't bunch together and allow the book to lay flat without much resistance.

There are not many options for decoration using alternative materials with this kind of flat binding, but British Hit Singles and Albums stands out with a reflective metallic cover as does the lettering on The Anxiety Journal. I have seen this effect used a lot in paperbacks to highlight individual design elements of it's a particularly popular choice for young adult fantasy fiction.

I feel the way these covers are bound don't often connect with the content inside the books as they mainly serve as a means to an end in producing a book using less resources than other binding methods would. This also makes them ideal choice for frequently handled novels and picture books that only use one type of paper stock throughout.

'Perfect' bindings

A 'perfect' binding lends itself best to binding books that include different paper types in the same volume. Instead of being grouped together in leaves and signatures, each page is cut individually then stacked into a block before being glued to each other and then the cover. Although usually favoured for paperbacks, perfect bindings can be an advantage for any binding that uses mixed paper stocks. For example, in the hardcover version of Guy Martin: My Autobiography, the paper stock is glossy and thick for the photography sections, but the main stock is off white and thin for the pages that include the main body of text.

Depending on how deeply the pages are glued into the spine, sometimes there is a drawback with the durability of these books as they can degrade faster as over time as individual pages break free from the glue. Although my copy of Cézanne is in good condition here, I have other art books in the series that use the same binding where some pages have completely separated from the rest of the book. This can also happen with entire signatures in other bindings but is rarer as the larger bunches are usually embedded deeper into the glue and reinforced by the stitching.

Hardcover / Case-Bound (Stitched & glued signatures)

As the most heavy and durable binding style in my collection, I have found thicker case-bound books to be better suited to shelf life rather as opposed to the lightweight paperbacks that travel with me or live by my bedside. The paper blocks for hardcovers typically consist of stitched signatures glued together to the front and back covers while leaving the spine free. By not directly connecting to a rigid spine, the signatures can naturally bend when the book is flat and the pages curve away from the spine. Hardbacks are not exclusive to thick block either and can be useful for durability as thin and light children's stories or for recipe books as with Mug Cakes.

Hardback books are my favourite binding style from my collection as they offer a lot of different options for combining materials to make a book unique. The range of material options available give more opportunities for designers to style a cover to match the content inside with extra features and flourishes. In some cases, a dust jacket is added as extra protection, but this can be an alternative design to the hardcover, giving even more surface area to potentially customise.

The feel of a hardback book from its weight, strength, and texture down to the type of finishing decoration all help me to gauge the importance of a title, and even the slight creak as you open a hardback title can be evocative of emotion. My favourite titles that I have featured in these exercises are both hardbacks that execute this well. The Secret History of Twin Peaks feels nothing short of an archived case file with its darkly embossed cloth cover and the Field Guide to the Animals of Britain is finished well with a ribbon bookmark attached to cloth at the head of the spine.


I really appreciated having a deeper dive into paper types and bindings and as I handle new books, I'm now looking at how they have been physically designed and manufactured as much as the content within. I look forward to trying to apply this knowledge in my own designs in later exercises and assignments.



BookprintingUK (2021) At: (Accessed 25/05/21)

Mixam (2021) At: (Accessed 25/05/21)

Wilson, A. (2020) Book Binding: The Ultimate Guide At: (Accessed 25/05/21)


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