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Research Task: Book Terminology

To familiarise myself with the correct terminology and phrases when talking about the main parts of a book, I looked at the suggested items in my sketchbook by annotating a printed photograph of a basic hardback.

Sketchbook annotations and notes.

While doing this, I also considered the kind of variations and modifications for each part to write about below.


Head / Tail

The head and the tail of the book are fairly straightforward as the top and bottom edges of the front and back covers. As a standard part of all book structures they don't leave a large range options for modification, although as I've seen in previous examples, ribbons can be attached at the head of the spine to create built in bookmarks. Although connected to the board, I would consider curved or cut corners to also be ways to modify the head and tail of a book, although this is more commonly seen in artist books rather than commercial covers.


The spine is traditionally an important location for decoration as alternative space to the front cover with room for key details such as the books title and author or other patterned visual indicators that can still be seen when the book is placed on a shelf where only the spine remains visible. As the backbone of a book, the profile is mostly determined by the way the book is bound. Thin paperbacks appear mostly flat against their covers, whereas a thickly bound hardback protrudes slightly front he main book block, sometimes with a convex curve for thicker titles. Other techniques like ring binding or stitching can remove a need for a spine all together.

Pages / Leaves

The pages or leaves of a book provide a lot of options to suit the printed content of a book. There are many variation on paper colour, texture, type and weight that can all be curated to support the strengths of what information is being presented. Thick glossy pages are usually more suitable for photographic portfolio work, whereas off-white matte paper is more commonly found in novels that only have written text. Various folding techniques can be used to extend information for certain pages beyond the main footprint of a book with examples such as unfolding maps or interactive pop-up elements in children's books.

Book Block

The book block is the amalgamation of all the pages of a book grouped together. These can be stacked individually or in folded signatures which can then be sewn, glued or bound in a number of ways to the board. Together, they create the main profile of the book as determined by the total size of all the pages included. The visible edge of the book block facing away from the spine is called the 'fore edge' and can be optionally decorated through inking, painting or gilding to provide some extra visual flair. If the pages are not trimmed evenly, this can created a 'deckled' edge where the texture of the block is rough rather than smooth. This is more common in handmade books where the pages have been trimmed manually.


The board of a book refers to the material used in the front and back of hardback books around a block of pages. Although usually made up of a firm material wrapped with leather, paper or cloth, heavier materials can be used as book board such as cut and engraved metal and wood. These materials are not as malleable as a single piece, but they can still be cut as separate sections for the spine and covers that are then connected together by hinges and clasps. The use of board in hardcover books significantly changes the weight and durability of a binding over paperbacks and has historically been used to preserve culturally significant bodies of text.


The front and back covers are the largest surface areas that can be modified for a book. Paperbacks are soft covers that are usually a single piece of thicker card that is a slightly heavier weight than the main paper used and can still have other thin materials overplayed, such as metallic lettering that preserves a flat surface. The strength of hard covers on the other hand better lend themselves to being adapted through window cutting, embossing, gilding or layering of materials to the surface to create 3-D effects. For both, common cover features include showing the books title, author, illustrations, quotations and extracts from the text inside, however this is not an exclusive or exclusive list. Some books combine these two methods with a more detailed dust jacket wrapped over a more minimal hardcover design.


As I was researching these terms, a really useful resource I found was this video below from AbeBooks, which gives a clear visual overview of many of the same terms from this exercise, along with a few extra terms that I found interesting such as the difference between 'cut' and 'plate' illustrations.

Their website also has a well-structured glossary of even more terms which I intend to use as a starting point to explore and refer back to as I try to be more specific with my book terminology when I write about my projects



AbeBooks (2021) AbeBooks' Glossary of Book Terms At: (Accessed 17/05/2021)

AbeBooks Explains the Parts Of A Book (2011) [Online Video] At: (Accessed 17/05/2021)


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