Easy paperback book binding how-to

Softcover binding your own books is easier than you think

Bookbinding for dummies

As of late, I have been printing quite a lot of long mathematical papers, and a few free pdf-books, or tutorials. And I wanted them properly bound, but didn't want them so much as to pay for it. A few months ago, I found this tutorial on hardback binding. Although the tutorial, method and result are great, it is quite a lengthy effort. If you want to give a hand-made book as a present, go for it. If you just want all those pages bound together such that they don't look strange in your shelves, or you don't look freakish at the sub, I would prefer my method (or something similar :) of paperback (softback, softcover) bookbinding. This is the how-to, step by step.

What you will need:
  • Around 3 hours. 90% of the time is just for the glue to dry, you can be elsewhere doing any other thing,
  • A pdf you want to print as a book,
  • A working LaTeX installation. Ask someone who has one to do the first steps for you if you don't, or go and install it, it is not really hard,
  • White glue,
  • A stapler, with staples,
  • Some thick paper (100gr/m^2 or so), a folder separator works great.
  • A brush.
Step 1: Add some blank pages to your pdf. To do so, create a file named Mybook.tex with the following contents. Keep in mind that the name of the pdf file should have no blank spaces, so rename it to something like Bookstart.pdf
\includepdf[pages={{},{},-,{},{}}]{complete path to your pdf file}
Compile the tex file (go to a terminal window, go to your tex file and pdflatex it, if you don't know what I am saying, ask some seasoned TeXer, or look elsewhere). You will get a Mybook.pdf. Those {} in the start of "pages" are blank pages. You need two at the end (they will be glued to the cover) and 2 at the start, but depending on the pdf, you will put 2 or 3 (depends, think what it will look like later). If you don't mind, 2 is ok.

Step 2: Create the stack of sheets, with a proper signature using LaTeX. To do so, follow the instructions in my previous post about LaTeX booklets, but set the signature as anything between 32 and 48 pages. These are the number of pages squeezed in chunks, the same you see in a properly bound book.

Step 3: Split all signatures (the blocks of pages you had), you now will need to fold them over. You will be folding together along consecutive pages (I mean, if you look at all your page numbers, you will find a page where one side has two consecutive page numbers, this is where you should split, and where the fold goes). Fold along, keeping ALL signature pages straight. Mark your fold strongly, using something hard (a pen, a ruler, the side of scissors).

Step 4:
Open up all those signatures, and staple them.

Staple them over something soft

Turn over, close them (with your fingers, or something harder) and you are done

The best way to do so is over something mildly soft (like a bag, a pair of old, folded jeans, newspaper), using a ruler as shown in the drawing. In this ruler you should have two markings, and staple alternating signatures so that staples are NOT aligned, as shown in the following picture. After all the stapling, put them together like this with some weight over it.

Keep them this way for a while.

Step 5: Bind them together. To do so, use either some clamps or binder clips as shown in the picture. If you are using clamps, use a pair of pieces of wood, or rulers, or something hard to hold together the almost-book, and glue the stapled side using a brush. If you use binder clips, put a row of them, take one of them out at a time, glue underneath and put it again.

Clamps work better, but clips are easier to get

Let it dry for a while. At least 30 minutes.

Step 6 (May be optional, but it is recommended): Now you can choose the way to go. It depends on the size of your strong paper and how big the book is. In this step you cut a piece of paper and glue it to the side, so that you don't need a piece of paper which is a lot bigger than your usual A4 or legal paper. If you have bigger ones to glue onto, you can skip this, and just cut a piece that can be glued onto the cover, back-cover and side together. If you do, cut it, fold it as in this step, glue it and done. If you don't...
Ye good olde yellow folder separator
Cut a piece, fold it neatly, put your almost-done book, and fold along the sides. This is the spine piece.

Suggestions by Ari, who knows quite a lot of bookbinding:
  • Forget about making Step 6 optional! Why I say it is optional? For smallish books (1-3 signatures), a viable option is to forget the spine piece and go with just one big cover. This is a lot quicker, but your book may not last as much as with the spine piece (which gives strength and more freedom to open it). I have edited this and now is recommended. The book will look a lot better, and will (probably) last longer. I have two no-spined books, and they are doing ok, although they are harder to spread-open.
  • More strength: In Step 6 use a box cutter to cut some X from top to bottom along the spine (trying to cut all signatures evenly), not very deep, and try to fill them with glue while gluing the spine. This will add a lot of strength to the whole book (as the signatures will be glued among themselves more tightly).

Cut along the spine, vertically and in crosses.
They will suck white glue, adding strength to the binding

Now glue this to the spine of the book, and rebind or reclamp. Let it dry again.

Step 7 (Also more or less optional): Add covers. Cut some half-pages, and glue them thoroughly (without wetting them) with the brush, and glue them to what you already have. When it has dried, you are done.

Step 8 (The most optional): You can now cover them with some book plastic adhesive wrapper for better results.

You are done!
If you found this useful, leave me a comment, give a thumbs-up, or digg, or whatever you feel like doing.

Related posts:
Written by Ruben Berenguel