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Published March 07 2013

Binding Methods

by Peter Biľak

The idea of bookbinding is very simple. It should keep pages together and book when opened should lie flat on a surface.

Our main objective at WTW magazine is to provide content that might interest a curious reader willing to learn new things, but we are equally interested in the design of the magazine itself. We’ve been a little surprised by some of the reader feedback on the design of our first issue, so we’d like to take this opportunity to explain one of the choices we made.

‘The real let-down was the quality of the magazine itself. The paper, the binding (or lack of), the print... it was not what I was expecting from you.’
Hector Lorenzo

‘Bah, great content but the production was absolutely crap. Will stick to digital next time. Two staples is poor. Perfect binding actually would’ve made this thing appear flat and not bulged.’
Marc Foley

‘I do think the magazine deserves a better finishing than the staples in its back.’
Daniël van der Winden

We worked closely with Atelier Carvalho Bernau, whose work we respect, and Thoben Offset Nijmegen, one of the finest printers in the Netherlands, to produce the kind of magazine we ourselves wanted to read. While the design may appear simple, a lot of thought went into the details. We experimented with different papers before selecting four premium paper stocks. We optimised each photo for the paper it would be printed on. We adjusted the margins of each double spread to make sure that the content always appears centred. And we decided to use saddle stitch binding.

Both Typotheque and Atelier Carvalho Bernau have significant experience with bookbinding, and the decision to use saddle stitch was made after careful consideration. Our criteria were practical: we believe that a magazine should be easy to read with one hand (so you can hold your cup of coffee with the other). When you open it, it should lie flat and stay flat without your having to hold it open. It should open fully, so that you can enjoy the double spread photography and read the text by the inside margins.

A number of our readers expressed a preference for ‘perfect’ binding, the adhesive-based method used for most paperbacks. It is the easiest but also the least durable way to produce books. The most commonly used glue, PVA (Polyvinyl acetate), is thick and unyielding, producing a stiff book that resists opening. And eventually, pressing the book open causes the glue to break and pages to fall out.

The saddle stitch method binds the pages together using staples that run through the gutter. It is widely used for relatively small pamphlets and booklets since the pages get progressively smaller as you approach the centre of the book. (In the case of our first issue, the outside pages are about 3mm wider than the inside pages, and margins had to be calculated accordingly.) Properly executed, saddle stitch is a durable and very practical binding, in spite of which it is unfortunately associated with low production values.


—lies flat when closed
—doesn’t fully open
—requires two hands
—obscures content in the crease
—spine breaks


—bulges when closed
—opens easily
—can be read with one hand
—content is fully visible
—spine doesn’t break

While we have made no commitment to using staples and will continue to experiment with other binding methods, ‘perfect binding’ is not a method that produces the result that we want.

Please keep sending us your feedback. We are glad that you are actively engaged in helping us produce a great magazine, and we are very interested in your opinions!

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