POD book binding choices

Not many authors realize how many decisions you’ll be up against when printing your book. As soon as you settle on one thing, a whole new issue pops up. It’s like a publishing whack-a-mole. Unsurprisingly then, if you decide to use a Print on Demand (POD) service, the question of bookbinding will follow soon after.

Bookbinding is essentially the way the interior pages, known as the ‘book block’, are attached to the outer cover. Printers can use a range of different bindings to attach this block to your outer cover, and so before you can have a printed proof made, you’ll need to decide which binding type you’d like to use.

Which of these you choose is entirely up to you. But as with most things, it’s a good idea to really understand the pros and cons before making a choice. It’s not the end of the world if your proof comes back and the binding doesn’t look right. You can always change your mind, but it will cost extra time and money. It’s a much better idea for you to understand what you’re getting before you order anything.

And that’s why we’re here to tell you a little more.

Your choices

With POD, you’ll typically only ever have to choose from four standard choices of binding types, which does narrow things down. Those choices are perfect bound, saddle stitch, casewrap and dust jacket.

The first two are paperbacks, and the second two are hardbacks, which again, should help focus your decision-making. However, each one varies enormously in terms of suitability, appearance, and cost. Learn about each one now, and you’ll be much more likely to make a good choice from the start.

And alongside them all lies a fifth option. Maybe POD isn’t right for your book at all? Again, if you can get to know the binding types and their alternatives, you should gain some clarity on the matter. If you need to change course and employ a traditional printing service instead, now’s the time to realize and do so.

And so without further ado, let’s go through your binding choices.

Perfect bound paperback

Printers make a perfect bound book by folding a thick paper cover sheet around your block of printed interior pages. Then they apply a strong glue down the inside edge to hold the two together.

Many paperback books you see sold commercially will be perfect bound. It’s the most obvious choice for most fiction, non-fiction, and technical books. It’s a very familiar format and statistically the most likely to sell.

Reasons it could work

Perfect binding is fast and cheap – no wonder it’s the most popular binding method. If your book contains more than around 60 pages, it can also include spine text on a nice, straight-edged spine. This can show off your cover design and display information to really help your book stand out on the shelf.

Reasons it might not

Perfect bound POD books use EVA glue. The stiff nature of this type of adhesive will prevent the pages of your book from laying flat. This means no hands-free reading for your readers. Anyone forcing pages open to see text on the inside bend, or trying to make it lie flat, will cause the glue to snap and pages may start to fall out. For this reason, you’ll need to leave a significant gutter area on the left of every page.

EVA also won’t stick to anything that has ink on it, so you’ll have to make sure you leave the gutter completely blank. This means no double-page spread illustrations, for example, and you’ll need to be careful what paper types you use. It also doesn’t stand up well to excessive use or extreme temperatures. If you’re hoping for an heirloom book, this may not be the best choice.

Non POD alternatives

If you’re drawn to the familiarity of perfect bound books but are worried about durability, design or usability, there are two similar non-POD choices available.

The first is to use PUR binding instead. This looks very similar to perfect bound but uses a stronger, more flexible, more resilient PUR adhesive. Using PUR binding will mean pages can lie much flatter. This glue also sticks to all paper coatings and inks, so you won’t have to start sacrificing your illustrations and design.

The second option is Smythe-sewn binding. Here, printers fold, stitch and glue the pages, resulting in a much stronger binding that allows pages to lie completely flat.

It’s also worth us pointing out that using a non POD printer will give you many more options for your paperback cover. You’ll be able to add foil stamping, embossing, debossing, varnishing and laminating. Unsurprisingly, however, for small print runs, these options are definitely more expensive.

Saddle stitch paperback

Saddle stitch is simply a fancy way to describe stapling. If a printer saddle stitches your book, they will print your pages, fold them, and then stack them open at their center spread. The ‘stitch’ comes from a wire staple or two down the centerfold. As a final step, printers will then trim any excess paper along the three outer edges.

Reasons it could work

This is the most basic and cheap of all binding methods, which if you’re on a particularly tight budget, could be great. It’s also perfect for very small volumes. You can use as few as eight pages, which you’d struggle to bind in any other way. Open a saddle-stitched book, and it will lie relatively flat. And because you won’t have a spine to worry about, you won’t need a special templated cover design.

Reasons it might not

A saddle stitch book is going to have a limited lifespan, so this isn’t the best idea if you hope your book will get a lot of use. They’re also only suitable for books up to about 64 pages and can look a little cheap and amateurish if you use them for the wrong thing.

Without a printable spine, your book could also ‘disappear’ on a busy bookshelf. You’ll also need to factor in design adjustments for something called paper ‘creep.’ Creep occurs when you stack lots of paper pages inside each other. The pages in the center will stick out slightly, and so your printer will need to trim them. You’ll need to make sure the position of your text on each page compensates for that. This can be quite complicated without proper help.

Non POD alternatives

A good alternative to avoid some of these problems would be spiral binding. You’ll be able to bind many more pages, and spiral-bound books are the stand-out winners if you’d like your book to lie flat. As we’ve mentioned before, traditional printing methods also mean printers can make your covers much more exciting. However, most non POD printers will only take on larger order sizes. If you only want a few copies at a time, this one may not be possible.

Casebound hardback

Time to move onto hardback options.

A casebound hardback is essentially the same as a perfect binding, but instead of a floppy paper cover, your book will be thicker and more rigid. This is because printers add board to give the cover extra support.

To make a casebound hardback, printers cover thick board with your designed and printed paper cover. They’ll cut the paper cover a little bigger so they can fold it over and glue it to the undersides of the board. They’ll also attach printed or colored paper end sheets to your inner book block.

It’s then simply a matter of fixing one element to the other. That’s where the end sheets come in. Folding the cover over and lining everything up, binders will glue your book’s end sheets to the inside of the board. This also covers up the overlaps from the front cover neatly and, bingo: it’s all held together.

Reasons it could work

Casebound hardbacks have strength and durability built in. Laminate the cover, and you’ll have the perfect choice for children’s books, photo books or art books. The cover will protect your pages, and the weight of the book will help them lie pretty flat. This means they’re great for reference materials and books that you hope people will use time and time again.

We’d also recommend them for books with larger page counts as the extra structure will make them much easier for your reader to hold. Not having a dust jacket that’s likely to slip off or get scuffed means they feel more solid and less unwieldy.

Casebound hardbacks look better quality than a paperback. This perceived value means readers are prepared to pay much more than they would for a paperback, even though both contain the same content. Good news for your sales!

Reasons it might not

Of course, quality does come with a price. Case binding is much more expensive than perfect binding. Production costs will obviously be higher, and the extra weight will add costs to your shipping. And although they’re durable, case bound books aren’t invincible. They’re still glued in the same way as perfect bound books, just with a thicker cover. You’ll still experience wear and tear, and readers will have to treat them fairly gently.

Non POD alternatives

Smythe-sewn bindings act as a good alternative here. Before they glue them, traditional printers fold and stitch the pages, making them much stronger, and safer to open completely flat. By using a non-POD technique, you’ll also gain the advantage of being able to use foil stamping, embossing, etc. on the cover, all of which look especially impressive on a hardback.  However, this kind of binding is much slower and more expensive and will require you to place a bigger order.

Dust jacket hardback

If you’ve placed POD book order for a dust jacket hardback, your printer will produce your book in a similar way to a casebound hardback. This time, however, they’ll cover the cover boards with thick cloth and keep your paper cover separate. Instead of gluing the paper cover down, they’ll simply fold it around the clothbound book, tucking the flaps inside the covers.

Reasons it could work

A dust-jacketed book has a lovely, traditional feel to it and perfectly suits more literary genres. For some books, they just feel right – like a person wearing the perfect jumper. The cloth-covered book underneath will typically include gold foil lettering, making it feel a little more special and something to be treasured.

Reasons it might not

Unlike other binding types, dust jacketed books are strangely divisive. Some people love them, while others absolutely hate them, finding them slippery and unnecessary. It is easy to lose or damage paper covers, and without them, the plain cover cloth can look very bland and anonymous.

Most POD printers only offer a couple of cloth colors and all use the same gold typeface. So, with their covers gone, all POD dust-jacketed books look the same. What’s more, despite their name, dust jackets do absolutely nothing to repel dust. In fact, they actually seem to give it even more places to gather and stick.

Non POD alternatives

If you use a non-POD printer, you can select almost any color for your cloth binding, and any typeface or decoration to emboss into it. That way, even if a reader loses the cover, there’s something unique and beautiful underneath. Alternatively, a traditional printer usually offers the option a casebound book, but with an extra dust jacket over the top. That way, you get all the advantages of a dust jacket, but with a colorful, printed, second cover underneath.

Final words

So there we have it. If you’re keen to use a POD service, you’ll need to pick from one of these four options. Every book is different, so just hone in on those advantages that you feel are most beneficial to your work. And, of course, now’s the time to spot the disadvantages that could be a deal-breaker for your book’s particular personality.

Although POD offers many benefits, it’s also important to remember that it isn’t the only option. Traditional printing techniques, although more expensive, could add a winning extra detail or touch of quality to your book. It is a bigger investment, but the more books you print, the more the price will come down.

Whatever you choose, we hope you’ll enjoy picking your book’s new ‘clothes.’ Your book’s binding type is what it will wear forever, after all.