by Jesse Mansfield

First, let’s clarify what a book is. In printing we often use the term booklet instead of book and the definition difference is different depending on who you ask.

Many say that a book is something that is bound with a hardcover. However, there are many softcover books out there. Others say the difference is simply the number of pages; books having a large amount of pages. That makes more sense but is a little loose.

I think it’s better to think of it in terms of purpose. Booklets are more reference material whereas a book is built in a way that’s meant to be read through and through or at least referenced more heavily.

In commercial printing we say booklets because most of what we print are… well… booklets. Publishers print books and so they use that term. I’ll use the term booklet from now on but know that the terms are interchangeable for most purposes.


Imagine you folded a bunch of paper in half hamburger style and stacked them on top of each other on a chairback. Then you took a stapler and stapled the sheets together along where you folded them. That’s saddle-stitching. The chair back is your saddle and instead of stapling we call it stitching.

There’s a technical difference between stapling and stitching. Stapling is taking a pre-formed piece of metal, like the staples you put in your desktop stapler, and binding pages together. Stitching uses a spool of wire, stitches a length of that wire down through the sheets of paper and back up through the other side. A stitching machine essentially makes and cuts its own staples out of raw wire and is used for more rigorous applications like in commercial printing.

Saddle-stitching is generally the most affordable book binding method and is used for smaller booklets. It has its limitations. Most booklet makers can only stitch together a 200 page booklet maximum and that’s with very lightweight paper. Even though they CAN do up to 200 pages you don’t want to do more than 100 pages because the books will suffer from “bowing” making the books look bad and not lay flat.

Squarefold Saddle-Stitching

Squarefold saddle-stitching goes by a few different names (Square spine, Square edge, Lay Flat) but it’s all the same. It’s saddle-stitching with a compression process at the end which forms a square spine.

This allows a saddle stitched booklet to look and behave more like a regular book. No bowing and it lays flat. This allows you to create larger page counts in saddle-stitched books without them becoming unruly and bowing. You get the cost effectiveness of saddle-stitching with the look of a more expensive book binding.

The image above shows the difference between the effects of standard saddle-stitching (left) and squarefold saddle-stitching (right) on an otherwise identical booklet.

Coil Binding

Everyone has seen a coil bound book. A machine punches a row of holes along the edge of the book and then has a plastic coil fed through it.

These books are nice and have their purpose. Coil bound books are part of a book binding category called “Flat Books”. With saddle stitched books sheets of paper are folded on top of each other and bound which is why they’re considered “Folded Books”.

They lay completely flat when opened making them great for reading and writing in. The binding is also very durable. Combined with plastic or leatherette covers and backs these books can last a lifetime. The thickness of the book is virtually unlimited as well.

It’s good to mention that with folded books you have to create books with page counts in multiples of 4 where as with flat books you only have to do in multiples of 2.

Coil binding is more expensive than saddle-stitching but is more versatile and has its specific purposes.

Wire-O Binding

Wire-O is another type of flat book binding using the same principles as coil binding. It just has a different look and some people prefer its look over perfect binding. Wire-O is a bit more proprietary and less common so sometimes it can cost more.

Perfect Binding

This is what most people think of when the think of book binding. Softcover books you buy at the bookstore are perfect bound.

A book block (the collection of interior pages of the books) are notched on the binding edge with a blade to create more surface area and penetration of a glue which is applied to the spine afterwards.

Once the glue is applied to the spine of the book block it is then settled into the cover sheet at the nipping station which compresses the cover and the book block together forming a square spine.

The finished books are then set aside for the glue to cure. Once cured the books are taken to a cutter, either a guillotine cutter or a three-sided trimmer, where the excess edges of the books are cut down to size.

Perfect bound books can be as thin as you want or as thick as 2-4 inches.

PUR vs. EVA Perfect Binding

There are two types of glue used for perfect binding and they both have their pluses and minuses and specific use cases.

EVA glue, or “hot melt” glue, is a more traditional and older perfect binding glue. It makes perfectly good books but

  • EVA can’t be used with coated paper (think photo books)
  • EVA has problems when being used with paper that has a lot of recycled content
  • EVA has problems with books that have been printed digitally
  • EVA books don’t lay flat or stay open
  • EVA will become brittle in extremely cold or hot climates

If any of these things apply to your project then you probably want to go with PUR perfect binding.

Also, PUR is more environmentally friendly. PUR bound books can be recycled whole whereas EVA books cannot have their spines be recycled.

PUR is more durable and flexible allowing the books to stay open when opened rather than snapping shut as soon as you let go of them.

The only downside is that PUR is a little more expensive because it takes longer for the glue to cure and the machines for PUR perfect binding are more expensive too.

Perfect binding can be done with both PUR and EVA. PUR is used on the spine allowing flex in the pages for lay flat but EVA is used on the sides of the spine. This allows the books to go to the finishing cuts more quickly because the EVA cures faster. A technical process allowing larger runs of perfect binding to be more efficient.

Case Binding

Case binding is what is used with hardcover books. Commercial printers rarely do case binding and it is a specialty process usually handled by publishing print houses.

The case is the hardcover and is manufactured separately. The book block is often glued into the case like with perfect binding. This is arguably the most durable finding method.


Each method has it’s own use with some overlap. Sometimes the difference is how much are you willing to spend. There are other methods of binding like GBC binding and tape binding that have fallen out of vogue but still have their following. There’s some specialty binding like sewn books where pages are literally sewn together using a sewing machine.

At The Print Shoppe we offer all these types of binding and booklet printing. Give us a call and an expert will help you figure out what you might use on your next project.