Making stapled books & booklets is easy, either with computer printed pages or blank paper.
Making a basic blank booklet is described, then the various options for more ambitious work are explained.
Make a blank booklet
- 1 A4 sheet copier card (or other lightweight card)
- 5 A4 sheets blank paper
- 1 A4 sheet scrap paper
- Stapler (standard office type or staplegun)
- Guillotine, or a knife & metal ruler
If an ordinary desk stapler is used, its opened fully and used like a staplegun. This works fine for slim booklets. Basic stapleguns will staple upto around 100 page booklets reliably.
The number of sheets of paper is 1/4x the number of pages you want. Slim booklets are quick and easy to make.
Fold the sheet of A4 scrap paper in half to make a crease, then unfold it.
On a carpet surface, assemble the papers in the following order: the paper pages, the card cover, then the scrap sheet on top. Check all sheets are precisely aligned (you'll notice the folded sheet must lie flat to enable it to align properly), and staple along the crease with a staplegun or opened stapler.
2 staples are fine for A5 booklets and below. 3 gives maximum durability for books that will see a lot of use.
Turn the stapled stack over, place on a hard flat surface & bend the staple tips down flat (a kitchen knife is ideal).
If you're making more than one booklet per stack of sheets you need to cut the stapled stack into 2 (or more for smaller booklets), cutting along the fold lines in the scrap sheet. If using a knife, put a sacrifical surface under the cut, eg a bit of scrap wood.
Fold the booklets, aligning the corners precisely before pressing the spine flat.
Tear off the scrap sheet. You now have booklets!
Even for blank booklets its often quicker to make them than to go to the shops and find what you want. Booklets can be made any size & with any number of pages upto at least 100.
4 small booklets can be completed in a few minutes, including time taken getting supplies out. For larger numbers the time per book reduces.
With a bit more time you can also have anything preprinted on the pages, such as columns, headings, background images, faux watermarks, legal statements, printed fancy paper textures, esoteric graphpaper patterns, whatever you want.
Funky covers are easily printed too.
A5 paperback books (made from A4 paper) are quite practical upto 100 pages.
A4 books may be made using A3 paper, but the covers are a bit on the floppy side. Hence books this large are made as hardbacks more often.
Miniature books down to an inch or so are well received as novelty gifts. The main challenge is to fit an interesting sentence onto each page!
Hardbacks can also be made with this method, and are not difficult. However the page limit of this construction still applies, only slim books are practical.
Artwork is easy to print from computer, either for the pages or cover. Bear in mind though that the colour range of laser & inkjet printers is noticeably more resticted than the on-screen colour palette. This is one reason why the printed image tends to look duller.
When a mix of bright colours is wanted, one way to improve appearance is to use more single ink colours in the design, ie magenta, yellow & cyan, as these are inherently brighter than mixed ink colours such as red, green, blue.
A less likely option is to hand colour some parts of the design using fluorescent highlighter pens. This can be workable for a one off. Beware of using highlighters on water soluble inkjet print, the highlighter can smear black ink into light areas. Laser prints or good photocopies are preferable.
Home colour printing is only cost effective for limited volume. Ink consumption & cost can be much reduced by using:
- white backgrounds instead of coloured
- hollow line art instead of solid fill
- pale colours instead of strong colours
- single ink colours instead of multi-ink colours
- replacing some colours with grey
- smaller images
- fading the outer areas of images to white
- avoiding dark colours (that aren't black or grey)
- changing image gamma to lighten mid tones
- replacing black areas with dotted or hatched black.
Standard 80gsm copier/typing/writing paper is good for most work. Despite not being recommended by manuacturers for inkjet use, its plenty good enough for 99% of applications.
Special purpose papers are useful where the very best quality is wanted, but they aren't usually needed.
60 & 70gsm paper aren't recommended. Domestic printers often struggle with it, print shows through badly, and the end result feels very flimsy.
90gsm papers give more of a quality feel if wanted.
Light paper colours sometimes make reading easier for some people with vision problems or dyslexia. Test sheets printed on a selection of light colours will soon identify whether any colour is helpful.
When its desired to identify chapter positions with paper colour, a coloured pen with a broad felt nib is run down the edge of one paper sheet to make it clearly visible when the book is closed. Several pages may be marked with different colours this way. Allow the ink to soak in & dry before closing the book.
Inclusion of a coloured paper sheet at the required pages is only practical if the marker pages are symmetrically spaced through the book, as one paper sheet always appears at 2 positions in the book.
Where appearance is unimportant but lines are wanted to aid note taking, ordinary lined paper pads may be used for the pages when making A6 booklets from A4 paper - but not when making A5 from A4, as the latter would have the lines in the wrong direction. Computer printing gives a much better result, but ready lined paper works if not fussy. When printing lines etc, the lines should usually be pale rather than black, making them visible rather than intrusive.
A neater alternative to lined paper is to include a loose guide sheet with thick black lines, placing this behind the blank page when writing. Its possible to include a spare stapled guidesheet page in the book, preferably perforated for easy removal.
Fairly thin card such as copier card (or a little thicker) is best for covers. Medium to thick card tends to buckle around the spine and make handling in the finished item awkward.
- 120gsm work well
- IIRC 165 is about the upper limit for good behaviour
- 180 & 210gsm card don't behave so well
Its also possible to use some types of plastic card substitute as covers, which are waterproof and wipe cleanable. Some plastics crack or split when stapled, some work well.
Glossy or semi-gloss card makes for a better appearance when the cover is picture printed.
This construction method can be used to make very simple hardbacks and fancy covers, such as velvet finish.
For velvet covers, when the book is made, the cover is laid flat and velvet applied to the outside. Its folded over the 4 edges and glued down. To stick it behind the inner pages, the cover is bent back at the top slightly when fully open. Printing text onto velvet etc is generally impractical at home, though its not impossible.
For a basic type of hardback, once the paperback book is finished, card front and back sheets are glued onto the flexible card cover, leaving the curved spine with no rigid sheet. The whole cover is then cloth covered as above. This is quite a basic type of hardback. The glued cloth increases the original cover's robustness.
___________ (___________ =========== Book shows hardback cover added on one side.
Paper & pictures
Printed pictures use a lot of ink, and with inkjets this tends to show on the other side of the page. When this is a problem, the 2 possible solutions are to leave the other side of the paper blank, or use thicker paper. The issue occurs rather less with laser print or photocopiers.
Mixing Printed images on thicker paper with standard weight paper upsets the handling of the book to some extent, and requires messing with 2 paper trays. Staying with 80gsm is easier all round if single sided printed images are acceptable, or thicker paper may be used for low volume work.
Its generally best to trim the open book edge to give precise paper alignment.
Snapoff knives are ideal for this. Cutting paper blunts the edge quickly, but the sharp edge is restored by snapping a segment off the blade end. Most guilllotines are incapable of cutting many sheets at once, but some are ok for very thin booklets.
When using a knife, its necessary to ensure the angle and position of the knife are the same on each pass, otherwise a bumpy edge is produced.
Bulky booklets raise a couple of extra issues compared to slim ones. The act of folding a bulky booklet causes page misalignment, as the outer pages wrap around the folded edge of the inner ones. This is solved by trimming the open edge of the book after folding, but 2 issues need attention:
Firstly no domestic guillotine will cut through 50 sheets of paper. Unless you have access to a commercial machine with a motorised blade, you'll have to cut it using many strokes of a sharp knife, taking care to keep the knife exactly upright for each stroke. (It often helps to renew the blade part way through.) Medium-hard force should be maintained on the paper stack with the other hand to prevent the slightest movement during the cutting process. Do this accurately and you get a nice neat edge. Let the knife wander about and you get a mess.
The 2nd smaller issue is that if all pages are printed with the same margins, you end up with varying text position as you go through the pages. Once you've done one book you'll know how much horizontal text shift to apply, and can apply it stepwise through the book to maintain almost identical text position in the final product. This is in no way necessary of course, and is usually not done.
Obviously you can't print paper to make it textured, at least not with a normal domestic printer, but many background images can be applied to make paper look fancy or textured. Printed faux textures can cover a much wider range than real textures, as many real textures are either too costly to obtain, or physically impractical.
Where people often go wrong with this is to make the images not pale enough. For most finishes the printed image should be extremely pale to look good, and initial judgement is usually fairly far off. Be prepared to keep making the image paler until its as pale as it can go while looking good. Sometimes the image on the monitor can be so pale as to completely white out - its what comes out on the paper that counts, and the 2 aren't always the same, particularly in very light or very dark image areas.
These texture images either need to be printed without borders, covering the full paper surface, or else the blank borders trimmed off.
For the determined, a dot matrix printer with no ribbon can produce real 3d texturing. This can be used as a security feature to distinguish an original from copies.
Folded books tend not to lay flat when first folded. The solution is simply to store them pressed flat for a while.
When producing thicker books in volume its easier to store them unfolded, and fold at shipping time. Distributing them unfolded doesn't work well, as people are usually careless about folding them, resulting in a misaligned book with very poor appearance.
Books incorporating 3D popup pages are possible, though much more work than 2D print. The lines where the paper will be bent can be printed onto the page, and gone over with a perforating wheel to make it bend easily. A rubber mat is used under the paper when perforating: the harder you press, the more the paper is cut and the weaker the perforated line is.
If you don't have a perf roller, you can simply use a knife on it, but using the back of the blade instead of the sharp side. The paper surface is broken but not cut through. A practice run on loose sheets is recommended first.
Its best to perforate or score the paper before assembling the book, but not bend it until the book is complete.
Hardback covers help to avoid damage to 3D pages.
3D pages are generally thin card, so a staplegun is usually needed, and the total 3D page capacity is limited by what the stapler will manage.
The main problem encountered is poor alignment, giving a tatty homemade appearance. The solution is just attention to precise alignment.
Sometimes staple buckling can occur, making stapling awkward. This has 2 causes. First if the stapler moves sideways during insertion, the staple will buckle. Fast firm straight down force on the stapler helps. Secondly, each staple type has a limit to how many sheets it will penetrate reliably. Standard office staplers can handle 10 sheets (36 pages), and even a basic staplegun will do a 100 page book (26 sheets). A few buckled staples are to be expected when using an office stapler, just remove & restaple.
Miniature staples (eg number 25) handle less sheets than 26/6 office staplers, they buckle more readily, and the finished book is weaker. They can be used but aren't recommended.
Performance of stapled books
All the common types of aftermarket book binding were tested, including thermal glued, and the stapled books were found to be the most durable option, as well as the cheapest. 80 & 100 page A5 stapled books consistently stood upto well over a year of daily transport & use; no other construction managed anywhere near this life.
The humble staple will never win any design awards, but with a well printed and laid out cover the books look good enough to take their place on a bookshelf. Indeed their performance is good enough that a small percentage of commercial publications successfully use the stapled construction described here.
The plus points are:
- low cost
- acceptable appearance
- easily made at home
- a range of special features may be incorporated
The main shortcomings of stapled books are:
- Inability to print wording onto the spine
- The staples are fully visible
- Maximum page count is limited (larger works can be split into volumes)
- Glued spine construction gives better appearance