What is paperback or softcover binding? Characteristics and types

Encuadernación rústica también llamada tapa blanda.

A paperback book is a book whose pages are bound in a flexible paper cover (such as a paperback novel, a company annual report or a magazine). It is the opposite of a hardback book, whose pages are bound inside a thick, stiff cardboard cover (such as an elementary school textbook).

Paper binding is also called softcover binding. The paper used for the cover of a paperback book may be thicker than that of the inside pages (for durability), or the cover may be the same thickness as the inside pages (to save costs).

Like any type of binding, a paperback does not simply hold the printed pages together, but shapes the publication, ensures its longevity and makes it easy for the reader to use.

Now that we have clarified what a soft-bound book is, we should say that there are different types of soft binding: perfect binding, sewn binding, stapled binding and spiral paperback binding.

Types of paperback bindings

Glued paperback binding

The cover of a perfect or glued binding is made of heavyweight cardboard paper which is usually coated or laminated to protect the book. In this type of binding, the cover and pages are glued together with a very strong glue. Often the cover is longer than the pages, so the cover is trimmed to give it that perfect appearance.

Advantages

  • It is an economical alternative to hardback binding, both in terms of production and shipping.
  • The presentation is still of high quality, which allows the books to command good prices at retail.
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Disadvantages

  • Books do not lay flat on the table when opened due to the gluing of the cover to the spine of the book block.
  • The lower quality paper-based cover also means that perfect bound books are less durable than hardcover books.

Stitched paperback binding

Stitched binding is a more advanced binding method than glue binding, as it requires an additional step: the sheets – or pages of your publication – are stitched together in a single block before being glued to the cover.

They are sewn with cotton, hemp, linen or synthetic thread. Stitching ensures a better hold over time and greater resistance to wear and tear than perfect binding. However, stitched binding is more expensive and time-consuming.

Although more expensive and time-consuming, this technique is recommended for publications that are intended to last and for which a quality finish is especially important. Compared to perfect binding, it adds an extra touch of craftsmanship and quality, and is suitable for longer books of more than 150 pages and using heavier papers.


As with glue binding, the sheets are glued to the cover. But before they are glued, they are sewn together.

Stapled paperback binding

Saddle stitch bookbinding.

For books that may have short-term use (or those with a small number of pages), saddle stitching is an excellent alternative. Once the pages are printed and organised, they are stacked and loaded onto a conveyor belt from where they are stitched together with metal staples. Stapling can be done with or without a book cover.

Advantages

  • This technique is very economical, especially for small, short-run notebooks.
  • Ridge-stitched books lie flat (for the most part) when opened.
  • This method of binding is usually quite fast and can be done in most commercial print shops.
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Disadvantages

  • When used for books with many pages, the nesting of the pages together can cause deterioration.
  • Books are less durable; the cover and pages can easily be damaged.

Finishings for the paperback binding

If you want to add an extra touch to your paperback bindings, here are some ideas

Laminated

During the printing process, the cover is sealed with an aqueous coating or UV varnish. This is to prevent the cover from marking. A more durable solution is to laminate the outer cover.

A laminate will give the cover more strength and better protection against fingerprints and abrasions.

Gloss laminate is a popular choice because it enhances colours and images. But there are also other laminates available, such as soft-touch, which is a matt finish with a silky feel.

Selective Varnish

Selective varnish is used to highlight a part of the book cover. A gloss-type varnish is applied to those areas of the cover that we want to stand out.

This finish makes the book much more attractive and makes it easier to capture the attention of potential readers, a very important aspect to take into account, as there are a large number of books on the market, so it is important to make a difference to increase the chances that the reader will choose our book and not any other.

Special interior paper

If you want your book to offer a great experience both to the eye and to the touch, using a different type of paper for the inside can be a great option. There are a lot of different types of paper on the market that will definitely make your book unique.

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Frequently asked questions about softcover binding

Which products do you typically use softcover or paperback binding for?

Binding in paperback is typically used on products such as:

  • Books and novels
  • Catalogues
  • Journals
  • Yearbooks
  • Scholarly works such as doctoral theses or dissertations

How much does it cost to bind a paperback book?

This is one of the most frequently asked questions and the answer as with almost everything to do with printing is “it depends”. It depends on how many books you are going to print, the number of pages, the size, the type of paper inside, if there is any additional finishing, etc.

As you can see, the issue is not the paperback itself, but all these factors have to be taken into account.

What type of paperback binding is best?

As with the previous question, the answer is that it depends on the purpose of the product you are printing. If you’re printing magazines or catalogues, stapling is a quality and cheaper option.

If you want a product with a professional finish but are on a tight budget, glue binding may be the best option

If you don’t mind spending a little extra to get the highest quality product that will stand the test of time and look professional, the sewn paperback is the way to go.

Would you like to know more about other types of binding and finishing for your print jobs? Take a look at our sections on binding, finishing and paper type, where we detail different procedures in printing that can serve as inspiration for your printing projects.

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