I don't know about you, but I much prefer reading long documents in hard-copy form than on-screen. I seem to read faster, and it's easier to read from a book or magazine in bed than on a laptop.
I'm fortunate to own a fairly fast laser printer with a duplexer, and for a long time, I've printed documents I want to read offline in two-up duplexed form, which saves paper at a rate of 4:1.
This works well for shorter documents, but it's unwieldy for longer ones. For example, I'm currently reading the beta PDFs of several Pragmatic Programmers books which I've bought while waiting for the printed versions. The RSpec Book is over 400 pages, the iPhone SDK book is over 500, and a two-up duplexed copy stapled or secured with a binder-clip just lacks in esthetics.
A couple of weeks ago, I started thinking about how to make something more like a real book. The standard Macintosh print dialog tempts you into thinking you can do this with its different 'snakey' layout directions. But try as you might, it won't work.
The problem is producing the groupings of pages, called signatures, which comprise a bound book. Unless you are printing one book page on each side of a printed page, the order and orientation of the pages need to be adjusted, in ways that the print dialog just can't handle. Technically pages arranged to be folded (and sometimes cut) so that they end up in the right order for a book are called imposed pages, and the process of arranging them is called imposition.
What I really wanted to do was to print my two-up duplexed pages in such a way that I could fold the printed pages into signatures. I asked for advice on my local Macintosh user's group mailing list, and someone recommended a free program called CocoaBooklet which worked, albeit slowly. My first experiment was the latest beta copy of the RSpec book seen on the left in the photo above. Note: you can click on the photos in this article to see a larger version. The second book is the beta iPhone SDK Development book, and the third is made from a pdf of "Introduction to Programming in Emacs Lisp." As I've done each one, I've learned a bit more about the process and each book has come out just a bit better than its predecessors. I'll say more about the actual binding process below.
Enter Snow Leopard, Exit CocoaBooklet
When Snow Leopard came out a week or so ago, and I upgraded, I discovered that CocoaBooklet no longer worked. But my friend Google told me about a great replacement called Cheap Imposter a pun on the term imposition.
Not only is Cheap Imposter much faster than CocoaBooklet, it has more features. It's shareware, the basic application can be downloaded and used freely, but paying the author $35 registers it forever, and unlocks a few features which allow more control over the scaling and centering of the pages. Without this ability, documents can come out smaller than you'd like, particularly if you're getting old man's eyesight syndrome.
To use Cheap Imposter you simply use it to open a PDF file, select a few options, like how many sheets of paper per signature, and which is the 'flip' edge for duplex printing, and then push the print button. So far I've used either 1 page per signature, or the 'magazine' option which puts all of the pages in a document into a single signature which can be folded and stapled, like a magazine or booklet. This works well for shorter, up to 50 or so page, documents, and printing from a letter-sized original to legal paper is a good compromise to get a readable size. Of course you need a stapler which can reach to the middle of the long side of whatever paper you use. I happen to have one, but if you don't you can probably find one to use at a local copy shop.
So How Do You Bind Books?
Hard cover books are usually bound using multiple sheet signatures, each of which is like a small 'magazine'. Rather than stapling these signatures they are usually sewn with thread. This produces a high-quality book, but it's too much work for my needs. I use what's called a 'perfect' binding and the results are similar to the typical trade-paperback.
I print one-sheet signatures, these then get folded in half, and stacked. The folding is the tedious part. A 300-page book will require 75 sheets each of which needs to be carefully folded as close to exactly in half as you can manage. I've found the best technique to be to pinch the two top outside corners of the signature to be folded tightly with the thumb and index finger of my left hand, to line things up, then pinch the top inside corner with the thumb and index finger of my right hand to start the fold, and finish by quickly running my right thumb and index finger down the folded edge
This brings up another advantage of Cheap Imposter over CocoaBooklet. CocoaBooklet supports dividing a document into signatures, but it does this by producing a separate PDF file for each signature. If I had made single sheet signatures like I wanted to, the RSpec book above would have required printing over 100 separate PDF files. Instead I produced larger signatures (8 sheets if I recall correctly) then stapled each signature before assembling the book. Altogether too much busy work. With Cheap Imposter, you just tell it to produce one-sheet signatures and print.
The book is then assembled using glue on the spine side (which is made up of all of the folded edges). Commercially bound books are glued using a thermal-melt glue. You could use a hot-melt glue gun, but you'd have to work really fast. Instead, I just use PVA glue, which most Americans would recognize as Elmer's GlueAll, although I actually use Elmer's Wood Glue which is basically similar. I've also heard that Gorilla Glue works well, but I had the Elmer's on hand.
For the first book, I just stacked the pages, applied the glue and put the whole thing under a stack of books to 'clamp' the book until the glue dried. This works, but it's a hard to get a really neat looking book, as things tend to shift just a tiny bit.
A Homemade Bookbinding Press
To get a bit more precision, I built a simple press, pictured above. The base was cut from a 1x8 poplar board I had around, it's roughly 11 inches long, The other parts are cut from 1x3 pine. The corner guide has a mitered corner and is mounted from the underside with countersunk wood screws. The only parts I didn't have were the long bolts and wing-nuts, which cost me about $2.00 at the local hardware store.
Another tool which is nice to have but not essential is a paper cutter of some kind. I use one of those old-school guillotine cutters with a big hinged blade.
The stack of signatures goes in the press with the folded edges sticking out from under the clamp. The picture actually shows a finished book placed backwards, I wanted to show how much sticks out.
After stacking, I measure the width of the spine, and cut a piece of paper which is the height of the book, and about 1 1/2 inches wider than the spine width. The purpose of this piece is to strengthen the spine, and provide 'hinges' which will attach the cover. I then unclamp the book, and position the small paper along the back spine edge of the book, with 3/4 inch overlapping the last page, and the rest sticking out. I hold this in place with a couple of post-it notes, and put the book back in the clamp. It's not a bad idea to put pieces of waxed paper between the base and clamp and the back and front of the book to ensure that the book doesn't end up glued to the press.
After checking to see that I've got the stack lined up as neatly as I can, I tighten the clamp, and apply glue to the spine, and then gently work it into the edge, paying attention to getting it out to the front and back edges. You want to use enough glue but not too much.
The next step is to wash and dry the finger you probably used to spread the glue, and then while the glue is still wet to fold the spine paper up and glue it to the spine of the book. Then let the glue set for an hour or so before removing it from the press
You should up with something looking like this. I cut the spine paper for this particular book wider than 3/4 inch. For a book you won't keep for long, like a beta book, you might want to stop here. But with just a little more work you can add a cover which lets the book open flat. You might also notice that I added a couple of book marker ribbons, as you might find in a bible or hymnal, I just glued these between the signature stack and the spine paper.
The trick to the cover is those hinges, which let you glue the cover to the book but not to the spine itself.
This lets the book open while the spine of the cover and spine of the book separate.
So far I've made covers out of letter size cardstock, this require's using a two piece cover since a single letter size cover won't have enough to cover the front, back and spine of the book. I plan to find some legal size card stock which would provide a one-piece cover for books up to about 3 inches thick.
So far the best way I found to make the cover is to start with the back cover by laying the spine of the book down on one edge of a piece of cardstock, and carefully mark the spine width with a pencil, draw a line parallel to the edge and lightly score and fold the back cover so that it fits the spine. I then mark the width of the book on the cover and cut the back cover to width using my trusty paper cutter.
I then make the back cover pretty much the same way. What I want is for the front cover spine to cover the back cover spine and exactly meet the back edge of the book's spine.
The next step is to attach the back cover to the 'hinge' paper. I've been using glue with a piece of waxed paper to keep glue getting on the back page or between the hinge and the back page, but I think that double-sided tape would be neater and quicker, if I had any. This step gets repeated with the front cover, and the final step is to glue the spine flap of the front cover over the spine flap of the back cover. So far my beautiful cover art has been done by writing the title on the cover and the spine with a Sharpie, which is perfectly in keeping with the utilitarian and personal nature of these books.
In all I'm pretty happy with the books I've bound so far. I've found it impossible to get all the edges to line up. For real books this is done by cutting the edges with a humongous paper cutter capable of cleanly cutting hundreds of pages at a time. On the other hand the slight unevenness of the book edges lends a certain rustic home-made quality that I rather like.
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