Nationwide Laminating & Finishing
Nationwide Laminating & Finishing: Helpful Tips

Profit By Mechanical Binding

Published in Instant & Small Commercial Printer

Some printed products should be mechanically bound. For example, cookbooks that lie flat are easier to use than ones that don't. Decision-makers may overlook something as important as binding style because they're struggling with content and distribution issues. The printer that asks, "Have you considered mechanical binding?" is a better resource than the one that doesn't. Just because you've won a job doesn't mean you should stop giving information. Continuous "up-selling" provides your clients with more options, enhances product functionality, improves customer loyalty and increases
your bottom line.

Mechanically bound products look great, lie flat and have a high-perceived value. End-users appreciate mechanical binding's superior functionality for products like computer and equipment manuals, calendars, reference guides, cookbooks and maps. Informed print buyers understand that perfect binding is an imperfect substitute for high value mechanical binding. Since printers make more money on higher priced jobs, reminding them about better binding options makes sense.

Mechanical Binding Choices

The four major families of mechanical binding are: Wire-O (Wire-O is a registered trademark of James Burn International), plastic coil, spiral wire and GBC. Since each binding type has different advantages, printers that know mechanical binding bring greater value to the selling process and will gain a distinct market advantage.


Wire-O (a.k.a. double loop wire) is the strongest of the metal wire binding types, opens 360°, doesn't "step-up" and is usually considered the most attractive mechanical binding option. Wire-O isn't affected by extreme temperatures and is capable of binding book blocks up to 1 1/8". When products have crossovers (photos, illustrations, maps, borders, etc.), Wire-O is an excellent choice because its pages don't step-up when turned. Wire-O is much stronger than its cousin spiral wire because it uses twice as much wire per linear inch.

Plastic Coil

Like Wire-O, plastic coil is an attractive mechanical binding option that opens 360°. However, plastic coil steps-up and crossover images must be carefully planned for. Although plastic coil binding is usually a slow manufacturing process, book blocks up to 1¾" are common and even thicker books can be bound with special coil. Unlike Wire-O, plastic coil is extremely durable. Wire-O elements are ruined if bent out of shape, whereas plastic coil elements spring right back to normal even if they're squashed. Contemporary looking plastic coil is an excellent and durable choice for short to medium runs.

Spiral Wire

Spiral wire is an inexpensive mechanical binding option. However, it has half the strength of Wire-O, steps-up and isn't regarded as attractive because of the binding element's thin appearance.


GBC (a.k.a. cerlox) binding maybe used for book blocks as thick as 2¾", has no step-up and can have a silk-screened spine. However, GBC is subject to the same temperature limitations as plastic coil, requires a lot of labor and is considered by many designers to have a "dated" look.

Plan for Mechanical Binding Success

Don't punch type. Based on our experience, punching into copy accounts for at least half of all mechanical binding problems. The formula for planning the minimum distance from copy to
spine edge is:

3/32" (hole-to-edge margin)
+ hole diameter (varies)
+ 1/8" (safety margin)

= copy to spine minimum distance

Thick books need large binding elements for strength. Large binding elements require large holes. Since large holes punch deeper into the page than small holes, copy needs to be positioned further away from the spine. Wire-O books up to ½" thick need 3:1 pitch wire (three holes per linear inch) and most 3:1 pitch square holes need copy to be positioned at least 3/8" away from the spine edge to avoid punching into type. Books bulking over ½" require 2:1 pitch wire (two holes per linear inch) and need copy ½" away from the spine edge. If someone is used to laying out 3:1 pitch products and doesn't make the proper adjustment for a 2:1 pitch product, copy likely will be punched. In certain situations, a punching unit's hole-to-edge margin can be reduced by adjusting the back gauge to avoid punching copy, but this is an imperfect solution because page pull strength is reduced. If your trade bindery doesn't offer a punching depth guide, let me know and I'll send you one.

Top Ten Technical Tips

  1. Always get a bulking dummy before wire is purchased. If you tell your bindery to buy a certain size wire and the final product is too thick, then the Wire-O closing process will cost more money and functionality will be reduced because the pages won't turn easily. If the book block is thinner than expected, the pages will be very loose and the wire will look oversized and unattractive.

  2. If you need spine printing, you have more options than just GBC binding. Wraparound covers allow you to print on the spine and get all the benefits of Wire-O or plastic coil. If you do use wraparound covers, again be certain to get a bulking dummy of the job. If you score the covers to fit a book of a certain thickness and the final product bulks differently than expected, either you'll have to reprint, or the product will function poorly.

  3. Die cut window registration should be carefully planned because there is significant page movement in mechanically bound products.

  4. Communicate with your bindery about all aspects of a product's appearance, including hole size and shape. While square holes are probably the most common, there are many others. Rectangles, circles and ovals are all relatively popular. While smaller holes may sometimes be desirable from a designer's perspective, the additional manufacturing costs may outstrip this benefit.

  5. While the raw material cost of plain wire (tin) is less expensive than coated wire, it can be more difficult to run and result in negligible savings. Also, tin wire tends to mark and sometimes requires individual book slip-sheeting, which obviously increases your costs.

  6. The mechanical binding process occasionally can be rough on paper and ink. Consider laminating, UV coating, or off-line varnishing your covers. Inline varnish rarely reduces scratching or picking caused by pages going through punching and binding units.

  7. Talk with your bindery early and often. "Obvious" printing layouts may not be the most cost effective ones from a total job perspective. One bindery may prefer to fold and cut a job while another might want to cut and collate it. The time to ask is when you're still in the quoting stage.

  8. Embossing and debossing reduces a cover's size. Poor planning can lead to products having covers that appear too small.

  9. Printing on GBC spines can take up to three weeks. Plan accordingly.

  10. Mechanical binding elements come in great standard colors, but if your run is very large and repeats, you may want to suggest custom ordering special PMS colored elements. If your customer agrees, then it will be very difficult for any of your printing competitors to wrestle the work away from you because you will have a binding element inventory.
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Inform your customers of better binding solutions. Delight them with your mechanical binding expertise. Increase their products' functionality and both of your bottom lines. Simultaneously.

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