Bookbinding Basics: Making a Perfect Bound Notebook

Caleb Sylvest, Designer, Developer, Maker of Things

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8 Lessons (49m)
    • 1. Project Introduction

    • 2. Materials & Tools

    • 3. Choose & Cut Paper

    • 4. Glue & Split Textblock

    • 5. Fold & Cut Endsheets

    • 6. Attach Endsheets & Tape Spine

    • 7. The Cover

    • 8. Run Amok

15 students are watching this class

Project Description

Create a Perfect Bound Book

Project Introduction

  1. Get Excited!

    I'm excited, you?

Materials & Tools

  1. Gather materials & tools.
    • Textblock Paper. The paper for the text block of the books needs to be a thicker, heavier weight paper (60+ lbs). What type of paper and texture is your preference. Good options could be a card stock paper from Staples or Office Depot, or using pages from a Sketchbook. Ex: Wausau Paper Bright White Card Stock
    • Chipboard. Chipboard will be used as the cover material. You can find chipboard at any craft store (Michaels, Hobby Lobby, etc), it usually comes in large sheets, 22" x 28" or larger. A secondary option (especially if you are using the pages of a Sketchbook for the text block) would be to use the cardboard backside of a Sketchbook for the cover material. Ex: Chipboard
    • Glue. Selecting a glue is the one thing that is super important. Using a PVA glue is essential, and not all PVA glues are made equal. PVA glue can be found at some craft stores or online. Ex: Hollander's Adhesives.
    • Spray Adhesive. Optional, but recommended. Spray adhesive can be used or you can choose to use PVA glue, we will cover more about this later. Ex: Super 77
    • Decorative Papers. Decorative papers will be needed for the end sheets and cover of the book. The type and design is up to you, but pick something that visually goes together. You can find plenty of options at craft stores. Sheets should be at least 12” x 12” and I suggest getting two of each. Ex: Papers
    • Tape for Spine. The spine of the book will be taped over for reinforcement. Select a tape that visually goes well with your cover and end sheet papers. You can really use just about any type of tape - bookbinding tape, masking tape, electrical tape, even duct tape - it’s all up to your personal preference and style.
    • Double-Sided Tape Roller. The double-sided tape roller will be used to tape the end sheets to the text block. The tape roller can be found at any craft store. Ex: Adhesive Roll
    • X-Acto Knife & Blades. An x-acto knife will be needed to cut paper and board (extra blades are helpful also). I highly suggest using an x-acto knife over box-cutters or scissors! Ex: X-Acto Knife
    • Metal Ruler. A metal ruler will be needed for measuring and cutting.
    • Pencil. Well duh.
    • Book Press or Big, Heavy Books. We need a way to put pressure on our textblock as we glue it. You probably do not have a book press lying around at home, but you probably have some heavy books.
    • Mailer Advertisement. You know all those annoying advertisements you get in the mail, well we can actually put those to good use. The best type are the really thick glossy ones. Find a few if you can. 
    • Cutting Board*. A cutting board makes for a good work surface and easy cutting of materials, but if you don't want to buy one you can instead use an extra piece of chipboard, or cardboard, or any sturdy material to cut on. Ex: Rotary Mat

Preparing the Text Block

  1. Choose paper for the textblock

    The one requirement when selecting paper for the textblock is that it is a heavier weight paper, 60lbs or more. Since we are gluing the pages together along the spine, using a heavy, thicker paper gives the glue more edge to grip onto.

    If you used a lightweight paper, like printer paper (20lbs), there would be a chance the pages could come loose and fall out through usage. (Yes, this has happened to me. And it's embarrasing, especially if you give the books as gifts or sell them for profit).

    There are many types of papers, textures, and designs to choose from, but the simplest choice would be a basic cardstock paper or using the pages of a stout sketchbook.

    Ex: Wausau Paper Bright White Card Stock

    Ex: ProArt Spiral Sketchbooks

  2. Cut paper for the textblock

    Cutting paper in half is easy, but requires finesse. We want our perfect bound book to have around 30 pages in it. If you are using a pack of cardstock paper (8.5" x 11") cutting it in half will result in pages 8.5" x 5.5". (If you are using paper from a Sketchbook sizes may vary).

    If you only want to cut enough paper for one book that's fine, but I'm going to go ahead and cut the entire ream of paper in half and make a bunch of textblocks for future use.

    The next step will be to glue the pages together, it's actually easier to make several textblocks at the same time than making just one.


  3. Glue the textblock

    We are going to glue pages into textblocks by holding them tightly in a bookpress, or if you do not have a bookpress under some big ol' heavy books.

    Sort sheets out into stacks of 30. We can easily glue between 3 and 10 stacks at a time. Stacks need to have spacers in between each so we can separate them easily after gluing. The best way to make spacers is to use those annoying Advertisement Mailers you get in the mail. Place two of the Mailer sheets between each textblock as you stack them.


    Make sure the spines of all the textblocks are perfectly aligned as you place the stack in your bookpress or under heavy books. It's difficult, kind of like shuffling a deck of giant card, but necessary to have sharp even textblocks.


    Once the texblock stack is secure in your press grab a medium/large paintbrush and brush a good layer of PVA Glue over the spine of the entire stack. Wait about 10 minutes or until the glue is mostly dry and repeat twice more. In the end we want three coats of glue on the textblocks.


  4. Separate the Textblock Stack

    After the glue has had plently of time to dry, pull the stack out of the press. The textblocks should be easier to peel apart from each other since we used the Advertisement Mailers as spaces between each textblock.

    If they do not easily peel, passing a X-Acto knife or other flat instrument in between the spaces should split the textblocks off.

    Of course you want to do the best you can not to damage the texblocks, scuff the spine, or rip a page but it is not a big deal if that does happen, and it probably will with a few of the textblocks.


End Sheets & Spine

  1. Choose paper for endsheets

    Endsheets need to be the height of the textblock and twice the width. So if we have a textblock that is 8.5" x 5.5", then the endsheets need to be 8.5" x 11".

    You can find 8.5" x 11" and 12" x 12" decorative paper at many craft stores.

  2. Cut endsheets & attach to textblock

    The endsheets need to be exactly the height and twice the width of the textblock, so they will need to be trimmed.

    Start by folding the endsheets in half. If using a paper with a design, the design should be on the inside of the fold.


    Then trim the folded endsheet so that it is exactly the height and width of the textblock.


    Using the Adhesive Roll, run a strip of double-sided tape on the front page of the textblock along side the spine.


    Attach the folded endsheet to the textblock using the tape strip you just applied. Take care when placing the endsheets as they need to perfectly butt-up against the spine.


    Flip the textblock over and repeat on other side. Be sure to place the endsheets correctly, with the fold along the spine and if the paper has a design both endsheets are presented in the same vertical direction.

  3. Tape the spine

    Now that we have a solid textblock with endsheets attached, let's cover the spine with a decorative tape. The tape is partly decoration, partly reinforcement, and partly a protection of the glued textblock.

    Working with the tape can be tricky because, well, it's sticky and difficult to manage. If I have a clean work surface I will roll out a strip of tape directly onto the surface, longer than the length of my book. Then trim both sides of the tape to be the exact length of my book. I like to cut both ends to be sure I have a clean, sharp edge.


    Now, it doesn't really matter what the width of the tape is but you don't want it to be too wide. A good width would be about 1-1/4". That allows for the depth of the textblock (about 1/4") and allows 1/2" of tape on each side of the textblock (if your textblock is thicker you may want to account for that).

    Once the tape strip is trimmed accordingly, place it with care on the spine of your textblock while trying to center it as best you can. Smooth the tape along the spine to push out any air bubbles, then gently fold the tape flaps over the edge of the endsheets.


    Voilà, your book is shaping up to be awesome.

The Cover

  1. Cut Chipboard

    The cover of our book will need to be the height of the textblock and the width of the textblock minus about 3/8". So if we have a textblock that is 5-1/2" x 8-1/2" then our cover will need to be 5-1/8" x 8-1/2".

    Grab your chipboard and cut out two pieces to be the required size for your cover. If I plan on making a bunch of books sometimes I will go ahead a cut up a whole sheet of chipboard in one go, just to get in the groove and get it over with.



  2. Glue cover paper to chipboard pieces

    Grab the paper you chose for the cover and lay it on your workspace with the design facedown.

    Updated: Optionally you can use a Sray Adhesive like Super 77 to connect the chipboard and cover paper. Doing so can help prevent bubbling of the paper. But I wanted to show the PVA glue method in the class to help reduce the amount of materials necessary.

    Paint a thin layer of glue over one side of the Chipboard Cover you just cut out.


    Place the Chipboard Cover on the Cover Paper, sealing them. You probably want to try and place the cover parallel to the edge of the paper sheet, not angled, that way any design will look correct. I also like to leave some paper overhanging the Chipboard Cover that can be trimmed away with a knife to ensure a clean, sharp edge.

    Repeat with the other Chipboard Cover piece. If you are using a piece of 12" x 12" decorative paper (typical size from a craft store) you should have plenty of room to place the two Chipboard Covers side-by-side.


    Using the X-Acto knife, trim along the edges of the Chipboard Covers. Now you have a ready-to-use cover.

  3. Connect cover pieces to the textblock

    It's time to connect the Cover pieces to the Textblock and Endsheets, we are almost at the end of our journey.

    Paint a thin layer of glue on the backside of one of the Cover pieces


    Place the Cover piece on the Textblock/Endsheet combo. You want the piece to align to the outer edges of the Endsheet, the Cover should be about 3/8" away from the spine (which is why we cut the Cover piece to be smaller than the full Textblock size). Be sure the Cover is exactly parallel with the Spine, because if it is just a little bit off it will be very noticible. The reason we leave some space between the Spine and Cover is so the book can open properly. When placing Cover pieces be sure to apply them correctly with the design facing the correct direction.



    Repeat with other Cover piece.

Now Run Amok

  1. Other ideas

    Here are some ideas for materials to use:

    • wallpaper
    • comic books
    • old picture books
    • maps & atlas
    • old pulp book covers
    • boardgame boards
    • posters
    • screenprints
    • origami paper
  2. Post your project to the class gallery

    I want to see what you make and so does the rest of the class. So make some books and post them in the student gallery.

    Can't wait to see what everyone makes!

Additional Resources

  • The diagram shows the basic skeleton of building a Perfect Bound Book. Hopefully this will help you understand what we will be working on.

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