Book-of-One Digital Production Is the Future, and Present

It’s a reality that digital print has enabled very-short-run book production. In fact, the term “book-of-one” has entered the language as a general descriptor of the short-run process. But actually, designing a workable system for continuously producing books of one is no easy task.

First, there is the problem of “ganging” different format files for your cut-sheet or continuous-fed digital printer. This is a bit easier with cut-sheet production since these printers feature multiple paper trays form which you can “pull” different formats. For continuous-fed machines, the challenge is greater since it’s not practical to print completely different book sizes side-by-side.

New postpress systems can convert either cut sheets or paper webs into book blocks. In the case of digital webs, the stock can be cut-and-stacked, or cut and “slit merged” (web is slit and side-by-side pages are stacked on top of each other). Or, the web can be plow folded into signatures. In addition, the loose sheets or signatures can be glued (typically on the spine edge) to keep the book block together before being conveyed to the binder.

There are also cut-sheet finishing systems that can process a true “book-of-one” book block, delivering a unique book onto the delivery conveyor, or multiple books in offset stacks.

Now we get to the binder. Most “book-of-one” production is soft cover title. New perfect binders can handle variable book-block thickness. The binder clamp “measures” the book-block thickness, then sets the side-glue measurements and cover scoring automatically.

Another variable that’s easy to control is book trim size. This is because most three-knife trimmers employ servo motors. This allows all three trim knives (face, head and foot) to be reset to new values based on barcode input. The barcode (containing trim dimensions) is printed on the book cover. The trimmer reads this as the book enters the unit.

Don has worked in technical support, sales, engineering, and management during a career in both the commercial offset and digital finishing sectors. He is the North American representative for IBIS Bindery Systems, Ltd. of The United Kingdom.
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