Making Your Case

I get to visit all sorts of commercial printers, trade binderies and digital print centers in my day job. On the finishing side, many of these firms are right on top of the latest technologies for binding. From very short-run, to long-run perfect binders capable of speeds of 10,000-books-per-hour or more, these companies have not spared the horses when it comes to bringing in the best equipment for their binderies.

But surprisingly few offer hard-cover case making and binding. There are more than a few reasons for this. Soft-cover adhesive binding can be performed on (essentially) two machines; the adhesive (perfect) binder, and the three-knife trimmer. The binders and trimmers can be highly automated, with machine set-up controlled from an operator touchscreen.

Hard-cover production needs many more steps, and is still a craft that needs experienced people at the helm. For short-run hard cover, a lot of “hands on” touches are needed for some higher-end products. The materials used to make a hard-cover “case” range from paper, to fine linen and leather, and the price of the final product (the book) may top hundreds, or even thousands of dollars. You simply cannot throw the components for these into some master machine and have everything come out the other end.

These are some of the reasons why many printers, trade binderies and digital shops have avoided diving in to hard-cover production. Instead, many of them choose to send the work out to shops that specialize in hard cover. But more options are out there that make setting up your own in-house operation more feasible. Automated case making, casing-in, and pressing and joint forming systems are now available that can produce quality hard-cover books after a reasonable training period for operators. Photo and promotional books continue to be a solid market, with good profit potential on a per unit basis. You can set up a short-run, hard-cover module that can produce a few thousand books a day without making a million-dollar (or more!) investment.

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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