Smyth Sewing in the Digital Age

Photo of a sewn book block produced using this process.

Talk about the past meeting the future! David Smyth started the Smyth company back in 1879. His Smyth sewing machine sewed book signatures together through the fold to create an incredibly durable and flexible method of book binding that endures till this day. Smyth sewing is still the BMW of book block binding methods for all of these reasons, plus it’s longevity.

The Smyth firm was eventually moved to Italy, and that’s where it remains today—in the small town of Casale. Seeking a place in the new digital universe, the company’s engineers recently introduced the Smyth Digitaline machine. Digitaline is unique in that it is designed to combine and sew printed materials from both digital- and offset-printing workflows.

That capability is something of a big deal for the yearbook market. You can now mix high-quality offset signatures with digital ones that have been individually personalized for the student. Smyth sewing is preferred for higher-end yearbooks, photobooks, family histories and other uses because these are “memory” products meant to last a lifetime (or more).

Since Smyth sewing can only be used on folded signatures (and most digitally printed sheets are flat), the machine solves this problem by first feeding, then buckle-folding and knife-folding the digital sheets to create eight-page signatures. These forms are then fed onto a saddle, where other signature feeders can intersperse the offset material. The collated piece is then presented to the sewing end of the line where the components are all sewn together into a book block.

Smyth is not the only firm offering this concept. Book Automation (Meccanotecnica), another Italian firm, introduced its Universe Digitaline, which uses a similar design approach. The two machines highlight the successful adaptation of time-tested bookbinding techniques for the new age of digital print.

This disproves the adage that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks. You clearly can!

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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  • Martin Beat

    You’re right, Don.
    I can tell you more.
    Smyth Digitaline is a superior product for its versatility and modular design. Through the combination of its modular components Customers can create their own production line according to their needs and production requirements. That means that this product is suitable for both small-medium and large sized companies.