By: Marty Anson
Reprinted from Print & Graphics
Issue: April 1999
When it comes to text on paper, little else can rival the organizational power of tabs and indexes.
Often taken for granted, these simple but effective tools have provided assistance to all of us
-- on many occasions -- to quickly find what we are searching for and then close the book until next time.
Although tabs and indexes are simple in appearance, they require careful planning to ensure the proper shape,
size and style to suit a project.
Die-cut tabs come in a variety of shapes and sizes and can be found in three-ring binders or mechanically
bound books, such as cookbooks, directories, instructional materials and software manuals. In addition,
some adhesive-bound books contain tabs, which are usually folded in on themselves so the signatures can
be trimmed. The end-user then unfolds the tabs to extend beyond the face of the book.
The most commonly used tabs have rounded corners and extend 1/2" beyond the pages of the book. Standard
dies also create tabs that extend
1/4" to 1/8" beyond the page. The length of the tab (vertically) is called the "cut" and can range
from 1/2" to 10" (and even larger in some cases).
Put it on a tab
Job variables include the sheet size, trim size, type of paper, type of varnish if applicable (wax-free,
UV, aqueous), type of ink, tab size, tab length, number of tabs and whether any drilling or collating
is necessary. If, for example, there are seven sections in an 8-1/2" X 11" book, you would
need seven tabs, which can be arranged in one or more separate rows, each called a bank. To figure the
length of the tabs, you would do the following calculation: Indent 1/2" On each end and divide the
remainder by the number of tabs you want in a bank. The minimum length allowable is dictated by the
amount of copy on each tab. The typical type size for a single line of type on a 1/2" tab is 12-point.
Two lines of type require a minimum tab height of 1/2" and a maximum 10-point type.
A strip of clear acetate or colored Mylar can be applied to the side of a tabbed sheet to add strength
and prevent tearing under heavy use. But be careful: When Mylar is attached to a tab, it is heated to
more than 330º. This heat can make conventional inks look like tie-dye on most stocks. (We've also had
some problems with wax-free varnish and light aqueous coatings.)
Porous stocks are the best choice, and uncoated 90# or 110# index stock is the most common. Coated stocks,
along with heavy ink coverage, can trap air bubbles under the Mylar that distort the readability of the
tab. Remember, too, that, because tabs extend beyond the face of the page, they automatically endure heavy
wear and tear. Heavily used tabs that are not Mylar-coated will eventually fray and tear. If used in a
three-ring binder, consider reinforcing the spine of the tabs as well to make them stronger.
As I mention in almost every article, it’s best to consult your bindery during the planning phases of your
job. This is especially important when the tabs are inserted in an Adhesive-bound book. Page counts and
signature configurations can be tricky and can vary greatly depending on whether the tabs fall within text.
A properly planned adhesive-bound book can eliminate the need for hand work, bring down production costs
and help gain a competitive edge in bidding the job.
Getting in step
Indexing, while not as popular as tabs in the United States, provides another way to organize and access
information. The most widely known method is "thumb indexing" and is usually found in dictionaries and
the Bible. In this process, rounded notches are cut into the face of the book from head to tail and from
front to back.
Another method that is growing in popularity is step indexing. This is often found in manuals and catalogs
and involves die-cutting a series of indexes into the thumb edge of a bound and trimmed book. Although
this process used to be tedious and expensive manual work, step indexing machines are now controlled with
microprocessors that do the job electronically. This equipment can be programmed for up to 63 separate
steps (and two-color printing) making it a quick and cost-effective way to organize a book.
Step indexing has several advantages over tabbing. For instance, it requires less hand work, involves faster
setup and creates no protruding elements to be torn or bent. Because of this, it can be a great alternative
for customers looking for a user-friendly way to organize information in adhesive-bound books.
At times, I prefer to do things the old way and can be fearful of all this computer stuff. But some things
will never go out of style.