Mechanical Binding Techniques
By: Marty Anson
Reprinted from Print & Graphics
Issue: February 1999
When it comes to binding, the options can be mind boggling. Determining which bind to
use for a given job is often best left to the bindery experts who know the advantages and
disadvantages of each type, Mechanical binding can be a great option, depending on many
factors. Mechanically bound books have wonderful lay-flat qualities and a rich look,
attractive qualities for a product that must survive in today’s competitive
marketplace. Four basic types of mechanical binding can be used, depending on the
circumstances: Wire-O, plastic coil, spiral wire and plastic comb (also know as GBC).
Following is a overview of each type.
Often considered the premium choice in mechanical binding, the Wire-O binding element is
made using a double coil with interlocking "fingers" that run through holes
punched on the edge of the book. The result is an attractive, sturdy bind that works well
for products that will endure heavy use, such as calendars and cookbooks (it works
especially well for calendars because special wire hangers can be inserted for hanging
Although there is no printable spine on Wire-O books, they are an excellent choice when
crossovers (such as photos, illustrations and maps) are used, because the pages do not
step up when they are turned. In addition, Wire-O can be cost-effective for larger runs
because the process is highly automated.
Another option that provides an attractive bind and opens flat, plastic coil comes in a
huge variety of colors ( that can be custom-made to match a PMS color) and it is very
durable under pressure. Unlike Wire-O, the plastic coil elements spring right back into
shape when crusted. This makes plastic coil an appealing option for children’s books,
instruction manuals and other products that endure heavy use.
Plastic coil binding, however, is not favorable to books with cross-overs because the
pages step up when they are turned. Also, this process can be more costly than other
methods, however, because it is semi-automated.
Spiral wiring binding
Made up of a single coil wound in a continuous spiral through holes in the edge of the
sheets, this type of binding is less appealing because it lacks the strength and elegance
of Wire-O, is not durable under pressure and does not have the aesthetic appeal of plastic
coil. As a result, demand for spiral wire is on a down swing. In addition, crossovers are
not possible because step-up does occur when the pages are turned. On the other hand, this
binding process is highly automated and probably the most economical of the four options
The biggest difference between plastic comb (or GBC binding) and the aforementioned
products is that, because of the spine, it does not open up 360 degrees. In addition, many
designers feel it has an outdated look. The good news is that combs are available in many
colors, have printable spines, present no problems with set-up and can accommodate more
text than other alternatives. In addition, pages can be added and removed if necessary,
making GBC useful for reports and other materials in progress. Still, because of its look
and high cost due to limited automation, use of plastic comb is also declining.
Following are a few tips for
planning your next mechanical binding job:
- If you are not sure what type of binding is best suited for your job, consult your
binder. Any trade binders worth their salt will be more than happy to offer advice on the
best solution for your job.
- Do not punch type. The trickiest part of mechanical binding is ensuring that the spine
margins have enough clearance to avoid hitting type when punching holes. Punching into
copy accounts for half of all problems that occur in mechanical binding, so consult your
binder when it comes to determining how much space to leave in the margins. Many binders
can provide you with a punching depth guide to use during the planning process.
- Ask your bindery for a sample of the job before it is run. Many binderies have some type
of preflight system in place and are more than happy to create a dummy for your
- Consult with your binder about the particulars of the holes and the wire. The exact
style of punched hole (meaning the shape of the holes) the customer desires many not be
available. For example, Wire-O can have square or round holes, plastic coil can have oval
or round holes, and spiral wire generally has round holes. In addition, talk with them
about the binding elements and color options available. Tin wire, for example, though
inexpensive, can leave marks on some coated stocks and custom colors are often available
but require long lead times and large-quantity purchases.
- Keep in mind that the lead time for printing on plastic comb jobs is usually about three
weeks and that the combs can be either stamped or silk-screened. Wrap-around covers can be
used in Wire-O projects but this requires extra planning and a sample should always be
produced prior to running the job.
- Carefully consider how the job will be packed. Shrink-wrapping (in multiples or singles)
can help provide protection from movement (transit marking).
- When mailing individual copies, plastic spiral provides the least concern – my shop
has even sent out plastic spiral books as self-mailers. Wire-O and spiral wire, however,
must be packaged with greater care to avoid smashing the elements.
Perhaps the best advise I can offer is to utilize the knowledge and expertise of your
trade binder. Many of the problems we encounter could have easily been avoided had we been
consulted during the planning stages of the job. Developing a relationship with your trade
binder can go a long way in saving time, money, and headaches—and ultimately
satisfying the end customer.