How it’s Made: The Final Stages at a Print Vendor

Have you ever wondered how books are printed? In June, several members of the Island Press team were lucky enough to tour one of our print vendors, Sheridan Books, in Michigan. They came back from the trip with pictures galore and a wealth of information about the book printing process. In order to share their experience, we will be posting a series of blog posts about the different stages of the printing and binding processes. Read Part One here.

Stacks of printed book covers ready for the bindery.
Photo courtesy of Caroline Sperry.

Cover Printing and Lamination

The final stages of creating a book involve some complex processes. In order to make the pre-printed paperback covers and pre-printed case covers, the paper is pre-cut to a specific size. Both types of covers are printed in multiples on large sheets on sheet-fed presses. Those sheets are then stacked and sent to the cover lamination area.

There are a variety of different lamination materials that a publisher can choose from. However, for the sake of this post, we’ll only differentiate between glossy lamination, which is slick and has sheen in the light, and matte lamination, which has a soft, velvety texture. Both are applied to the cover using heat. Sheridan stores their matte lamination in aluminum bags because it can be damaged if exposed to the light for too long before being applied.  


Once the inside of the book and cover have been printed, the next step is binding it all together. The bindery at Sheridan is a very large room that contains a series of conveyor belts. Individual signatures (the segments of printed paper that are bound together to make the final book—think of them like the individual packets of 8, 16, or 32 pages of a book that are bound together to make the whole) are loaded on belts perpendicular to the main conveyor belt that assembles the signatures in the correct order—as they will appear in the final printed book. Signatures are set up in lines then pulled together on a conveyor belt. As signatures from the end of the book travel down the line, they are collected in reverse order until the whole book is collected. Then, glue is flowed onto little notches on the left-side of each bundle of signatures and they are glue-bound onto the back cover, and the book is trimmed.

Since there is space to set up books with as many as 22 signatures, multiple books are often set on the bindery line simultaneously so that time isn’t wasted. Boards used for the front and back of case-bound books are manufactured in standard trim sizes. Unusual trim sizes, such as square-shaped books, have to be cut by hand, which is more costly. The bindery can assemble a maximum of 9,000 books per minute.

Signatures bound together before the cover is attached. Photo courtesy of Caroline Sperry.

Environmental Impact

Currently, about one-third of all paper used to print books is wasted. The wasted paper comes from the end of web-fed rolls and from paper trimmed from the edges of books. Although all printers use a lot of paper, Sheridan is taking steps to reduce their environmental impact. Sheridan has four Timson web presses, and each is set up to run a specific, limited range of trim sizes in order to minimize the amount of waste generated. All of the inks are soy-based and are biodegradable, renewable, and less costly to make compared to regular ink. A process is used  to capture the chemicals from the press wash. This reduces the amount of wastewater by 60 percent. Island Press puts great value on vendors who employ sustainable practices because we are committed to our mission of spreading knowledge about and protecting the environment. We are glad to work with a print vendor who is committed to printing books sustainably.