Soft cover binding, or perfect binding, is the most popular binding choice for books. It also works for catalogs, booklets, and pamphlets. Here’s what you need to know about when and how to choose this quick, affordable binding style.
How Soft Cover Binding Works
Also known as perfect binding, soft cover binding involves plates that are folded, gathered, and sewn or glued together. This produces a square-edged spine that can be printed on.
At a print shop like ours, we print the pages and then place them in a binding machine. The binder works by roughening one edge of the interior pages and applying glue to the rough edge. It works on the cover and interior pages at once to produce a single, unified stack. The machine can work with regular printer paper and with heavier card stock. By handling all these pages at the same time, the binding process saves time and money.
Perfect binding works on many types of publications, including paperback books, children’s books, catalogs, journals, and magazines.
What Are the Benefits of Soft Cover Binding?
There are many reasons people prefer soft cover binding. Here are some of the main ones.
- Affordable: Because it is fast and produces little paper waste, soft cover binding is the least expensive binding style. It’s affordable enough to use on many different printing projects.
- Professional look: Soft cover binding looks professional. It is more elegant than spiral binding or staple binding. Only hard cover binding makes more of an impression, but it is too expensive for most self-published authors.
- Easy to stack and store: Perfect bound volumes look good on shelves. They fit easily on most standard bookshelves and are attractive in displays. They are lightweight and affordable to mail or ship.
- Can be printed: The spine of a soft cover book is typically wide enough to fit a book’s title. This makes the book easy to find on a shelf.
Is Perfect or Soft Cover Binding the Right Choice for Every Project?
While perfect binding is, in fact, perfect for many books, it’s not the right choice for all of them. If a book or booklet is less than 1/8th of an inch thick, the binding creates a narrow edge that doesn’t have enough surface area for the glue to grip.
If your project produces a thin booklet that is under 1/8th of an inch, other binding options will work better. You may choose saddle stitching (stapling along the edges where the pages meet) or spiral binding, which places plastic or wire coils along the edges.
Choosing Between Soft Cover and Hard Cover Binding
Some people choose hard cover binding, despite its higher cost, because it’s more durable and considered more esthetically pleasing. Hard cover can be the right choice for specialty books, art books, coffee table books, journals, and planners. Many publishers release a hard cover edition of a book before issuing a soft cover version later.
Publishing in hard cover makes sense for publishing companies because they can absorb the high cost of this binding style. If you’re self-publishing, you may have looked at the price of hard cover binding and wondered if it’s worth it for you.
While soft cover is always a good choice, there are some reasons you may want to spend the extra money on a hard cover version of your book.
Reasons to Choose Hard Cover Binding
- Potentially more money: If your book has a large, built-in audience—for instance, you are writing the sequel to a book that sold well—your buyers may be willing to pay more for a hard cover book. Many readers prefer the durability and attractive design of hard cover books. If you have an audience ready to buy, these readers may be interested in buying a hardcover version.
- Genre expectations: Some book genres routinely appear in hard cover formats. If you’re writing for an audience that expects to see their books in this format, you should consider publishing at least a few books in hard cover.
- Libraries and bookstores: Libraries prefer hard cover books because they know their books are going to be read repeatedly by many different people. They also know that not everyone will handle those books gently. That’s why many publishers produce specially bound library editions of books that feature sturdy covers and protective book jackets. Bookstores also prefer hardcovers because they make attractive displays and have a higher profit margin.
How to Design Your Covers
After your book’s content, the cover is the most important part. When you design a cover for soft cover binding, you must factor in the binding process. Perfect binding creates a sturdy binding that includes a score along the edge of the cover. This helps the spine stay firm and avoids creasing when you open and close the book.
The score appears on a 10-millimeter area on the inside covers that will be glued to the first and last inside pages. This is called the trim line. Keep artwork and text outside of this glued area to prevent it from being lost. Design your covers with artwork at least 10mm away from the trim line on the binding side of the inside covers and first and last interior pages.
You may have seen some cheaply produced books that have the text running into the trim line. These books are hard to read and often end up broken when the reader tries to lay the pages flat to read them. Don’t try to save money by producing low-quality books. Design your book with the trim line in mind, and work with a professional, high-quality printing company to produce your book.
Text Blocks in Soft Cover Binding
The position of your text blocks on the page is a key part of book design. The text block is the printed text that appears on each page. Many writers automatically center their text blocks because they’re used to working in word processing programs to create short reports or single-page documents. These documents are easier to read when the text is vertically centered.
A book is laid out differently. Most books don’t open flat the way a document printed from your home or office printer does. The pages of books curve inward when you open a book to read it. To make the text readable, you must leave extra room on the inside margins of your book. This inside margin is known as the gutter margin.
When you design your book for soft cover binding, the inside margin must be larger than the outer margin. Most professional book designers use an outside gutter margin of .75 inches and an inside gutter margin of .875 inches. These are the ideal settings that make a book pleasant to read.
Too-small gutter margins are a common problem in books that authors design themselves. These authors might save money on printing costs by jamming more text onto every page, but they create books that are hard to read. Show respect to your readers—and your book—with gutter margins that create attractive, readable pages.
Get Help Formatting Your Book
When you prepare your book for soft cover binding, you must know about trim sizes, fonts, and other aspects of book production. This can be complicated, but there are ways to get help. If you publish on Amazon or Barnes & Noble’s self-publishing platforms, those companies offer guidelines and tutorials to formatting. These guidelines will work with most word processing programs, but there is a learning curve involved. You’ll need to set aside time to format your book properly, and the process may be frustrating at first.
You can also get help from various formatting apps. These include paid and free book editing apps.
The Vellum app is a paid application that’s only available to Mac users. It costs around $200. A paid app like Vellum may be a good investment if you plan to write more than one book. There are also more affordable alternatives, including the Freedom book editing app, which costs $20 a year, or Scrivener, which costs $45 for a license and offers a free 30-day trial. You can also try the Reedsy Book Editor, FastPencil, FocusWriter, and Bibisco, which are all free.
Soft Cover Binding Is a Popular, Versatile Option
Choosing your book’s binding is a key part of design and production. If you choose soft cover binding, you must format your book correctly to make sure the text and artwork look their best. Soft cover binding is an affordable, attractive option for most books. When you make this choice, talk to Dazzle Printing about our high-quality soft cover printing services.