Bibliotheque Inguimberti

What’s the difference between ‘perfect‘ binding and ‘soft‘ binding? Is ‘Fastback‘ binding the same thing as ‘thermo‘ binding? What does ‘blind embossing‘ mean and what exactly is ‘half binding‘? At The Document Centre we get asked such questions regularly so, in view of this, we thought we’d put together an article explaining the more common binding terms which we’re asked about on a day-to-day basis. We’ll leave out the more technical terms which would only really be useful to those in the profession.

Bookbinding terminology, in alphabetical order:

Buckram bookcloth:

Buckram is traditionally a cotton or linen cloth, or a mixture of both, which has been stiffened using gum or paste during manufacture. More recently it has also been manufactured using acrylic so as to be waterproof and super-tough, however this also usually features the traditional linen texture. Buckram book cloth is used in bookbinding to cover the outside of the book. It is hard-wearing and hence has often been used by libraries to cope with heavy book use, hence the term ‘library buckram’. The Document Centre have a stock of many different colours available and use buckram bookcloth daily, for example for use in thesis binding.

Comb binding:

Comb binding used a plastic comb to hold pages in place, however these days it looks rather dated and clunky, so has therefore been superseded by ‘Wiro’ binding which is much attractive, modern and secure (scroll down to see the ‘Wiro binding’ section for full details and a comparison of the two).


Debossing is the process of stamping a design or lettering into the surface of an object (e.g. paper or card) so that the lettering or design becomes indented permanently on the object’s surface. Debossing can be used with or without a coloured pigment or foil. When used without a colour, debossing is known as ‘blind’ debossing or ‘blind tooling’.


Embossing is the opposite of debossing i.e. a process which makes a logo, lettering or design literally stand out in relief. The process is usually applied to paper or card using pre-prepared metal dies which are applied under pressure so that they force the paper or card to raise into the shape of the lettering, design or logo in question. Embossing can be combined with colour (although the part where the colour is applied is a separate process; the embossing is usually applied in close register to the colour which has already been laid). Embossing without the addition of colour or foil is known as ‘blind’ embossing.

End papers:

These are the papers which are glued to the inside front and inside back covers of a bound book. High quality traditional books may feature ornate end papers, for example marbled papers (explained below).

Fastback binding:

Fastback bound documents usually have a clear plastic front cover and a card back cover. The bound publication is thermally glued together using thermal (hot) glue to fix pages in place and the spine is strengthened via the addition of a strip of cloth. It is a comparatively quick process and the final bound document looks neat and tidy. Fastback binding is also known as glue binding, thermal or ‘thermo’ binding.

Foil blocking:

Foil blocking, also known as foil stamping, is a commercial printing process where a pigment (usually, but not always, metallic like gold or silver) is applied under pressure by means of a heated ‘die’. The die will have been pre-prepared, e.g. to form lettering or perhaps a logo. The result is that the logo or lettering will appear on the receiving substrate (paper, leather, book cloth etc.) in the desired colour e.g. metallic gold. The final image usually appears to be ‘debossed’ due to the pressure which was applied during the stamping process.

Full binding:

See ‘Whole binding‘ below.

Full Canadian binding:

Please see ‘Half Canadian binding‘ for an explanation and comparison.

Glue binding:

is also known as ‘Fastback‘ binding, ‘thermal’ or ‘thermo’ binding (see ‘Fastback‘ binding section above for details).

Half binding:

Half binding is a style of binding where the spine and corners (or foredge strips) are covered with a high quality or expensive material (for example leather) whilst the remainder of the cover is covered in a cheaper one, for example cloth or inexpensive paper.

Half Canadian binding:

Half Canadian binding utilises Wiro binding but also includes a wraparound, single piece, creased and folded cover including a printable flat spine. The cover is larger than the internal pages and is attached to the wire comb only via the back cover so the front cover and spine look very attractive and neat while, at the back, the wire comb partially extends through visibly. ‘Full Canadian‘ binding is almost the same, however the front cover is also attached to the wire comb, which therefore also partly extends visibly through.

Hard binding:

is a high quality, very rigid bookbinding method. The covers of a hard bound book are generally slightly larger than the pages held inside, i.e. like they are in a standard hard-back book and will include glued-in ‘end papers’ to the inside front and inside back covers. At The Document Centre much of our hard binding is done for university dissertations/theses so will be covered in a library buckram book cloth to suit the colours of the university in question. However we also use hard binding for other types of book, for example presentation books and one-off high quality publications.

Library buckram bookcloth:

See ‘Buckram blookcloth’ above.

Marbled papers:

Marbled papers are highly decorative papers, often used in bookbinding (particularly for end papers), which are made by floating colour pigments onto the surface of an aqueous solution (“size”) in a shallow bath, perhaps swirling the colours into a pattern (whether regular or irregular in nature) and then dragging paper through the bath so that its surface picks up the floating pattern. The final dried sheet is often very attractive, sometimes even including metallic gold or silver pigments. Some of the resulting patterns often resemble natural patterns found in stone and marble, hence the name. The handmade process can make each sheet of marbled papers totally unique, however it can also make it expensive compared to traditionally printed paper.

Perfect binding:

is the type of binding used for paperback books i.e. all pages are thermally glued into the book (also sometimes sewn too). All the pages and the cover are cut perfectly flush with each other. The cover is made from one piece of card.

Quarter binding:

Quarter binding is a style of binding where the spine of a book, and a strip of the adjoining cover, is covered with a high quality or expensive material (for example leather) whilst the remainder of the cover is covered in a cheaper one, for example cloth or inexpensive paper.


is the right-hand page in a book and is usually numbered with an odd page number. Compare to ‘verso’ which is the left-hand page and is usually numbered with an even page number.

Register ribbon:

A register ribbon is the type of slim ribbon you might expect to be bound into a diary. The Document Centre can supply bookbinding with one or even multiple register ribbons incorporated into the finished book or publication. These can prove to be extremely useful for readers of the publication so as to easily find important pages at a future date, for example replacing the need for a bookmark.

Saddle stitched binding:

Saddle stitching simply means that the document sheets, which are each folded in half to form 4 sides/pages, are bound together using metal ‘stitches’ (like staples) through the common fold at the spine.


are sheets of printed pages which are folded down to then become one of the multi-page sections of a bound book or publication.

Soft binding:

is a method of binding books using a thermal glue binding process and the sections are also sewn before gluing. The flexible card cover is usually covered in a library buckram book cloth and is cut flush with the text pages inside with a contemporary, square, spine shape. The finished result is reasonably robust and rigid but not quite as rigid as hard binding because, with soft binding, the thickness of the cover board is not quite as thick. Soft binding is often used for the first submission of a university thesis and, like with hard binding, can often include foiled gold or silver lettering to the spine and/or cover.

Spiral binding:

This is the same as ‘Wiro‘ binding – see below.

Strip binding:

This is another name for ‘Velo‘ binding (explained below).

Thermal (or ‘Thermo’) binding:

Thermal binding is also known as Fastback binding and glue binding. Please see the Fastback binding section above for a full description.

Velo binding:

Velo bound documents will have a clear plastic front cover, a card back cover and a 12-pin strip mechanism to the spine which attaches through punched holes in the documents being bound. While the book is held tightly together, the tines of one half of the strip mechanism are cut to the correct depth and then their tips are melted to form a permanent bond with the other part the binding strip mechanism. This makes for a very tidy and securely bound document. At The Document Centre the velo binding system allows for thicknesses up to 3 inches thick (equivalent to some 500 to 600 internal sheets), which should be ample for most requirements. The Document Centre often uses this binding method for nursing and midwifery students from King’s College, London.


is the left-hand page in a book and is usually numbered with an even page number. Compare to ‘recto’ which is the right-hand page and is usually numbered with an odd page number.

Whole binding:

In contrast to quarter and half binding, whole binding (also known and full binding) is a binding where the cover is completely covered in the same material.

Wiro (a.k.a. ‘Wire’ or ‘Wireo’) binding:

Wiro binding comes with a clear plastic front cover, a card back cover and a wire coil to the spine, which is usually available in a choice of colours. The wire mechanism forms ‘fingers’ which pass through multiple holes punched close to one edge of the cover and internal pages of the document. The wire fingers are then closed using a special machine which bends them to their closed position, trapping the pages. This also allows them to be opened fully flat or indeed turned through almost 360 degrees. Wiro binding can usually be undertaken ‘while you wait’ at The Document Centre. Wiro binding is also known as wire binding. It is similar, but not identical, to ‘spiral’ binding which tends to be used in the U.S.A. and uses a threaded ‘spiral coil’ of wire which ‘winds’ its way through the punched holes in the paper, one by one, rather than clamping down through them in the way wiro binding does. The finished result is very similar, though. Modern wiro binding has also replaced the more archaic ‘comb’ binding system, which looks rather dated in comparison because it used cheap plastic combs which held the pages in place via clunky plastic ‘claws’.

For a more complete glossary of bookbinding terms, please click here.

For all your bookbinding and book restoriation needs, please contact The Document Centre or learn more about their bookbinding services here. We have been binding for the last 75 years so will have come across most binding terms, styles and materials during that time, however not all are listed here.

Photo by Soldanella84 (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0] via Wikimedia Commons