23.05.2019

On book anatomy

A book is a book is a book, but the difference between a fixed insert sheet and an end paper or a signature and a cover is not so obvious to everyone. The book printing lingo causes some considerable problems, as we’ve had the chance to see for ourselves more than just once during our long-term presence in the industry. It is worth knowing the most basic term, if only because it’s easier to communicate with others knowing for certain that everyone is talking about the same thing (although in Poland we know that efficient communication comes down to more than just consistent nomenclature).

All definitions can be found in our glossary of printing terms, while in the meantime let us move things forward in a slightly topsy-turvy manner, that is to say from the inside out.

The part of any publication called the inside by laymen is in actual fact called the book block, sometimes also called the text block. The book block is an internal part of the binding made ready to be attached to the cover. Before we proceed with identifying the different types of book blocks, we have to clarify what a signature is. Simply put, a signature is nothing else but a group of pages that have been printed on, folded and stacked together. You can easily imagine a single signature to look like a 16-page school exercise book. In turn, a book block will comprise of anything between a few and several dozen signatures. Essentially, to stick the signatures of a book together we have to bind them. Which is how we get to the crux of the matter: a book block comprising a number of signatures stuck together with bookbinding thread is called a sewn block. There is also a bound block which—in place of signatures—is made up of sheets of paper stuck together with glue.

This is what a book block looks like, in this case a sewn one.

A sewn block can be told apart from a bound block at first glance. It is sufficient to just look at the upper edge of the book block, close to the spine, and see whether there are signatures visible there. Seeing that we’re already looking in that direction, have a look at the endband, which is a strip of silk or cotton affixed to the upper and lower edge of the spine of a book block, primarily to improve the book’s aesthetics.


The endband is the peach-coloured strip of fabric affixed to the spine.

Now that we’ve discussed the book block, we can move onto the cover with its main purpose of protecting the book block. If the cover is made of cardboard, then we’re dealing with a softcover or an integrated cover, where to create a hardcover you would use a board with paper glued onto it and wrapped around its edges.


The above is an excellent example of a hardcover made of a board with paper glued onto it and wrapped around its edges.

As not to make things to simple: a book cover has pages too. When we open a cover in front of us, the outside facing us, the first page of the cover containing the title, author’s name and other necessary information that is of interest to the reader will be on the right hand side. The fourth page of the cover containing the blurb (i.e. a brief summary of the content, recommendations, etc.), the ISBN number and possibly the author’s bio will be on the left hand side. When we flip the cover over, the inside facing us now, we will have the second page of the cover on the left hand side, with the fourth page on the right hand side. This knowledge might save us the troublesome attempts at explaining that something is to be printed “at the back of the cover, but on the inside of it”. Instead, using our best professional tone we can request that “this is to be printed on the third page of the cover”. It doesn’t seem much, but somehow it makes life so much better.

We’ve now gone over the book block and cover, so it might be a good idea to bring the two together to create a neat whole. The process will be different depending whether we’re dealing with a softcover or a hardcover. For a softcover the book block is attached to the spine using glue, while the hardcover will have an additional element attaching the book block to the spine, i.e. the end paper. As per its definition, the end paper is “a single-fold sheet of paper, usually with higher grammage, glued to the internal page surface of the base case and joined with the book block”. Sounds complicated? It all becomes entirely clear when we pick up a hardcover book. Have a look at the second page of the cover—knowing what is what as far as the cover pages are concerned is really useful, isn’t it—there is a single sheet of paper glued across its entire surface to the cover and the first page of the book block. Obviously, this is repeated for page three of the cover. The end paper—in addition to playing a structural role in the book’s anatomy—covers the board that’s underneath.

We’ve now reached a point of familiarity with main the components of a book. Sometimes, a book will be additionally “armoured” with a dust jacket, i.e. a printed sheet of paper put loosely on the cover, that protects it against damage (a torn dust jacket definitely hurts less than a scratched cover).

As much as the above analysis is not the most thorough and comprehensive guide to book anatomy, it is quite sufficient to start with. Truth to be told, it is not possible to create a blog entry to cover all the issues that should be addressed (we have not even broached the subject of spiral and saddle stitched bindings). If you wish to learn more about book printing, follow our blog and look for new entries.

Lidia Piasecka

Graphic designer at Totem.com.pl. She writes because she enjoys it, but only when she isn’t busy drawing. Enthusiast of vintage furniture, she restores them to their original glory. Lover of cats, moths and the Moomins.

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