Openability of books
19.08.2021

Openability of books

The openability of a book is a bit like air quality: if it is good, we pay it no attention. However, if it leaves much to be desired, it becomes a source of our constant frustration.

What does openability mean?

The paradox here lies in the fact that we subconsciously know what this openability is, and we use the term intuitively. However, the challenge arises when we try and define it.
Openability is a quality parameter of the binding as determined by the way the sheets within a book block fall in relation to flatly arranged sheets when the book is open.
Translating from book printing lingo into plain English: if—after opening a book—the sheets within the book block fall onto the cover instead of standing at an angle, the book has good openability. Naturally, we strive to achieve the best openability possible.

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Why does the openability of a book matter?

To begin with, it is all about being user friendly. When a book with poor openability is opened, the sheets within the book block will be bulging near the spine. The text printed on them will be optically distorted, which significantly affects the book’s readability. As a result, we will have to spend more time reading the book. The reduced ability to see the text properly will adversely affect our retention rate. In short, the book will be more difficult and less pleasant for us to read.
Another issue is that it will be necessary to hold the book with both hands while reading it. We know how frustrating it is when a book closes on its own when we are in the middle of reading it, and we are forced to browse through it looking for the page currently being read.

Additionally, the book’s openability has also an indirect effect on its durability. If the book fails to open enough to be comfortably used and read, the reader will forcefully smooth the sheets within the book block near the spine. Do this on repeat and you’re sure to just simply damage the book as you can accidentally break the spine (the book’s, of course, not yours).

What affects the book’s openability?

There is a true multitude of factors. Starting with the type of paper used to make the book block, through the type of binding selected, the glue applied, the size of the book, and ending with the way the sheets within the book block are joined. This is a topic broad enough to merit a separate blog entry in the future.

Which type of binding has the best openability?

As far as traditional binding is concerned, thread sewn hardcovers take a definite lead. In turn, where special types of binding come into play, spiral bound publications have no equals.

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oprawa spiralowa

And why is that? In terms of openability, the critical place is where the sheets are joined with the cover, which is the book’s spine. Using a spiral wire to join the sheets within the book block means that we are practically resolving all the problems concerning our publication’s spine. And on top of that, the type of paper we use to make the book block will in no way affect our book’s openability. Additionally, open spine binding can also be used as an interesting example here: the spine is not joined with the cover, so this type of binding also has great openability.

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Should ample openability always take priority?

Of course not. Publishing a book is often about being able to compromise, and sometimes to achieve a specific goal, you have to give something up. Pocket editions are the best illustration here. By design, the principal idea is for them to be small, light, and cheap, so that we can take them travelling with us without overloading our handbags and luggage. They usually come as softcover – perfect bound publications of a small format, slightly thicker than traditional editions. Given these parameters, we can’t expect the book to open completely flat. However, we will be much happier to put into our suitcase a pocket edition as opposed to a beautifully crafted hardcover volume.

Nevertheless, there are certain instances where openability is a crucial aspect, as is the case with albums. After all, albums are mostly looked at. It is difficult to appreciate a photographer’s skill when it is impossible to have a proper look at the photos. When the pages of an album are constantly floating up and bulging near the spine, the photographs printed will always take on a slightly distorted look. And paper usually turns out to be the main culprit in this state of affairs. Wanting to achieve a stylish and sophisticated look for their albums, publishers often opt for heavy, clay coated paper. It is worth noting that coated papers reflect light well. If the lighting fails to play to our advantage, each page of the album will have a luminous streak running across it along the bulge near the spine. Make sure you always select the right type of binding. Additionally, have a careful think about the format, and do it as early as at the time of designing the album. Play it wisely, and everything should end well.

It is also a similar story with publications intended for making notes. Customers wishing to print planners, notebooks and calendars are mostly advised by our printing house to choose thread sewn and spiral bound hardcovers. Having to hold a notebook with your free hand while writing is as far removed from user friendliness as can only be imagined.
As usual – it is all down to what we need.

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The topic of openability can be slightly oppressive; all of a sudden it turns out that the mere fact that a book opens at all is a huge issue. Rest assured though, our account managers have got that down to a science. They are sure to find and propose the best solution for you and dispel all your doubts.

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lidia piasecka

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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