Binding a Hardcover Book (Pop-Up Version)
This tutorial covers the basics of creating a cover and binding a pop-up book, modified from a previous tutorial I had done on the full creation of a hardcover book. These changes have been made to make the cover creation more specific to binding pop-up books, as requested by instructor Michael McGinnis of Santa Rosa Junior College for his Art 5/3-Dimensional Design course.
Notice: While this tutorial is for binding pop-up books, photos will depict a book block featuring sewn signatures rather than a pop-up page block. This is simply because this is what I had available at the time. The process remains mostly the same.
Version 1 Notes: While all instructions are present, I am currently missing photographic examples of a couple of steps (namely the measuring of cover boards). Will add as soon as possible.
- Scissors and Craft/X-Acto knife with sharp blade
- Cover Material (Decorative paper, the cover material provided in class, or fabric*)
- Cover Board (Heavy chip board, “Bookbinder’s Board”, or scrap framing mat**)
- Ruler/Straightedge (something long enough to measure your whole book) and a pencil for marking
- Foam Brush or piece of scrap mat board/chip board (for spreading glue)
- Bone Folder for rubbing air bubbles out of glued surfaces and creasing folds.
- Optional: Binding jig (for ensuring your pages are perfectly aligned when gluing them together. This part will not be covered, as I do not have access to one at home. There is one available for use in class.)
- Optional: Several of those heavy old-edition math and science books you can’t sell back because publishers keep bringing out new ones ;) These will be used to apply pressure to things while glue is drying.
* If you opt for fabric, use a heavy cotton that has been treated on one side (so glue doesn’t seep through) OR fabric made specifically for binding books. Bookbinding fabric can be found online or at Riley Street Art Supply.
** Chip board comes in various thicknesses/sizes and is basically super-compressed cardboard; very similar to “Bookbinder’s Board”. Chip board can be found online or in craft stores such as Joann, Michael’s, and Beverly Fabrics, either by the sheet or in larger packs. Bookbinder’s Board can be found online and at Riley Street Art Supply. DO NOT USE CORRUGATED CARDBOARD. It’s not made to withstand repeated stress and your cover will eventually get floppy and fall apart.
*** If you want your book to last, I highly suggest using a bookbinding glue such as the PH Neutral PVA glue from Books By Hand (found online and at Riley Street). It is archival quality and remains flexible after it dries. This is the glue used in this tutorial. The “Elmer’s Glue-All” we use in class will work fine, but I can’t attest to its longevity. DO NOT USE “ELMER’S WHITE (SCHOOL) GLUE”. It is not meant for this purpose and not only is it not flexible when it dries, it will eventually yellow and crack, causing your book to fall apart.
Note: Clicking images will reveal them in a full-size view.
Step 1: Assembling your Book Block (Pages)
Before we can create the cover, we must first assemble the book block (collection of all pages glued together) in order to get the proper measurements for the cover.
Align your pages
Using the bookbinding jig in class or creating an on-the-fly one of your own, lay the LAST page of your book flat against it. Apply a solid layer of glue roughly 1/4″ to 3/8″ away from the binding edge (do not glue all the way to the edge). Apply glue to corners of far edge, and anywhere along that edge that will not affect how your book’s mechanism’s work (don’t glue where there will be a pull tab, for instance).
Align the next page on top of it so binding edges are parallel to one another (flat against the jig). Rub the whole page to ensure full contact with the glue. You may want to place a heavy book on top of it for a few minutes for the glue to properly bond. Be careful with your gluing, so that it does not affect any mechanisms that function inside of the glued parts of the page.
Do not glue the top and bottom edges of your book unless absolutely necessary. It will make it easier to repair your book later on if need be.
Continue using this method until all of your pages are glued together, and then set them aside to dry.
Suggestion: You may want to create two additional pages, such as a title/dedication page and a closing credits/acknowledgements page that do not contain popups for use in gluing the block to the covers without worrying too much about whether moving mechanisms inside your page will be affected by gluing the cover on. These pages must be the same size as your book pages.
Step 2: Cutting Your Cover Boards And Cover Material
Now that your book block is together, you can begin assembling your cover. Gather your pencil, ruler, x-acto knife, chip board, and cover material.
Measuring and Cutting Cover Board
Using your book block as a guide, you will begin to measure your front and back covers, as well as the spine for your book. Lay your book block on top of your chip board and mark the perimeter. Once you have done so, you will add an extra 1/2″-3/4″ to the height of your book (whichever side will NOT be bound). This will give you a bit of a protective buffer around your internal pages so they are not damaged in the event the book is dropped or some such. In summary: Bound side will be the same size as your pages. Non-bound side will be taller/wider depending on your orientation.
Once you have your initial size marked, do a bit of cleaning up to ensure that the cover piece is as squared up as possible–meaning all 4 corners are at 90-degree angles and the sides all match up in length. A T-Square or drafting square will help with this, but is not necessary. Once you have made it as perfect as you can, carefully begin cutting with your X-Acto knife. DO NOT try to cut through it all in one go. Use several short, shallow cuts until you have cut completely through. Repeat this step for the other cover piece, or use your first piece as a template and just cut.
Measuring and Cutting the Spine
The height for your spine is easy enough: It will be the height of your book. The width is a little more difficult, but it is very important to get it as accurate as possible. Failure to do so will result in a book that is either super wobbly/loose, or too tight and unable to open/close properly.
First, lay one piece of your cover down, then place your book block on top of it, pushing it to one side roughly 3/8″ (exact distance depends on your book. Your book needs this spacing in order to open up flat). Place the other piece of your cover on top with the same amount of book block hanging out. Let it lay loose OR apply just a SMALL bit of pressure if your book is a lot thicker on one side than the other. DO NOT SQUISH IT FLAT. You can use paper clips or small binder clips to temporarily attach the cover pieces to the book block so they don’t slide around–just make sure to do it on all 4 sides so it has equal pressure. This can also help you determine just how far apart your pieces need to be from your spine by opening the book up flat.
Now take your ruler and carefully measure the distance from the bottom piece of cover board to the TOP of the top piece of cover board. This will be the width of your spine. If you don’t get a perfect measurement, it is better for your spine piece to be slightly bigger than slightly smaller. If it is bigger it will make your spine a bit loose (and in many cases able to be cut down), but if it is too small, your book will NOT open properly or lay flat.
Once you have your measurements, cut your spine piece down in the same manner you did with your cover pieces–using many short, shallow cuts. You may also want to take this opportunity to make several spacer pieces to help with aligning your spine and book pieces the proper distance away from each other.
Measuring and Cutting Cover Material
Now that your cover pieces are cut, you are able to to start cutting the paper or fabric you’ve chosen as your cover material.
Lay your cover material as flat as possible with the WRONG side (the side that will not be seen/will be glued to cover board) up. Align your cover board pieces and spine on top and place them where they need to be (use pre-cut spacers for the spine). Using your pencil, carefully mark where all the corners line up, as this will help you with placement when you begin to glue.
Using your corner marks as a guide, draw or cut a roughly 1/2-3/4″ (can be wider, and does not have to be perfect) perimeter around the whole piece. This extra material allows the cover to be folded over and hide the edges once the book block is glued in.
Once you have your perimeter, mark each of the 4 corners at a 45-degree angle, roughly 1/4″ away from the corners of your cover board. ALTERNATELY, make these marks at an angle in a V-shape pointing towards the corner of the cover board. Either of these methods will enable the cover material to be folded over without exposing the cover board.
To Summarize Up To Now:
You’ve created your book block, cover board pieces, and your cover material. Your ultimate goal is to have a book that opens and closes properly, as well as looks neat and clean. Below is Michael’s diagram of what the final product should look like (measurements may be different).
Step 3: Assembling The Cover
Everything has been cut properly and you have all of your pieces and materials, so now it’s time to start putting it all together!
Place your cover material down on a flat surface. Cover the ENTIRE surface of one side of your cover board with a thin, even layer of glue and carefully line it up with the corner/placement marks you previously made on your cover material. Rub hard all the way around the cover board, then flip everything over and do the same on the cover material side. You may need to use your bone folder or your hand to press out any air bubbles trapped between the cover material and cover board. Place a heavy object on top for several minutes for the glue to bond. YOU MUST WORK QUICKLY AND CAREFULLY. You don’t want the glue to tack up too much before your piece is properly aligned.
Repeat this step for the spine, and then the other piece of cover board. Once again place a heavy object (old textbooks work well) on top of it for several minutes to ensure everything is as flat and bonded as possible.
Once your glue has bonded, you will begin folding over the extra flaps. I suggest taking your bone folder and scoring/creasing all the way around the perimeter of the book board, especially if you have thicker cover material. This will make it easier to fold over neatly. It is best to do this step before gluing.
Part 1: Score around the perimeter of the book board.
Part 2: One section at a time, fold the extra flaps over the book board and run your bone folder along the edge to create a neat crease. Unfold everything again for the gluing process.
After you’ve creased your cover material, apply a thin, even layer of glue to one flap. Carefully fold it over and rub to apply pressure and remove air bubbles. Repeat this step on the flap opposite the one you just glued (Right -> Left; Top -> Bottom). Continue in this manner until everything is glued. Actual order doesn’t matter so long as it’s done in opposites.
Wipe up any glue that may have leaked out and once again stick it under that heavy book for a few minutes.
After the glue has properly bonded, you should crease, bend, and fold the loose material between the spine and cover boards to “break it in”, so that you can ensure your book hinges properly without being too tight before you glue it.
Optional: In the event you don’t have enough of your chosen cover material to cover all of your cover board pieces with enough left over to fold, OR you’d like to have a contrasting spine, you can alternately cut two pieces for the cover board and a third strip for the spine and glue those all together prior to attaching the boards. You would want 2 pieces a bit bigger than your cover boards, and a strip with the same height that is twice the width of your spine (so it’s roughly even on each side when folded over).
Final Step: Putting It All Together!
Congratulations! You’ve made it this far and your book is nearly complete. Now all you have to do is attach your cover to your book block.
For my example, I have extra pages I am using to attach my block to my cover. These pages may not be necessary for your own book. The process is more or less the same. If you glued your extra pages when you created your book block, you can skip this step.
NOTE: If your book is going to have some sort of external closure mechanism (such as ribbons to tie it shut), this is the step in which you will attach them. Put them in place BEFORE you glue your cover to your book block.
Apply glue to binding edge of first page, and as much as the outer edges of the page as you can without affecting your internal mechanisms. Working quickly, line your extra page up to the edges of your book block. Rub and press to ensure a good bond with the glue. Repeat this process for the last page of your book block.
Once the glue has dried, place the book block inside of your cover and carefully paperclip it or binder clip it to the cover. Once it is secured, open your book up and make sure it lays flat as it should. This will help you know where to glue your block to your cover. Make a couple of light marks to help you line it up. Remove the clips and glue as much of the first page as you can without affecting your internal mechanisms. Same as with gluing your book block, do not glue all the way to the bound edge. If you have extra pages, put glue on the whole page. Carefully and QUICKLY line the page up to your marks on the cover and press it down. If you need adjusting, do it as quickly as possible or your pages may tear.
Press the page and allow the glue to bond for a few minutes.
For attaching the other half, flip your book over so the already-glued cover is on the bottom against your work surface. Fold the loose side of the cover over your book block (close the book) and note where the page falls inside. You want your spine to be as vertical as possible, so you may want to work against a jig. Open your book again, apply glue to the last page, and quickly close the book again while it is against your jig. Once it is attached, open it up and rub against it to ensure a tight bond. Open and close it to make sure everything is where it should be, and to “loosen it up”.
Note: It is possible to attach the back cover without closing the book, but it is more difficult to glue properly.
At this point, I recommend setting something heavy on top of the whole thing and giving it AT LEAST 12 hours to completely dry. Seriously. Try not to do this at 2:30 in the morning the day it’s due. After that, go through and make any adjustments or repairs you may need to before handing it in.
Congratulations! You’re Done!
It’s a long, frustrating, and sometimes boring process while waiting for glue to dry, but it is completely worth it in the end. I look forward to seeing all the wonderful books you create :) If you have any questions or need clarification/more examples/extra photos, please do not hesitate to ask me either in class, a comment to this post, or via email (kamioakira at gmail dot com). Please note that if you leave a comment here, it may not be immediately visible on the site. This is due to comment moderation to protect against spam messages. I will still get the comment, and it will appear on the site as soon as I am able to review it.
Good luck, everyone!