Tips for binding my own copies of books in the public domain?
November 26, 2008 2:41 AM   Subscribe

I took a few bookbinding classes in university and really enjoyed them, but I stopped doing it after I had saturated the market (i.e. my friends and family) with blank books to use as journals, notebooks, photo albums, etc. I recently thought that it might be fun to make hand-printed and bound editions of novellas and short stories that are in the public domain.

What are some good stories I could use? And what will be the best way to get the text on to the paper? I would consider hand-lettering a very, very short story, but what to do for something a bit longer? I don't have access to a printing press. My first instinct is to lay out the text using photoshop or something, use my home printer to make a mini-mockup of the text block to ensure that everything will be in the right place after the folios are folded, and then take the file to a kinkos-type place to have the folios printed on large sheets of paper (two copies of each folio, natch. I am terrible about tearing my pages when I go to rip the edges). Anyway, my biggest issue with my plan is paper quality - I cringe at the idea of using 'printer' paper instead of good-quality art printmaking paper, but without access to a printmaking studio I can't think of another option. Any other ideas, or anything I might be overlooking in my plan?
posted by cilantro to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Ooh, bookbinding. It's been a while since I tried that. Well: I dabbled in it from a couple of online tutorials like this one a few months ago, so the specifics of what you're doing may vary. I pretty much know how to turn a stack of A4 paper into an A5 book and that's it.

Good stories - I don't have any specific recommendations but the Gutenberg Project has a good collection of public domain books. Most of the books are available in plaintext or HTML, so you may have to do some reformatting in a word processor to get it in a printer-friendly format (not so much for plaintext, but for HTML, you might want to remove the chapter links and such). There are a few other sites that have public-domain books as well, Google around for them.

The main problem is getting them in a booklet-type layout (I assume you're doing the hardcover-style binding, which involves stitching together booklets of 4-6 pieces of paper each). I simply converted to pdf and used Adobe Acrobat to print it because the version I used (8, I think) had a handy "print booklet" function ... there was also a tutorial I remember reading about how to do it in Word, but I cannot for the life of me find the link. Sorry. What Acrobat did was print it so every stack of 4 or so pages (you can specify) magically turned into a booklet when folded in half, without any effort on my part. No need for photoshopping unless you want illustrations and such.

If you're going to take it to a shop to print instead of doing it at home, print to pdf instead of to your printer, but I reckon unless you want to print A4-size books or larger, a home printer should be able to handle it (because obviously, if you want an A5 size hardcover book you need to print on A4 paper, and so on).

Art printmaking paper - I used acid-free archival paper bought from a local craft store. Might get a bit expensive though if you're printing several books.
posted by Xany at 4:34 AM on November 26, 2008

I love my current bookbinding class so much. For a recent project, my $18 photopolymer plate turned out badly so I put my prepared BFK Rives printmaking paper through my little inkjet printer (after sending through a pile of mockups for positioning). It was fine, but I wanted something easier to position and more archival, so I went to to the art studio digital lab and put my paper through their big fancy inkjet printer for a total of $6. There was a minor disaster where a slit in the paper got caught in the fancy printer, but a bit of tearing fixed that and then I taped it up. Oh well. Just slit your paper afterward (if you're doing an interlocking structure like I was) or cover it up with blue tape.

In other words, experiment with putting your nice paper through inkjet printers. They can handle a lot of weird stuff. My friends have inkjet-printed on kleenexes.

Or you can work with your constraints and hand-letter a series of lovely short poems. Or appropriate short stories from mass-produced books, collage and illustrate them, and re-bind them...
posted by dreamyshade at 4:49 AM on November 26, 2008

Xany (and maybe other people): My professor recommends How to Make Books by Esther K. Smith to people who are interested in random book production fun with different kinds of structures.
posted by dreamyshade at 5:13 AM on November 26, 2008

A lot of cities will have printing and book-binding studios you can use, for free or a small fee. It might be some person's studio, who likes helping out people who are learning (watch out for the perverts who use studio access as a way to lure in cute young things, though); it might be attached to a community college or university, with access in exchange for signing up for a class; and some places even have collective artist-owned spaces where you can become a member and get access to the equipment.

And there are ways to make prints with very little equipment -- screenprinting can be done on your kitchen table, with almost everything hand-made, for example. Or combine inkjet printing of the lettering with hand drawn/painted artwork on the pages. Lots of options here; experiment with your constraints and see how far you can take it.
posted by Forktine at 6:26 AM on November 26, 2008

No advice on the mechanics, but A Christmas Carol by Dickens is a nice, seasonal novella if you're thinking of giving these as presents.
posted by clerestory at 7:22 AM on November 26, 2008

I think if you use desktop publishing software like InDesign or QuarkXpress they are intelligent enough to automatically rearrange the text into pages that will match how you'll fold them. But this is probably the last step. You can also check out the open source, free, Scribus.

For stories, there's always Edgar Allan Poe or HP Lovecraft, or even O Henry or Hans Christian Andersen. The latter are timeless stories. Some others:

Grimm's Fairy Tales
Aesop's Fables
The Odyssey and the Illiad
Anything by Mark Twain
Rudyard Kipling's Just So Stories or The Jungle Book
Shakespeare's Plays
Poetry collections (more effort to typeset, however)

After that, you need to decide on the font. The font should convey a feel that complements the story, e.g. for a horror story, don't use comic sans, and for a comedy don't use Trajan.

My favorite font for printing large quantities of fiction text is Adobe Jenson Pro. But books usually put the font information on the copyright page these days, so browse the library or bookstore find one you like and use that.

Next, paper. There are some very high quality papers you can run through laser printers these days, but the reason I'd still use a printshop (though maybe not kinkos) for this is because you are going to burn through a lot of toner yourself anyway, and who knows how consumer desktop laser printers will function after the 8th continuous hour of printing. I've seen laser printers literally burn pages brown. Shift the burden of quality printing onto someone else, and you'll get a better finished product and save money in the long run anyway.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:30 AM on November 26, 2008

I've used InDesign to make folios -- you just worry about the layout of each page and it can order them properly to create the correct folios (you specify how many pages per signature). It's easy and frees you up to worry about the artistic side of things.

I second Pastabagel's suggestion to go with a printshop -- even if you don't mind the cost of the toner at home, you're still limited to the width of whatever you can print as the height of your page, and that only if you have paper with non-standard grain. Typical 8.5 x 11 office paper has the grain going along the long dimension, so if you use that your book can only be around four inches wide. It's pretty much impossible to print a quarto at home unless you're making a tiny tiny book or have a huge printer.

But you can put all kinds of things through an ink-jet printer (search online for suggestions/results) and one option is to outsource the main body of the text and bind that together with fun interstitial pages of illustrations on art-y papers, like vellum or japanese rice paper, or even hand-made papers, which do fine in an ink-jet even if they're not sized (treated to not soak up ink).

Finally, remember that Metsy could increase your market share...
posted by tractorfeed at 9:51 AM on November 26, 2008

When you say, "I am terrible about tearing my pages when I go to rip the edges," do you mean that you tear the edges of the paper in order to get an antique look? If so, you might want to look into paper with a deckle edge. (see the second entry.)

If you can't find a print studio to work with, you may still be able to use a more professional paper at your local Kinko's. Ask a manager or someone who actually knows what they're talking about - some commercial printers can handle specialty paper.

Alternately, you could build your own letterpress or buy one.

I'd suggest using InDesign, Quark, Illustrator or Word to set the type rather than Photoshop. Type set in Photoshop tends to print badly.
posted by lekvar at 11:15 AM on November 26, 2008

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