Spine design for impact and machine tolerance
The spine identifies a book on a shelf and is an advantage with paperback binding. With significant contrast and strong type, the spine allows the book to hold its place visually with others. However, books are paper, and the alignment between the cover and book block is subject to variation in the manufacturing process. This article explores the alignment problems and offers tips on spine design and overall cover fitting.
The front cover, spine, and back cover are separate sides. Once bound, they are never all seen at once; but do blend into a whole. The binder operator will favour the front cover alignment over the spine or back cover. Awareness of limitations across the full cover can make the operators work easier and provide you with better looking books. It is best if you are both happy.
Spine design examples:
From left to right:
Time Management is a thin book and the spine text fully fits the available space, and a tiny bit high (towards the cover).
The Goal includes an interesting band that wraps around the cover providing contrast, yet easy to bind.
Laws of Leadership wraps the band around the spine but placement of the text isn't optimized, which would require the text to be smaller.
The miss-alignment on Perpetual Innovations is barely noticed due to its thickness, but more pronounced on One Minute Manager and pronounced on Marketing Warfare.
Spine design for the operator:
A hard line near an edge or fold isn’t recommended as the proximity will highlight any variation and will not look clean. This is why the trim on a door jamb is not flush, but set back off the edge. A hard edge is like driving a road with no shoulder; it causes unnecessary tension and is unforgiving.
The simplest option is a texture, colour or image that wraps around the whole cover. The spine will look good as long as the text is reasonably centred. A continuous background allows for the minor variations in alignment inherent in the printing and binding process (this is paper).
NOTE: the following book samples are taken from books on our store. Clicking on the examples will take you to that title on PageMasterPublishing.ca
If the image isn’t wide enough to cover the full back cover, it may be possible to extend in PhotoShop, or fade the image into a solid colour. A mirrored image or other treatment that shows minor variation between spine folds can also work.
A hard line on a band across the front or back cover is more forgiving than one that runs the full length. It is best to not have both the front and back covers include a significant band, as spine width can vary with tension and paper runs.
Spine text contrast:
Sometimes a background image has too much detail and does not give enough contrast for the spine text. Adjusting the colour for the title and author name sometimes works. A coloured overlay faded into part of the image can add sufficient contrast and still allow the slight variation in horizontal alignment to be minimized. Creating a coloured bar that overlaps both sides of the spine can also yield a strong design while providing margin for manufacturing variations.
Hard edge on the fold or folds:
A hard edge on the fold, especially the full length of the spine, will unlikely be in perfect alignment. If you can’t wrap the cover background, choose a spine background that merges as much as possible.
Between humidity, paper, printing, pre-trimming, and binder movement, there will be variations in spine alignment. Both front-to-back shift and twisting may occur. The binder operator will give preference to the front cover, as a small amount of the front cover showing on the spine is more acceptable than the spine showing on the front cover.
Know that, if you choose to have contrasting edges on the spine fold, it will highlight registration error. Variation will be more pronounced visually, and the operator losses the ability to compensate for a thicker or thinner book. She must choose the cover or centreing the spine text. Nudging the front cover slightly onto the spine can help keep the text centred. Smaller spine elements provide more safe room and can yield a more pleasing finished product.
Final cover note
Vertical registration is much less problematic as no folding is involved. Final trims add another set of variations and any deviation close to the edges will be accentuated. It is best to keep borders and other lines at least one-half inch away from edges. If you choose to run an element to the trim edge, ensure it is large and will look okay if trimmed somewhat.
Here is to books recognizable on the shelf and unstressed binder operators.
For more on cover design see https://pagemaster.ca/cover-design-primer/