Bookmaking For Artists: Signatures and Trim Size

Dig into a project that will be creative, as well as useful! We've documented our love for art journaling in several other ArtTips, but what we haven't done is talked about how to make your own blank book that can be used for art journaling or a myriad of other uses. Let's look at some of the basic tenants of making your own books. You can take your creative cues from these techniques, and hopefully you'll develop your own take on these techniques to create something original and artful.

Books are fairly simple constructions: a book is simply a number of pages bound together. But you can take the bookmaking techniques to a time intensive, complex level. There are a few secrets when it comes to putting a simple book together, however. This ArtTips will look at creating the pages for your book, and the next ArtTips will get into creating the cover and binding for your book. Let's look at a few bits of info that will help us construct a better book, starting with its pages.

You will need:
- Paper for your book pages
- Folding tool
- Paper trimmer or very sharp scissors
- 2 large binder clips
- 2 pieces of foam board

Paper Quality
Your paper choice might depend on your vision for the end use of your book. It might depend on having leftover materials that you want to use. It might depend on any number of things, so take the time to think it through. If you will be using your book as an art journal, and painting in the pages, choose your paper accordingly. Watercolor paper is an excellent choice for delicate, water-based work and mediums. If you anticipate using it more for sketching and notes, consider a thicker paper than can be erased and impressed on with pen and pencil points.

Note: If your paper is to thin, it could tear in the binding process. Consider adhering two sheets of thin paper together for better durability, or use thicker paper.

Step 1: Fold the Signatures

Decide how many pages you want your book to be and put it together in signatures.

A set number of pages folded and sometimes bound together is called a signature. Most books today are usually put together in signatures of 12 or 16, depending on the thickness of the paper. Books are made with signatures for several reasons. First, a signature of 16 pages is made from 8 larger pages folded in half, which makes the edges of the book pages more uniform. If you were to take all the pages you wanted in a book and just fold them in half, the edges of the pages on the outside of the stack wouldn't line up with those towards the center of the stack. Signatures keep the page edge more consistent. Signatures also help keep the book together. Binding signatures together, rather than individual pages, makes the book stronger and more likely to stay in tact.

Tip:If you are using thicker paper, consider a signature that has less pages. This makes the signature easier to work with, and the paper edge will be more consistent.

Line the edges up as carefully as possible when folding the pages. The more meticulously you fold your pages, the more accurate the edges and corners of your book.

Using a folding tool to fold the signatures will make your signatures easier to bind, and give you a crisper crease.

Clamp the signatures overnight with two binder clips to fully flatten the pages. Use two pieces of foam board to protect the paper from being imprinted with the pressure from the binder clips.

Step 2: Cut to Size

Choose how big or small you want your book to be.

Trim Size
Determine how big you want your book to be. If you have paper that is a standard size that you envision using for this project--for example, you may have a stack of construction paper, computer paper, or other kind of paper stock that is all 8.5 x 11 inches that you will be using for your paper signatures--then consider that you will be folding your paper in half for the best book construction, so your book would be 5.5 x 8.5 inches at the most.

Once you have folded your signatures and flattened the pages, you can determine your trim size and shape. If you have a certain shape in mind, make a pattern that you can follow for the signatures, end pages, and the cover pieces. Use a pair of freshly sharpened scissors, if possible, to cut the signatures to shape. Accuracy is everything here, so trim with great care.

We will continue bookmaking in our next ArtTips with cover construction and binding techniques, so don't miss it!