What’s in a Signature?

The first question to answer is “What is a signature?” In bookbinding terms, a signature is a section or group of paper folded in the middle, then bound together by thread through evenly spaced holes punched in the creased fold by an awl.

Several signatures ready for threading together to create text block
Several signatures ready for threading together to create text block

Depending on the thickness of the paper, the signature will consist of anywhere between five to ten sheets. You may find other sites to suggest a different number, such as four to eight sheets. Sometimes, the size of the page will determine the number of sheets to use as well. It can always be more than what I suggested, however the more paper used in the signature will cause the open edges to feather out (see photos below). I’ve found that five sheets tend to be a good number to work with no matter the thickness. It also makes it easy to count how many pages end up being in the text block because five sheets folded equals a signature of ten pages. Ultimately, it will be up to you to decide as aesthetics may be a factor.

Top - feathered with 10 pages vs. Bottom - with 5 pages each
Top – feathered with 10 pages vs. Bottom – with 5 pages each

Once I’ve decided on the type of paper I would like to use – whether it is white copy paper, tea stained copy paper, thicker white paper, etc. and have an idea of the size of the book, I will grab my bone folder (insert photo) and my stack of paper. Folding the short edges together, I crease the folded edge. I repeat this for as many sheets that I’ve chosen to use. After the initial fold, I go over each one again with the bone folder to make it a sharp creased edge. Then I place five sheets together, one nested inside the next.

Nested signature - 5 pages within each other to create one signature
Nested signature – 5 pages within each other to create one signature

Usually by this time I’ve already decided how thick I want my book, and that will determine how many pages will be in the book. This is also dependent upon the paper thickness. Using standard printer paper, a 200-page book will be approximately an inch to an inch and a half thick (20 signatures with five sheets in each signature).

Once you have all of your signatures folded and nested, you’re ready for the next step…the Text Block!

Creating signatures
Creating signatures can be done just about anywhere!
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