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Bookbinding: Signature Estimator

Download Signature Estimator v2 Excel File (.xlsx)

Estimate Signature Size for DIY Bookbinding

I decided to make a book. Not write one, make one. I wanted to start with a pre-made PDF because my life isn’t complicated enough. The PDF I chose was the final edition of a magazine called “Write Now” (off site link).

The PDF is 88 pages. That’s when I learned that there’s math involved in bookbinding. Unless a book is “Perfect” bind (like a paperback), it is made up of folded bundles of paper. Usually made up 4, 8, 16, or 32 sheets per folded section. These sections are called signatures or folios.

I folded my 8 1/2 x 11 sheets in half. Therefore there are 4 pages per sheet. I decided on 4 sheet signatures. For a total of 16 page per. 88/16 = 5.5. That doesn’t work. Rounding up to 6 signatures gives me 96 pages. I need to add 8 pages (96-88) to the PDF to get the right number of pages to print the Signature cleanly in Acrobat Reader. I’ll write a separate article on using Acrobat Reader to print signatures.

Excel Screenshot of Signature Estimator

Printing the signatures requires specific start and end pages per print. In this example: 1-16, 17-32, 33-48, etc.

It’s simple enough to do this on paper. However, as the book gets bigger, the “what-if” scenarios grow. If I want to print a 513 page PDF. Should I use 16 or 32 page signatures? How many is that? What kind of padding do I need?

You get the idea. A spreadsheet or dedicated program allows you to easily play with combinations so that you can find a happy place that works for you.

Signature Estimator in use
Animation showing basic usage of the spreadsheet

As an added feature, I added a separate tab to calculate the thickness of all signatures. My 96 page book of 20lbs paper works out to about 3/16th of an inch (just shy of 5mm). This is the text block only, it doesn’t count the covers or any other added feature. It also doesn’t account for swell at the binding edge. It’s just a rough estimate.

Thickness Calculation

Additional Resources

  • Note: BookBinder has not been updated since 2010 that I can see. This has not been tested by me. It is a Java Program so use at own risk. However, I have seen good comments on it (again, untested).