Learn the Interesting History of Saddle Stitched Books

Saddle stitching is a booklet binding method that can be a 'creepy'

saddle-stitched booklets
Thread or staples, saddle-stitched booklets or signatures have a distinctive shape. | Image by tanakawho via flickr; CC BY 2.0.

Saddle stitching is a booklet binding process that secures loose printed, folded and nested pages with two or three wire staples down the middle of the fold, which becomes the spine. The name comes from the machine saddle on which the folded signatures are placed for stitching.

Types of Publications That Are Saddle Stitched

Saddle stitching is a common binding method for small booklets, calendars, pocket-size address books, and some magazines. Binding with saddle-stitching creates booklets that can be opened up flat. The binding method is a good binding option for booklets with a relatively low page count. The number of pages that can be bound using saddle-stitching is limited by the bulk of the paper it is printed on, but the typical recommendation is 64 pages or less for a nice, flat booklet.

About Saddle-Stitching

  • It is a relatively inexpensive binding method.
  • It is one of the quicker binding methods in bindery production. After the sheets are folded, one machine can collate, stitch and trim the booklets, all in one pass. Some machines can even handle the folding stage.
  • Booklets lie flat when they are opened.
  • A saddle-stitched booklet does not have a flat spine for printing.
  • It is excellent for artwork, graphs or maps that span two pages because the booklet lies flat when open.
  • Because of the construction, saddle-stitched booklets have pages in multiples of four, so your booklet can have four pages (plus a cover) or eight, 12, 16, and so on. 

How Is a Saddle-Stitched Booklet Assembled

To make an 8.5 by 11-inch finished booklet (for example), sheets of paper that are 11 by 17 inches are printed with four pages of the booklet — the first two and the last two. Subsequent sheets are printed with the next two pages in order and the next to the last two pages in order. Then the printed sheets are folded to 8.5 by 11 inches and collated with a folded cover, slipping each set of four pages inside the folded pages that come before it in order. That leaves the middle four pages of the booklet in the exact center. The stitches are stapled through all the pages from the outside cover to the middle spread of pages. 

So What Is Creep?

Saddle-stitched booklets with only a few pages don't require an additional trim on the side opposite the fold. In booklets with a large number of pages, the pages in the middle of the book tend to peek out past the cover — a condition referred to as creep. Trimming the pages that creep out makes the booklet look neater but can result in uneven margins and possibly cut off text in booklets with narrow margins. This is countered by building in a creep allowance before printing the pages, which involves adjusting inner and outer margins so when the trim is taken, the margins throughout the booklet look the same.

Setting up Digital Files for Booklets That Saddle Stitch

In the past, a graphic artist might have been instructed to set up a paginated booklet file that paired the first page with the last and so on. He may even have been instructed to figure creep, which is notoriously difficult because you need to know the exact thickness of the paper used in the booklet and then adjust each signature a different value depending on its distance from the fold.

Imposition of pages and the calculation of creep is now done almost exclusively by commercial printers who use special software for those purposes. Check with your printer to confirm this and then set up your graphics files in single pages or two-page spreads as you normally would and let the professionals worry about creep and pagination.