What Is Case Binding?

Hardcover books are the most familiar example of case binding

Book with case binding
Book with case binding. Pamela Moore/Getty Images

The most common type of bookbinding for hardcover books is case binding. If you've bought a hardcover bestseller recently, it was casebound. This is usually the most time consuming and expensive method for binding a book, but it is the ultimate choice for books that have a long shelf life or that receive heavy usage. Case bound (or hardcover) books are typically more expensive to produce than books bound with soft covers or other methods, but they often recoup the expense through higher sell prices.

What Is Case Binding?

With case binding, the pages of the book are arranged in signatures and sewn or stitched together in the correct page order. Then, hard covers made of cloth, vinyl or leather over cardboard are attached to the book using glued-on endpapers. Case binding does not mean the book is packaged in a slipcase, although a casebound book may be given a slipcase, which is a protective housing with one open end in which the book can be slid for protection.

Commercial Case Binding Requirements and Characteristics

Case binding has restrictions as to thickness:

  • The book thickness (without the cover) must be at least one-eighth inch thick to support case binding. This thickness equates to 64 pages on 50 lb. offset paper or 52 pages on 60 lb. paper. 
  • The book (without the cover) should be no more than 2 inches thick, which is about 1,000 pages on 50 lb. offset paper.
  • If your book has more than 1,000 pages, it is better to break it into more than one volume.

    Producing the cover is a separate process up to the point of affixing it to the signatures. No matter which material you choose for the cover—laminated paper, fabric or leather—the material is affixed to binding boards, which are available in a range of thicknesses. Most covers are printed but some are foil stamped.

    The spine edge of the book can be square, but it is more often rounded. You'll be able to see an indentation that runs along the spine on the front and back covers. These indentations are where the boards of the covers meet the board of the spine, allowing the covers to be flexible enough to open. Open the book and you'll see endpapers glued to the entirety of the front and back inside covers. This endpaper does the heavy lifting of holding the cover in place. 

    Preparing the Digital Files

    The commercial printer you choose takes responsibility for imposing the pages of your book into the correct signature order for printing. However, it is important that the digital files leave at least a half-inch margin on the side of the page where the book will be bound. This is because casebound books don't lie completely flat, and a small margin may make the text difficult or impossible to read.

    The Differences Between Case Binding and Perfect Binding

    You may be familiar with the term "perfect binding" as a bookbinding method. There are similarities between case binding and perfect binding. They both produce a professional-looking product. Neither lies flat when opened. They have the same thickness limitations.

    However, there are important differences.

    • Perfect binding uses a soft cover, usually made of heavy paper, that wraps around the pages and is glued in place along the spine. Case binding uses a heavy covered-board cover that is attached to the book with glued endpapers.
    • Case binding is more expensive than perfect binding.
    • Casebound books take much longer to produce than perfect-bound books—often weeks longer. 
    • Casebound books usually require the services of a sophisticated bindery facility, where many perfect bound books are bound by the same commercial printers who print them.

    You've no doubt seen examples of an illustrated dust cover that wraps around the book and folds inside the front and back covers, but it's not bound in place. The practice is commonplace in bookstores and with best sellers.

    This dust cover is often used with hardcover books, but it is not part of the case binding process.