How Are Books Made Today?

To understand the technology-driven, high speed, book manufacturing process of today, we first have to explore the history of book manufacturing through the ages.

According to Wikipedia: A book is a set of written, printed, illustrated, or blank sheets, made of ink, paper, parchment, or other materials, usually fastened together to hinge at one side. A single sheet within a book is called a leaf and each side of a leaf is called a page.

A Little Ancient History

The Ancient Greeks and the Romans have been long thought to be the first cultures to use available materials to write history. These materials include papyrus, parchment and paper. Parchment, made from animal skins, was the most durable and most expensive. While thin layers from the papyrus plant were cheaper, the material did not hold up very well over time. They absorbed too much moisture and were easily torn. Papyrus was the early material of choice for scrolls and biblical writings because they could be easily pasted together. Papyrus was flexible and could be rolled up for easy storage and preservation.

Who Invented Paper?

The Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in caves in the mid 1940’s were mostly written on parchment, but papyrus was also used. Paper, the least used material in the 1st and 2nd century, was actually invented and used by the Chinese in 140 BC by putting hemp waste in water and beating it to a pulp. From China, papermaking spread throughout Asia and became traditional material for books in Tibet. Around 610 AD, the Japanese used paper at Imperial Palace for official records, but when Buddhism was introduced shortly thereafter, the demand for paper for religious books grew. The spread of the Roman Empire along with the spread of Buddhism and other religions created a demand for books and faster ways to produce them.

Paper Gains Popularity in Europe

It wasn’t until 1450 that paper became the book material of choice in Europe. Now that the demands were there, how did they keep the pages together to make a book? While the process has changed, it is interesting to note that book making technology hasn’t changed all that much between the 15th century and the 20th century. After the sheets were written or printed, they were carefully hand cut and held together by a binding, which was basically created by sewing the cut pages onto leather cords. In the last step, the binding was laced onto a leather cover or decorative fabric to form a book.

How Are Books Made Today?

Today, the process starts with huge pulp and paper mills that create large rolls of paper that are wound onto a master roll that eventually go through automated slitting and sheeting equipment that reduce the paper to a usable format. Then, the properly sized sheets are printed, folded, collated, sewn, bound, stapled or glued and fabricated at high rates of speed. Machines that perform these tasks have replaced the labor intensive slow process of the old days. As line speeds increase, so do the static levels that cause jams and other process problems including poor print quality.

One of the products that we have are static bars, which are strategically placed on the equipment to control the static levels. Also, instead of the painstaking steady hand of ancient book makers to align the sheets to be bound, static generators impart a static electricity charge into the sheets to hold them together. This equipment is especially important in production of daily newspapers, weekly and monthly magazines as well as the Gideon Bible that is found in many hotel rooms.