Anatomy of a Hard Cover Book

Hard cover books are the most durable style of book because of the sturdy binder board used for the covers, along with a strong sewn binding. The book construction includes two covers, spine board (optional) and 8 pages of endsheets glued to the front and back of the covers, concealing the edge of the cover material and gluing the cover itself to the book block. Head and tail bands are added to conceal the top of the folded signatures and to strengthen the spine. If you are still wondering what your book should look like, consider reading From the Desk of Joanne Bolton where you will find some great ideas on how to get started.

Parts of a Hard Cover:

  • Covers

  • Endsheets

  • Text block

  • Head and tail bands

  • Optional dust jacket or additionals

Hard cover binding is referred to as Smythe sewing or section sewn.

In a nutshell, sheet fed presses print both sides of large press sheets which usually have 6 or 8 text pages per side. The printed, folded sheets are called signatures, and each folded signature is collated and sewn with binding thread. Endsheets are applied to the front and back of the book block and are eventually glued to the inside front and back covers.

Left: Stacks of Smythe sewn books ready for the cover, with detail of the sewing on the right.

Left: Stacks of Smythe sewn books ready for the cover, with detail of the sewing on the right.

The cover material, cloth, binding paper, printed paper, leather or leatherette, is glued and wrapped around the cover boards. There is enough excess on the cover design so the cover material can wrap around to the inside of the boards.

Endseets 1.jpg

Then the boards (front, back and spine) are sent through a foil stamping machine, which applies foil to the front cover and the spine. Meanwhile the book block is sewn and then trimmed on three sides. The back of the spine is glued, gauze is applied, and the endsheets (4 pages in the front and 4 pages in the back) are glued to the first and last page of the book block, with a wide bead of glue running parallel to the spine about 3/8” to 1/2” wide. Then the endsheet attached to the book block is glued to the inside covers and this hides the edges of the cover material. When the gauze is being applied, the head and tail bands are added to cover the top of the folded signatures.

endsheets 2.jpg

The book block IS NOT glued to the spine. The spine is covered in gauze with glue and this becomes a flexible spine where the glue will not crack when the book is opened. Sometimes, during the preparation of the covers the gauze that is applied to the spine itself is extended into the front and back covers for “library bindings” or reinforced first and last signatures as this procedure is sometimes called. Binding tape (cloth) can be used instead of gauze, which is a little tidier. This is usually only suggested for large, heavy books. The extra gauze makes the book stronger and able for lots of usage.

If you notice any hard cover book with endsheets, you can see that the first page of the book is glued to the endsheets. Often designers are aware of this and make adjustments to the design of the first and last page of the book, taking into account the area lost by the gluing of the endsheet to these pages.

The 3D Photography Book has a litho or printed 4-C cover with glossy film lamination

The 3D Photography Book has a litho or printed 4-C cover with glossy film lamination

Cover options to consider

Hard covers can be covered with printed paper (as above) where matt or glossy film lamination is applied over the printing to protect it, or with colored binding papers, (such as Rainbow or Arlin) or cloth,  leatherette, exotic leathers and synthetic leathers, etc. These usually have no protective over coating.

Recommendations: We prefer the classic look of a cloth bound book with a printed dust jacket, or the cover printed (litho) + matt film lamination with a glossy film laminated jacket on top.

Seasons  4-C endsheets printed on self ends, using 157 gsm (100#) matt art.

Seasons 4-C endsheets printed on self ends, using 157 gsm (100#) matt art.

Endsheet options

Endsheets can be white, colored or printed. Colored endsheets come in many hues and textures. Printed endsheets can be 1 color (PMS) 2 or 3 PMS colors or full 4-C printing. PMS ink colors are purchased using a PMS color book as a guide. These are usually colors that are hard to get when using CMYK ink colors.

Note: You can have the spread of endsheets that you see when you open a book printed and leave the one sheet opposite the title page white, and this is less expensive to do, (in that case you would ask for printing on one side of the sheet (1,2,3 or 4 colors/0) Indicated as PMS/0 usually.

Recommendations: We prefer classic natural white endsheets, thicker than normal, say 180 gsm (120#) instead of 140 gsm (90#). If you do something special, try to develop a brand look throughout your book line. Often special endsheet treatment can create a distinctive look to your line.


Extras are wide ranging, from ribbon markers, to die cut covers, to gilded book block edges. They include individual slipcases to clamshell presentation boxes, exotic foil stamping, embossing and debossing on covers and multiple spot UV applications, to name a few.

Note: Usually extras cost quite a bit more and are not advisable for short runs.

Recommendations for extras:

For crowd funding projects run one book block and then use different bindings to make soft covers, hard covers and Limited Editions in one mixed run for best value.

Limited Editions are great donor gifts for museums or other charitable donors where a small number of slipcases can be added for a very reasonable cost. Even if the main run was a soft cover book, some copies of the book can be made into hard covers by hand in Asia.

Children's Picture Books

Almost all children's picture books are hard covers with either 24 or 32 pages of text. These are good candidates for printing in the US if the run numbers are small, between 500 and 2,000 copies.


A closer look at the binding

The mustard colored element above is called a head band; it has an extended piece of reinforcing gauze on the side we can't see and this strengthens the spine of the book and gives a decorative edge to cover up the top of the text block. The book block is NOT attached to the cover of the book, you can see that clearly above. This allows the book to open fully for better reading.

Note: A round backed spine is the oldest type of spine, and is more durable than a square backed spine. Above is round.

Head/tail band options + foil

Head and tail bands come in many colors and weaves. Above top are some of the fancier varied weaves, but a solid color is also very appropriate.

Foil stamping (above) for the front cover and spine is standard. It comes in metallics as well as glossy, matt or fancy exotic swirls of color.

Note: Colored paper covers take foil stamping much better than cloth, and can be quite intricate. Make sure your printer will only charge one price for using foil on the front and spine. Some printers charge for each place. Paper is generally cheaper than cloth for the cover material.

French fold dust jacket has a folded top and bottom edge.This keeps the dust jacket from tearing along the top and bottom edges.

French fold dust jacket has a folded top and bottom edge.This keeps the dust jacket from tearing along the top and bottom edges.

Dust Jackets

Dust jackets can cover any type of hard cover, and sometimes they are use on soft covers as well.

They usually have a 3" - 5" flap front and back. They are a way to market the book by providing more detailed information for the buyer, introducing a hook to encourage the prospective buyer to want to buy the book and introducing either plot or characters to the prospective buyer. The back flap usually talks about the author and/or illustrator. They are generally printed on 157 gsm (100#) glossy art paper with either matt or glossy film lamination on top. 


Recommendations on paper weights:

  • For art or photography books the first choice is usually 100# art (157 gsm); matt for art books and glossy for photography books, for best opacity.

  • Children's books are usually printed on 100# matt art.

  • Large books with lots of pages with illustrations are usually printed on 80# (128 gsm) glossy or matt art. If 100# is used the book may become uncomfortably heavy. Make sure you have a dummy book made in the right paper weight so you can determine if the book is too heavy or not.

  • You can ask to see paper samples which they would then later use to make a dummy book.