How Much Does it Cost to Make your own Book?

The first thing people ask when I suggest binding your own copy of a book as an alternative to buying books or reading them online is “How much does it cost?”

The most expensive part, by far, is the printing, which should cost only pennies per page in consumable resources (paper and toner.)

To bind your own book, you need a duplexing printer that can print on both sides of the page. I prefer a laser printer over an ink jet printer because I believe that the price per page of printing is cheaper for laser and the ink doesn’t run on a laser printed page if it gets a little damp. My duplexing laser printer cost me less than $200 a few years ago. It is a duplexing, wireless, laser printer from Brother, but it doesn’t seem to be available anymore. There are some reviews of laser printers here, if you are looking to buy. The printer is the most expensive equipment required for binding your own book.

The printing also requires consumables – the toner and the paper. For my printer, a new toner cartridge costs about $125 and, according to the specs, each cartridge prints 8000 pages. To be conservative, I’m going to say I will only get 5000 pages from a toner cartridge. That means it costs $0.025 to print one side of a piece of paper. When printing books, you will be printing on both sides of the paper, so you printing will cost $0.05  per piece of paper. (And keep in mind that each sheet of paper you print is actually 4 pages of the book, as the pages are folded in half.) The cost of printer paper is variable. If you get 500 pieces for $8, it then costs $0.016 per sheet of paper. With the nickel for toner, it then costs $0.066 per double sided page printed. Each of those pages is 4 book pages, with 2 pages of the book printed on each side. A 300 page book then uses only 75 pieces of paper (300 divided by 4), and it would cost less than $5 to print. ($4.95 with my estimates!)

To create your text block, you need some scrap paper, some nice paper for the end pages, thread, and glue. These are all things that we had at home, but will get used up eventually. The cost is relatively low for all of them, and very little of them are required. They were all materials that I already have at home.

The non-consumables include a bone folder, that costs around $10 and an awl that costs less than that. Sewing needles are very inexpensive. The last thing I use is a book press, made following the directions from Sea Lemon. It cost under $10 to make with two cutting boards from the dollar store and some bolts and butterfly (or wing) nuts from the hardware store. I already the sewing needles, and I discovered we had an awl in the tool box in the garage. I bought a bone folder and the materials for the book press, for less than $20. These materials have been used repeatedly and will be used again and again. They might not be worth it for a single book, but if you are making more than one, they are worth the expense. Sea Lemon has a video with suggested alternatives to a bone folder and a video with suggested alternatives to awls. The book press would also be used as a flower press. Of course, you could also just use heavy books!

For making the book cover, you need glue and box board and fabric or pretty paper. I used cereal for the box board. For the fabric I have used a variety of things, including scraps from other projects and purpose bought fabric from the fabric store and old clothing bought second hand at the thrift store. The cost of the cover can be nothing, or it can be very expensive, depending on what materials you choose.

I have found my self-bound books to be a very good value, costing much less than buying new, but not necessarily cheaper than buying second hand from a thrift store. The advantage over thrift store buying is that you can get the books you want now, rather than spending years searching for a book!

I hope this has helped to answer your questions about costs.

Making Your Book Cover (Case Binding)

The final step is making your own book is turning your text block into a hard cover book by making the cover and attaching it to your book.

I follow the directions from Sea Lemon, in her hard cover case binding tutorial.

Materials:

If your signature pages are made from standard 8 ½ by 11” paper, you will need fabric or paper about 14” wide, and 11” high. The thicker the book, the wider the cloth. The height will always be 11”.

In her video, Sea Lemon uses book cloth. This is fabric that is fused to tissue paper. I believe the fussing interface makes the fabric just a little stiffer and the tissue paper is to eliminate the stickiness. Sea Lemon describes making book cloth in another video. I found making book cloth easy but does cost the price of the fusible interfacing. The results are beautiful. I plan to try making a book with only standard fabric at the next opportunity to see the difference.

I have also used scrapbook paper for the cover.  Although scrapbook paper works for a cover, but you will need to glue sheets of paper together together a big enough piece. I think it looks nice to use a strip of paper in a contrasting colour for the spine glued to other decorative paper.

My husband has suggested that as the cover is a hinge, a paper cover may not last as long as a cloth cover. I am new enough to book binding that I can’t accurately asses this yet!

  • PVA glue. (My regular Elmer’s glue appears to be a type of PVA glue, and that is what I have been using.)

 Tools:

  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Cutting mat (This is helpful when you are cutting your cardboard, but not necessary. Just protect your table!)
  • Bone folder (very useful and inexpensive. Sea Lemon has a video to suggest alternatives if you don’t want to buy one.)
  • Utility blade
  • Scissors (or cutting blade)
  • Glue brush (an old paint brush for the glue works well.)
  • Weights (I used heavy books)
  • Book press. (Sea Lemon shows how to make a book press. It was cheap and easy to do and makes creating the book much easier. I highly recommend it. I bought two identical cutting boards and some stick on rubber feet at the dollar store and the carriage bolts and butterfly screws loose at the hardware store. Sea Lemon’s version only uses 2 bolts. I made mine with 4 because I think it makes it press more evenly. The book press can also be used as a flower press!)
  • Drafting triangle (optional – I have never used one, but it would help ensure everything stays square.)

Directions:

These are not full directions, only my tips and pointers based on my own experience following following Sea Lemon’s video to make several books. Please watch Sea Lemon’s full directions for making a hard cover book case binding on YouTube.

Cut Book Boards

The first step is cutting the board for the covers and the spine. Cereal box cardboard has worked well for me, but you can see Sea Lemon’s suggestions for finding book board in a video she made.

The cover boards are the width of the text block minus ¼” plus 1/8″. If you are using 8 ½ X 11 paper folded in half, that means you need a cover board that is 5 3/8″ wide. The height of the cover board is the height of the text block plus 1/4″ which for 8 ½ X 11 paper folded in half is 8 ¾” high. So I cut my 2 cover boards to 5 3/8″ by 8 ¾”.

The spine piece varies from book to book in width. It is the actual width of your text block, and the same height as you cover board (8 ¾” high).

Carefully measure and cut your cardboard.
Choose cardboard for you cover. I use old cereal boxes.
The two cover boards and the spine board ready for the next step.

Make Book Cover

Glue the boards to the cover material (paper or cloth). Don’t forget to leave ¼” of space between the cover pieces and the spine piece on either side. Make sure if there is any pattern that you are getting it lined up in the way you want!

If you are using paper, make sure that it is sturdy paper. As you need a piece about 11″ X 14″, you can cut a 12″ by 12″ piece of paper in half, then add a strip of paper in a contrasting colour to make the piece at the spine. For extra strength, you may want to have two thickness of paper glued together at the spine for added strength.

A contrasting piece of paper at the spine to cover my book.
I am overlapping the paper when I glue it together to make the finished book stronger.

When Sea Lemon glues her boards to her cover fabric, she starts with one of the cover boards. If you are using a special different coloured strip of paper for the spine, you will want to begin by gluing the spine board in the centre, then measuring out ¼” on either side before gluing on your front and back cover boards.This will ensure that the coloured strip in centered on your finished book.

Glue on the spine piece first and measure out 1/4″ if you have a clear middle that want to use.

Let the cover dry well before folding and gluing the flaps to finish off the cover.

After the board is glued to the fabric or decorative paper, it needs to dry under something heavy to keep it flat.
When it is dry, trim the corners.
Fold the flaps.
Glue down the flaps.
And your cover is done!

Attach Text Block to Book Cover

The last step is attaching the text block you made earlier to the book cover. This is done by gluing the cover pages to the inside of the cover boards. Notice that Sea Lemon glues the front and the back, but she does NOT glue the spine. The spine should not be glued to the text block for the finished book to open and close properly.

Spread your glue over the book cover and attach the text block.
Smooth it all down nicely with your bone folder.

When I glued together my first book together, there was some wrinkling in the text block after I attached the cover and left it to dry. To avoid this in my subsequent books, I put a piece of wax paper between the glued paper and the text block at the front and back to prevent the moisture from entering the text block as the glue dried. I also put a piece of regular paper right inside the cover between the two sides of the end paper to absorb the moisture from the glue. This has prevented any more wrinkly books.

The wax paper goes after the end page, between the cover and the book and the scrap paper goes farther towards the outside, between the two sides of the pretty end paper.

Let Your Book Dry.

Let it dry well in the book press, and you are done! Read, admire and show off your new book!

I have found that I can easily make a book in two days, with plenty of time to dry between steps when I am free to do other things.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text

Step 2: Print your Text

Step 3: Sew your Text Block

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover (You are here!)

Sewing Your Book (Creating a Text Block)

After you have printed the text of your book, things get exciting. It is time to bind your book.

I follow the directions from Sea Lemon, in her text block case binding tutorial. Sea Lemon uses blank pages in her books, and I have found that there are a few things that matter more when you are using a printed book rather than a blank book. I have included tips and tricks from my experience binding books, but my instructions here are incomplete without watching her video.

Materials:

  • Printed book pages (Sea Lemon uses blank pages)
  • 1 sheet 5” X 8” paper (just an extra piece of paper. It can be scrap as you won’t see it in your final book. Alternatively, or additionally, some cheesecloth.)
  • 2 thick sheets of 8 1/2” X 11” paper. (Use something decorative to go with your cover. These are the sheets that make up the inside of your cover. Scrapbook paper works well.)
  • Thread (Sea Lemon suggests waxed in the video but in later videos she says any thread works. I use nylon upholstery thread.)
  • Ribbon (Sea Lemon adds a ribbon bookmark. I haven’t bothered, but go for it!)
  • PVA glue. (My regular Elmer’s glue appears to be a type of PVA glue, and that is what I have been using.)

Tools: (as suggested by Sea Lemon)

  • Pencil
  • Ruler
  • Cutting mat. (I haven’t needed the cutting mat, but I do put my signatures on top of the cutting boards used to make my book press when I am using the awl. Otherwise you will make little holes in your work surface.)
  • Bone folder (very useful and inexpensive. Sea Lemon has a video to suggest alternatives if you don’t want to buy one.)
  • Awl (We had an awl in the garage. It came with our screwdriver set.) Sea Lemon has some suggestions for alternatives to using an awl.
  • Needle (For the needle, I really like the curved needle. I had one sitting in my sewing box.) You can see what Sea Lemon has to say about needles for bookbinding here.
  • Glue brush (an old paint brush for the glue works well.)
  • Sandpaper (I haven’t needed the sandpaper – it is intended to smooth your pages if you decide to trim them.)
  • Utility blade and scissors. (I used the utility blade to trim my first book as Sea Lemon suggests in her video, but haven’t done it since. I think it looks better without the trimming, and saves time!)
  • Book press. (Sea Lemon shows how to make a book press. It was cheap and easy to do and makes creating the book much easier. I highly recommend it. I bought two identical cutting boards and some stick on rubber feet at the dollar store and the carriage bolts and butterfly screws loose at the hardware store. Sea Lemon’s version only uses 2 bolts. I made mine with 4 because I think it makes it press more evenly. The book press can also be used as a flower press!)

Directions:

Again, please watch the Sea Lemon video for full directions.

Fold & Create Signatures

Your book is made up of several signatures, or booklets,sewn together. Each signature consists of several pieces of paper nested inside each other. Sea Lemon uses signatures of 4 pieces of paper, which would make 8 pages of a book (16 if you count them front and back!). I have made books with between 3 and six pieces of paper per signature.

In the video you will see Sea Lemon carefully fold each of her sheets of paper individually and press down the folds with a bone folder. Do this carefully, making sure to fold your pages in the correct direction. Remember that the page numbers are a little difficult to follow as the booklet pages are all out of order! The flow of the page numbers should be from smallest to largest, and when the sheets in a single signature (booklet) are all fitted together, the pages should run in the correct order without skipping any pages or having any pages out of order. Take your time and make sure your book pages are in the correct order and that each signature is complete. This is probably the hardest part of making your book!

Fold by hand first.
Smooth your folds with the bone folder.
Combine your signatures (or booklets).
The hardest part is done!

Mark & Make Holes

I mark 7 holes 1“ apart, with 1 ¼ inches at the top and bottom. This divides nicely on a 8 ½“ high spine when using 8.5 X 11 printer paper.

Make sure your book is piled up in the correct order, with your front page at the top, and your last page of the last signature on the bottom before marking the holes. Keeping them in order helps keep your book square.

Transfer the marks from the first signature to the rest, and make the holes in each signature using an awl as shown in the video.

Measure for your binding holes, 1″ apart, with 1 1/4″ at the top and bottom.
With the signatures stacked in order, carefully transfer your marks.
Use your awl to make holes through the paper. Do all the pages of a signature at once, but do only one signature at a time.
All the signatures have their holes!

Sew the Binding

Notice that Sea Lemon starts sewing the LAST SIGNATURE FIRST. She doesn’t make a huge fuss about this, because it isn’t a huge deal with blank book, but it is of critical importance for a printed book! When sewing the book, you start with the last signature of the book and add the next ones, ending by sewing on the first signature.

Start with the last signature first. The very last page of the book is facing down. The first page of the last signature is facing up.

The stitching can seem intimidating, especially if you aren’t a sewer. But it is not as hard as it might look at first. If you don’t find her explanation of the sewing clear enough, Sea Lemon did another video later that goes over the kettle stitch again, using black thread so you can more clearly see what she is doing. Sit in front of the computer with your book and needle in your hand and pause as needed! That’s what I did with my first book.

Make sure that the threads are pulled through for each stitch. You don’t want loose stitches.

Also, it is easy to add more thread when you need to, so don’t worry about having enough to sew the entire book together.

Through the holes…
Under the thread…
And back into the hole…
Later, go around the previous stitches…
to hold the suignautres together.
All sewn up!

Glue the Binding

I made a book press as Sea Lemon suggests. It was cheap and easy to do and I think it is one of those cases where the right tools make the job easier. I’m sure you could get away with using heavy books on top if you want.

Into the book press.
Applying the glue.

Sea Lemon adds a bookmark ribbon here too. I haven’t done this yet, but I plan to do it on the next book I print for my daughter. She loves books with ribbon bookmarks.

Apply End Page & Extra Paper on Spine

The end pages are the paper that will glue your text block to your cover, so choose strong paper. I use scrapbook paper. Also, make sure you like the appearance of the paper and that it looks nice with the materials you plan to use for your cover. If you paper for your end pages has a pattern on only one side, fold the pattern inwards, not outwards. The outside will eventually be glued onto you hard cover and will not be seen. The inside is what will show on your finished book.

Pretty side in!

After the end pages have been applied and dried, Sea Lemon adds a piece of paper along the spine to give it strength. My mother, a librarian, suggested adding something like cheese cloth instead of the paper on the spine to make a stronger, longer lasting book. I haven’t tried that yet, but it seems like it would be a good idea.

Trimming the Pages

Sea Lemon finishes by trimming the pages of her book to make them even. I tried trimming the first book I made, and I wasn’t very happy with the results the first time. I found it very, very difficult to make it look perfect. I tried again with a sharper utility blade, and the results were better, but with my subsequent books, I left them un-trimmed and I think they look lovely the way they are.

When you have completed the steps in this video, you could stop and have something you could use as a book… but a few more steps to add the hard cover creates a beautiful book that should last a very long time, and look lovely on your bookshelf.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text

Step 2: Print your Text

Step 3: Sew your Text Block (You are here!)

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover

Printing Your Book

After you have the text you want in your book formatted, (or have decided to use one of my formatted books), the next step is printing your book. I print my books on regular printer paper using a laser duplexing printer set to short-edge binding.

I prefer a laser printer because the overall price per page is lower, and the print won’t smear and run if it gets wet. The toner refills are crazy expensive, but you don’t need to replace them very often.

Realistically, to print your book, you need a duplexing printer that is able to automatically print both sides of the page. Theoretically, you can manually duplex… but that would be a big job for the number of pages necessary for even the shortest books. I have no experience with this, but you could give it a try! I have a Brother black only duplex laser printer that cost in the range of $100 on sale.

I would love a colour laser duplexing printer, but they are out of my budget at the moment, so I print most of my books in black and white and get my colour pages printed elsewhere.

Print the pages for your book double sided with short-edge binding (rather than long edge-binding) selected. This ensures that the pages are the same side up front and back. I generally print the first 10 pages of the book first to make sure I haven’t made a silly error. (The price of printing your book goes up if you misprint 80 pages of book and have to reprint them all!)

On my Mac, in Preview, I select the print menu, then click the box that says “Two Sided”.

Then I open the menu that says “Preview” and select “Layout”.

Finally, the “Two-Sided” menu comes up, and I change it from the default “long edge binding” to the “short edge binding” that I need.

Then press print!

Of course, your print menu won’t be exactly like mine, but hopefully you can easily print your book pages and be ready to move on to the next step in making your own book – creating the text block.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text

Step 2: Print your Text (You are here!)

Step 3: Sew your Text Block

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover

Preparing the Text for Your Book

If you are going to print and bind your own book, the first thing you need to do is prepare and format the text of your book. You are also welcome to use one of the books I have already formatted that are ready to go.

If you decide to format your own book to bind it yourself, there are several things to consider.

Copyright and Sources

The first, of course, is copyright. You should only be printing text that you haver permission to print, either because you wrote it yourself or because it is out of copyright in your country. Some things are out of copyright, but someone else spent time making it available for use and they retain some copyright over that particular version of it. In some cases you are still able to print it for personal use. It is worth taking a little care to make sure that you don’t print something that you do not have a legal right to print.

Text vs PDF

Another thing to consider is what is available to you. Many books are available free of copyright in an editable text version on Project Gutenberg. These are books that are out of copyright that volunteers have carefully copied of us all to use freely. Other books are available only in un-editable PDF versions from sources like the Internet Archive. I believe these are free of copyright, but you should confirm for yourself.

My favourite source for text is Project Gutenberg. I copy the HTML version of the text from Project Gutenberg into Word or another word processor and format it exactly as I would like.

For books that are only available as PDFs, you can make some small adjustments (like the number of pages, order of the pages, etc.) but there are fewer changes you can make. Of course, someone else has already carefully formatted these for printing. If you spend a little time, you can make quite a nice book from these sources. One little hint: make sure that left pages are on the left side and right pages on the right side in your finished product, or your page numbers could look strange!

What are Signatures?

Your book will be made up of several signatures, or little booklets. Each booklet is made up of of 3 to 6 pieces of paper. Each sheet of paper has four pages of the book on it. I like to ensure that each signature in my book has the same number of pages (although this isn’t perhaps strictly necessary). To do this, my book must be a multiple of both 4 and a multiple of the number of sheets of paper in each signature. This limits the possible number of pages in a book.

General Book Layout

The very first page and the very last of your book are ideally blank, as you glue them in part to the cover.

Remember which pages of your book will be facing each other in your finished product. Page 1 will be on its own, and pages 2 and 3 will face each other. Then pages 4 and 5 are another pair. When I am working on my book layout in Word, I add an extra blank page at the beginning of my book when I shrink the view to see two pages at a time, those two pages are ones that will be next to each other in my finished book.

An extra page so I can see which pages line up while I am fine tuning my final layout.

You may want to look at a real book to look for some common conventions that make books easier to read. There aren’t universal rules that apply to all books, but you should think about them. Where do the page numbers go? Where do the titles go? Do you want headers with chapter names or the book title? Do you want every chapter to start on a right page? You can do many of these things in Word and other word processors.

Creating Signatures

I used a program called Create Booklet purchased from the App Store on my Mac for about $10. When I have prepared my document as desired in Word, I can then print and choose “Open in Create Booklet” in the bottom left corner (where it normally says PDF). This program offers the option to “split into” booklets. Preview the book to make sure you are happy with it. Then you can export it to save it as a PDF to share with others, or print it straight from Create Booklet.

Books Formatted for Binding

I have prepared a few books, formatted and divided into signatures (and plan to create more in the future). Many of them I specifically formatted by me for printing, although some have been made from resources that I could only find as PDFs. As far as I know, all the book contents are in the public domain. Please feel free to download and print the books I have formatted for binding for your own use.

When you are ready to bind your book, go on to the next step, printing your book.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text (You are here!)

Step 2: Print your Text

Step 3: Sew your Text Block

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover

Books Formatted for Binding

Here are books from the public domain that I have formatted to print and bind. Feel free to download the PDF files to print the books for your own personal use.

Geography for Primary Grades by C.C. Long

(Some of) Fifty Famous Stories Retold by James Baldwin

Viking Tales by Jennie Hall

Peter and Wendy by J. M. Barrie

Understood Betsy by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

The Little Duke by Charlotte Yonge

Great Astronomers by Robert Ball

First Studies of Plant Life by George Francis Atkinson (from PDF)

Paper Sloyd: A Handbook for Primary Grades by Ednah Anne Rich (from PDF)

I will continue to add more books as I prepare them.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text (You are here!)

Step 2: Print your Text

Step 3: Sew your Text Block

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover

Printing and Binding Your Own Books

If there are books you want to read that are out of copyright and available free online, but, like me, you prefer to hold a paper book in your hands, you might be interested to hear that you can print your own copy of those books, and then sew them up to make your own real books.

I learned how to create a hardcover bound book by watching YouTube. I found the videos by Sea Lemon particularly helpful. But she prints blank books. I figured out how to type set my books through trial and error and patience.

If you want to to know how much this will cost, I figured out that it can cost less than 2 cents per page to bind your own book!

The first step is to prepare your text for printing, or you are free to use one of the books I have already formatted for binding.

The second step is to print your book.

The third step is to sew together your text block.

Finally, the last step is to create and attach the cover.

It may seem daunting at first, but it is an easy and fulfilling craft. From printing to sewing can easily be completed in two days, with plenty of time for doing other things while the glue dries.

Steps to Binding Your Own Book:

Step 1: Prepare or Select Text

Step 2: Print your Text

Step 3: Sew your Text Block

Step 4: Make and Attach the Cover