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Trimming Thick Books on the Saddle Stitcher - a Quick Tip


Nicked Edge on book spineOne of the drawbacks to trimming thick saddle-stitched books is that it’s nearly impossible to get a perfect trim on all three sides. Usually the head and foot of the spine of the book will tear or nick during the trimming process. There is simply no way to prevent this since the area near the spine has nothing to support it in the trimmer or cutter.

On thin stitched books, if you encounter this problem it will be so imperceptible as to not be an issue. As the book gets thicker however the problem gets worse and customers start to notice.

  • If you are saddle stitching the job on an automatic machine with an inline trimmer, you can minimize the impact by laying out the job so that the nick appears on the back of the book. Of course this probably means changing the lip on your imposition and registering the book to the opposite side.
  • If you are using a guillotine cutter to trim the books, you can do the same by stacking the pile to be cut with the back cover facing down. And you’ll have to experiment to see which blade direction works best—with the blade traveling toward the spine or away from the spine. Smaller lifts might also be helpful.

In both cases you want freshly sharpened knives. Whichever method you’re using, remember the nick will not disappear. We’re just putting it toward the back in the hope that it will be cosmetically less objectionable.

There is however a simple technique you can use for very short runs or for samples on a long run which will eliminate the nicking problem. Open the untrimmed books to the center. Then, one at a time, carefully trim the foot and the head on a guillotine cutter. Close the book for the final face trim. Presto…no more nick!

trim thick books

It’s not a perfect solution but it can salvage a job or soothe an unhappy customer. I've successfully used this technique many times over the years as have others. Of course this is the type of problem that the customer should be made aware of in the planning stages and where necessary, perfect binding should be substituted for saddle stitching.

As always, feel free to share your comments and experiences with this problem below.


Grain direction of the cover stock does have an effect on the tear out. Believe it or not, "grain wrong to the fold" works better than "grain right"! Of course, then you get into the cracking issue, depending on the stock. But, we all know what to do about that, don't we?
Posted @ Friday, January 25, 2013 2:57 PM by Bob Coleman
Also you can try to making the face trim on the stitcher. Then using a clamping pad (not the full lenth of the book)on the false clamp on the guillotine the avoid the natural pull which causes the tear. Keep in mind trimming them on the guillotine can sometimes smash the stitches so you don't want to trim without a clamping pad.
Posted @ Friday, January 25, 2013 3:31 PM by James
This is a nice tick. I have never think about it. Thank you for sharing.
Posted @ Saturday, January 26, 2013 9:57 PM by Rodrigo Castellanos
I have struggled with this for years! I'd normally place a backing board on the bottom and top of a small stack of say 5 books, or turn them. Reduces but does not eliminate the issue. 
As you say, getting the blade direction right is important and also test which side left/right to knock-up against on the guillotine. 
But, I had NEVER thought about opening the books out flat before! Genius. 
Over 20 years in the print industry and still learn new neat tricks every day. 
I did have a way around this that I used recently but it's risky if the operator is not 100% confident about cutting collated but unstapled/unstitched books (can force the innner pages to creep out and needs an extra trim, nice finish though if you can do it). 
I have a small run 40pp + Cover A6 Booklet due for print on Monday - will try your method. 
Thanks guys!! J 
Posted @ Friday, September 06, 2013 6:07 PM by Mark (PrintingFocus)
Good luck Mark. This is one of those "why didn't I think of that" tips!
Posted @ Friday, September 06, 2013 6:24 PM by Andre Palko
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