Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Typesetting a whole book part III, the analog edition

In earlier editions (part 1, part 2) we looked at typesetting a full book to a PDF file. This is fun and all, but until you actually hold a physical copy in your hands you don't really know how good the end result is. Puddings, eatings and all that.

So I decided to examine how would you go about printing and binding an entire book. For text I used P. G. Wodehouse's The Inimitable Jeeves. It has roughly 220 pages which is a good amount for perfect binding. Typesetting it in LibreOffice only took a few hours. To make things even simpler I used only one font, the Palatino lookalike P052 that comes packaged with Ghostscript. As the Jeeves stories take place in the 1920s something like Century would have been more period accurate but we'll have to work with what we got.

The only printer I had access to was an A4 laser printer that could only print on one side of the page. Thus to keep things as simple as possible the page size became A5, which is easy to obtain by folding A4 paper in half. None of the printer dialogs seemed to do the imposition I needed (single page saddle fold, basically) so I had to convert the A5 originals to A4 printable sheets with a custom Python script (using PyPDF2)

Printing turned out to have its complications as it always does. The printer did not have Cups drivers so I had to print using Windows. I used Acrobat Reader as it should be the gold standard of PDF manipulation. The original documents were in A4 and the printer only had A4 paper capability. And yet, Acrobat insisted on compositing the pages to 8.5x11 and then printing them distorted because AMERICA! After going through every menu (especially the hidden ones) I managed to make it stop doing that. Then I printed the pages by first printing the odd pages, taking the output, adding it back in the paper tray and then printing the even pages. If you want to try the same, note that for the latter batch you need to print the pages in reverse order.

Do this in small batches. I did and was happy that I did, because every now and then I botched it up and had to redo the pages. But eventually I did prevail.

Then you fold each page in half and stack them to get the text block.

Fasten them together using clips and cut out a piece of cardboard for the cover.

Then glue the spine together, first the pages and then bookbinder's mull on top of that. This step is a bit involved, but Youtube has several videos that show you how to do it.

Then glue on the cover and place the whole thing into a press. Low tech solutions work surprisingly well. (Trivia: this box contains 25 Meson mugs.)

Leave like this overnight. In the morning the book is ready for trimming.

Sadly I don't have a heavy duty paper guillotine so the edges remained a bit rough. Other than that the end result looks pretty nice.

All in all this was a surprisingly simple and fun project. The binding process was so simple that even a craft-noob like myself could get it done without too much trouble. I did make a practice run with some empty pages, though. The clips were a bit fiddly, having a proper press or a woodworking bench would have made the end result smoother.

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