Daily Illuminator

June 27, 2015: Get In A Bind, With GURPS?

GURPS Book Binding

One of my hobbies is do-it-myself bookbinding. I love making my own minibooks and supplements – for RPGs, computer games, tabletop games, character sheets, programming guides, you name it. It's actually easier than you might think. Here's a quick overview of one of the easier ways: saddle stitching. Saddle stitching is a fancy way of saying "folded in half and stapled in the center," and it's the way a lot of classic gaming material was presented. It's great for anything of about 32 pages or less, and it's still feasible up to around 64 pages (depending on paper stock). This makes it a superb way to print GURPS PDFs, such as those available on Warehouse 23 (hint hint). To saddle stitch a book, you'll need:

  • A PDF you want to print. (Have we recommended the fine wares at Warehouse 23 lately? We have? Okay; we won't mention it, then.)
  • A printer. A double-sided – or duplex – printer makes it easier, but it isn't essential.
  • Paper and cardstock. The cardstock is optional, but it goes a long way toward making a durable, attractive book.
  • A stapler. I use a true saddle stitch stapler, such as this one from Amazon, but there are other options. As I write this, this long-arm stapler is $5.99 . . . and if you're patient, you can even use a standard cheap-o office-type stapler where the bottom swings away.
  • Imposition software. "Imposition" is a fancy way of saying "getting the pages in the right order." For example, if you have a 32-page PDF, you want to end up with a sheet of paper where that first page has pages 32 and 1 on one side, and pages 2 and 31 on the other side. (If that doesn't make sense, look at the page numbering of a saddle-stitched book and imagine each sheet of paper as a separate entity.) I recommend Bookbinder, because it's free and cross-platform (it uses Java).
  • A sharp razor and a couple of wood boards. This isn't essential, but it's helpful to trim the edges of your booklet.

Fire up the Bookbinder software, load the PDF, and choose appropriate settings. I use the "Booklet" settings under signature formats, and "Stretch to Fit" under Book Size, but feel free to experiment. ("Stretch to Fit" makes it a bit distorted compared to its original layout, but the extra size usually makes it easier to read on smaller paper.) Click "Generate Document"; it'll output the imposed PDF in the same folder that the Bookbinder software is located.

Then print the pages of the imposed PDF. I recommend printing pages 3-4 at first; depending on your printer, you might need to tweak your printing settings and methods to get the pages lined up right, but it's pretty obvious if you don't. (Fold that sheet in half and pretend to read the book; if page 3 leads to an upside-down page 31, then there's a problem...) Once you know what you need to do to get your pages lined up right, print the rest of the pages (from pages 5 on). If you have cardstock, print pages 1-2 on that.

Then fold the whole thing in half (I recommend a couple of pages at a time). Take a flip through your unstapled book and make sure the pages are all right. If they are, staple them using your stapler. (If you're using a Swingline, keep the pages tight together and try to staple it into something, like a cork board. Then pry it off that surface and carefully fold the staples in manually.)

Once you're done, firmly press the book between two boards, so that the top board is your cutting edge and your bottom board is your cutting surface. Trim the right-hand edge; I prefer to use a light touch and "go over" the entire line, trimming a few page edges at a time, but use whatever technique works for you.

And that's it! Your book is done. If the book doesn't quite lay flat, place it under something heavy overnight, like a large stack of GURPS hardcovers you could purchase from Warehou- . . . well, you know.

This isn't ideal for all applications. You can't bind super-thick books this way, and – on a standard printer – your books will be "undersized" compared to their original 8.5" × 11" size. (Someday I'll own a printer that can print an 11" × 17" sheet of paper . . .) However, the resulting books are quite readable, and may be more useful at your gaming table than a PDF.

-- Steven Marsh

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