Some business people have thought twice about how they put together their documents for their intended audience ever since last September’s “Clipgate” incident, in which the White House was taken to task for presenting a major jobs bill bound by a simple 20-cent metal binder clip. Sure, a simple staple may be good enough for a two-page memo, but when reports are longer you may want to step up your binding game.
This may sound a bit trivial, but there are some very practical considerations involved in your choice of binding, ranging from the first impression that your report will make to security concerns. The cost of your binding – either high or low – or how the document will be handled or stored are all factors to weigh when picking the ideal binding solution.
The Standard Solution
For example, take the classic three-ring binder. It is a versatile and durable solution. You only need a simple paper punch to prepare the pages, and you can purchase binders with capacities ranging from a couple dozen sheets to hundreds of pages. They lay flat when opened. Binders are easy to carry and store well on a shelf. If the information in the report ever changes, it’s a simple matter to remove or exchange pages. This also makes it easy to remove sheets temporarily for photocopying or other uses.
You can customize a binder in many ways. Some come with transparent covers so that you can slip a sheet of paper to act as a cover or spine information. You can get them preprinted with company logos or other information, and they still can be a relatively low cost solution.
In spite of all these advantages, however, the versatile three-ring binder is not always the ideal solution. If you use a binder with much greater capacity than the size of the report, it makes inefficient use of space so you need to stock a wide range of sizes if you don’t know what sizes you’re going to need. Since the binder takes up almost as much space empty as when loaded, it requires a lot of storage space. And the very features that make it easy to remove pages means that it is not a secure method of storing documents than must not be tampered with or altered.
As it turns out, you have a wide range of choices to compile pages into a bound report. Many of them are essentially variations on the three-hole concept.
Most of the solutions require that you punch more than the standard three holes in your document pages. Of these, perhaps the most classic is the plastic comb binding. This uses plastic strips with a solid spine from which thin, curled fingers extend. You use a special punch to cut rectangular holes about half an inch apart along the binding edge of the pages. Most of these punches also have a device that unrolls the fingers so that you can insert them through the holes on the pages.
Comb binding is popular because it is low cost and relatively easy to use. You can get spines in a wide range of colors and capacities, and empty spines do not take up much space in storage. Comb binding also makes it easy to use a color-printed page (such as from a laser or ink jet) to provide a custom cover for each report. You can also get clear plastic sheets to provide a protective layer for the cover.
Comb-bound reports lie flat when open, making it easy to photocopy pages without removing them. Also, the same machine that you use to assemble them can also be used to open the comb to add, remove, or update pages. This can save a lot of time and money if changes need to be made because you don’t have to throw out the rest of the report.
There are several variations on the comb binding. You can use a wire binding instead of the plastic combs. These have the same advantages, but require special equipment to insert and crimp the wire bindings. You can also choose spiral binding. Typically, these use plastic spirals that are woven through the holes punched in the pages. You can get machines that spin the spirals so that they quickly insert along the edge of the document.
Note that you don’t have to commit to an approach. There are punch and binding machines available that can use plastic comb, wire, or plastic spiral bindings. These cost more than a dedicated machine, but give you more flexibility.
You can also use spools of wire to create a spiral binding, but these require specialized equipment that are generally used in high-volume production settings. The plastic spirals are available in a wide range of colors and capacities.
GBC has some interesting alternatives that are similar to comb bindings, but offer many of the advantages of a three-ring binder. The company’s “ProClick” and “ZipBind” plastic spines have rings every half inch or so. The clever design lets you open and close the rings like a zipper, making it easy to add, remove, or exchange pages. They come in three capacities: 45, 85, and 110 pages.
Another approach called “PaperLock” is like a plastic comb binding, but it uses paper combs with an adhesive backing. These use a special binding device to tightly wrap the paper fingers with an adhesive tape that also covers the spine of the document. The result handles much like a comb binding, but it cannot be opened without destroying the paper binding. As a result, it is better suited for documents where you need to detect any signs of tampering with the contents, as might be the case with legal documents.
Other ways to get a secure and permanent binding are the GBC VeloBind and SureBind designs. These use two thin plastic strips that attach along the binding edge of your report. Long fingers from one strip project through holes on the strip on the other side, and a hot knife technology cuts off the excess material and welds the fingers to the mating strip. Unlike the comb binding and similar designs, this adjusts to the specific thickness of the report. It is also a permanent binding, making it difficult to tamper with the contents of the document. On the other hand, the reports do not lie flat when open, and the edges of the report pages are exposed along the spine.
Turn Up the Heat
Other binding solutions don’t require that you punch any holes at all. They tend to be variations on a theme, in which hot-melt glue is applied along the edges of the report pages, and these then are covered by a spine or wrap-around cover.
The wrap-around covers can be an attractive solution, with some supplies resembling a hardbound book cover. You have a similar problem as with three-ring binders, however; you need to stock different size covers to accommodate different numbers of pages. Some covers include a clear plastic front, but others use the same opaque material front and back, which can make it more difficult to customize the reports with company logos, titles, or other information.
A more flexible approach is to use a tape binding, such as the AccuBind from Standard. This uses cloth tapes that have glue applied to one side. Create your report including covers, and put the stack of pages in the machine. You then feed a cloth strip into the machine, where it is heated so that the glue sticks to the front and back covers and across the spine of the report. The result is a document that resembles a bound paperback book. The cloth strips are available in a variety of widths and colors to match the size and look of your documents. The main drawback of this system is that the machine is relatively expensive compared with some of the other systems.
Stuck with Paper
The fact remains that the “paperless office” seems to be no closer than it was 20 years ago. Businesses continue to need to make reports and presentations, and paper documents have attributes that can’t be met by electronic alternatives. Just because you need to create a multi-page document for distribution doesn’t mean that it has to be plain or boring. Whether it is 10 pages or 100, and whether you need one copy or dozens, there are binding options that are affordable and attractive. You’re bound to find one that is a perfect match for your needs.