The PhotoBook

Definitions & terms

While discussing the various aspects of photobook designs, the following definitions of terminology and reference links may provide some assistance;

Overview references for various aspects of books (photobooks)

What exactly is a “book” (Wikipedia):

An outline, parts, of a book (Wikipedia):

Basics of book design (Wikipedia):

Basics of Printing: (

Overview of bookbinding (Wikipedia):

Overview of Japanese book styles:

Sebastiaan Hanekroot (Colour & Book) blog about the various printing attributes that need consideration when designing a photobook:


Artist Book: are works of art realized in the form of a book. They are often published in small editions (usually 100 copies or less), though sometimes they are produced as one-of-a-kind objects referred to as “uniques”. Artists’ books have employed a wide range of forms, including scrolls, fold-outs, concertinas or loose items contained in a box as well as bound printed sheet. Artists have been active in printing and book production for centuries, but the artist’s book is primarily a late 20th-century form. (

Bindery: refers to a studio, workshop or factory where sheets (signatures) of (usually) paper are fastened together with a cover to make books, but also where gold and other decorative elements are added to the exterior of books, where boxes or slipcases for books are made and where the restoration of books is carried out. Also see Smyth Sewn Binding and Oversewing. (

Bleed (page bleed, printing bleed): refers to printing that goes beyond the edge of the sheet before trimming. In other words, the bleed is the area to be trimmed off. The bleed is the part on the side of a document that gives the printer a small amount of space to account for movement of the paper, and design inconsistencies. Artwork and background colors can extend into the bleed area. After trimming, the bleed ensures that no unprinted edges occur in the final trimmed document. See Full Bleed below. (

Block (text block): This is the interior of a book that has been assembled at a bindery prior to the attachment of the covers. Collectively, the bound pages of a book as distinct from its covers, boards, end papers, dust jacket or other accouterments.

Board: A flat structure, usually make of pressed fiber, that creates the sub-structure of a book cover. The cover material is frequently cloth, with the overlapping edges of the cloth (about 5/8″ all round) are folded over the boards, and pressed down to adhere. The endpaper is then glued to the inside of the board to attach the cover to the block and create the book.

Bone (Paper) Folder (bonefolder): a variety of specialized hand tools that is a flat, dull edged and tapered, polished piece of bone (or plastic) used to crease or burnish paper and apply pressure tool as a part of book making process. (

Book Cover (front cover, back cover) any protective covering used to bind together the signature block(s) (pages) of a book (

Book Dummy (marquette): A rough mock-up, prototype or raw layout design for a pending book. An object that is intended for the artist or designer to make physical a conceptual design. Takes into consideration the sequencing and layout of all of the parts of the book. Early design stage of the book making process.

Book Structure overview: Front Matter, Body Matter, Back Matter, Binding (

Case bound: is the most common type of hardcover binding for books. The pages are arranged in signatures and glued together into a “textblock.” The textblock is then attached to the cover or “case” which is made of cardboard covered with paper, cloth, vinyl or leather. (

Chinese Book binding (stab or stitch):  To stitch the whole book together using a thin double silk cord. The knot is tied and concealed in the spine.  (

Cold glue (book binding) known for its ability to not have stiffness after drying and can provide a book that will open (lay flat) completely (versus a hot glue binding), but takes much longer to cure and dry, will also have no color after drying and does not work as well for paper over 110 gms and preferable for uncoated papers.

Concertinas (Leporello, Accordion) binding: A continuous series of connected leafs that fold out, length being unlimited. ( also (

Copyright: is a legal concept, enacted by most governments, that grants the creator of an original work exclusive rights to its use and distribution, usually for a limited time, with the intention of enabling the creator of intellectual wealth (e.g. the photographer of a photograph or the author of a book) to receive compensation for their work and be able to financially support themselves. (

CMYK (four color): is a subtractive color model, used in four color printing, and is also used to describe the printing process itself. CMYK refers to the four inks used in some color printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (Key). Though it varies by print house, press operator, press manufacturer, and press run, ink is typically applied in the order of the abbreviation.   (

Designer: A person or agent who specifies the structural properties of a (book) design. Graphic designers use various methods to create and combine words, symbols, and images to create a visual representation of ideas and messages. (

Die-cut: Use of a die (form) to shear a web of low-strength material, such as paper. Rotary die cutting is often done inline with printing. (

DIY (Do it Yourself, e.g. self-publishing, indie): is the method of building, modifying, or repairing something without the aid of experts or professionals. (

Dot gain:  is a phenomenon in offset lithography and some other forms of printing which causes printed material to look darker than intended. It is defined as the increase in the diameter of a halftone dot during the prepress and printing processes. Dot gain is caused by ink spreading around halftone dots. (

Dust Jacket (book jacket, dust wrapper, dust cover): s the detachable outer cover, usually made of paper and printed with text and illustrations. This outer cover has folded flaps that hold it to the front and back covers. It is itself relatively fragile. Can be found on both hardcover and softcover (stiffcover) books. (

e-book (E-book, digital book): is a book-length publication in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on computers or other electronic devices. (

Editions (Limited Editions): In bookmaking and printmaking, an edition is a number of prints struck from one plate, usually at the same time. This is the meaning covered by this article. This may be a limited edition, with a fixed number of impressions produced on the understanding that no further impressions (copies) will be produced later, or an open edition limited only by the number that can be sold or produced before the plate wears. Most modern artists produce only limited editions, normally signed by the artist in pencil, and numbered as say 67/100 to show the unique number of that impression and the total edition size. (

Emboss (or Deboss): the processes of creating either raised or recessed relief images and designs in paper and other materials, such as a book cover. An embossed pattern is raised against the background, while a debossed pattern is sunken into the surface of the material. Also includes Blind Embossing and Registered Embossing. (but might protrude somewhat on the reverse, back side). (

Endpaper (Endsheet, Endleaf): are the pages that consist of a double-size sheet folded, with one half pasted against an inside cover, and the other serving as the first free leaf (two pages). The free half of the end paper is called a flyleaf.  (

Flexography (Flexo) printing: is a form of printing process which utilizes a flexible relief plate. It is essentially a modern version of letterpress which can be used for printing on almost any type of substrate. Flexographic plates can be created with analog and digital plate-making processes. Flexo has an advantage over lithography in that it can use a wider range of inks, water based rather than oil based inks, and is good at printing on a variety of different materials. (

Font (typeface): In traditional typography, a font is a particular size, weight and style of a typeface.  In modern usage, with the advent of digital typography, “font” is frequently synonymous with “typeface”. (

Four-color (printing) process (CMYK printing): refers to the four inks used in some color printing: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black (Key). Though it varies by print house, press operator, press manufacturer, and press run, ink is typically applied in the order of the abbreviation. See CMYK above.

Full Bleed: Printing that runs the full expanse of the page (all edges) without any (typically white) borders. Often the paper is trimmed after printing to ensure the ink runs fully to the edge and does not stop short of it.  (

Gallery Proof: Are the preliminary versions of publications meant for review by authors, editors, and proofreaders, often with extra-wide margins. Galley proofs may be uncut and unbound, or in most cases today, provided as a electronic copy (PDF). (

Gate-fold (fold-outs, Double Gate Fold): A book leaf that incorporates an additional paper (substrate) that allows the leaf to extend beyond the text block.  (

Graphic Design:  is the art of communication, stylizing, and problem-solving through the use of type, space, and image.(

Gutter: the binding (blank) space between facing pages (

Halftones (half-tones, Dots): is the reprographic (printing) technique that simulates continuous tone imagery through the use of dots, varying either in size, in shape or in spacing. (

Hardcover (Hardback) is a book bound with rigid protective covers (typically of cardboard covered with cloth, heavy paper, or occasionally leather). They may have flexible, sewn spines which allow the book to lie flat on a surface when opened, or have glued spines.  (

Japanese Stab Binding (JSB) (also called Japanese Stitch Binding, also see Pamphlet Stitch Binding, below): A number of these packets, folios or signature of folded sheets are sewn together along the creases  (

Intaglio Printing: Involves engraving the image onto an image carrier.

Lay flat binding; see Smyth Sewn Binding below; a weak type of binding that allows the interior pages of a book to lay flat on a flat surface. This allow all of the content of both sides of the page spread to be revealed with no potential information lost in the gutter which can occur with oversewing and perfect bound books.

Leaf: has two sides (pages), as a leaf of paper in a bound item such as a book.  The leaf remains after a signature is folded, trimmed and bound in a book. (

Letterpress (relief) printing: relief printing with printing presses, such as photo-etched zinc “cuts” (plates), and linoleum blocks, (for commercial printing, was replace by offset printing, see below) and has seen a revival in an artisan book form. Fine letterpress work is crisper than offset litho because of its impression into the paper, giving greater visual definition to the type and artwork. (

Lithographic (Litho) Printing: Because oil and water do not mix. The positive part of an image is a water-repelling (hydrophobic) substance, while the negative image would be water-retaining (hydrophilic). Thus, when the plate is introduced to a compatible printing ink and water mixture, the ink will adhere to the positive image and the water will clean the negative image.Today, most types of high-volume books and magazines, especially when illustrated in colour, are printed with offset lithography (see below), which has become the most common form of printing technology since the 1960s. (

Offset Printing (Web offset, Offset Lithography) printing: A commonly used printing technique in which the inked image is transferred (or “offset”) from a plate to a rubber blanket and then to the printing surface (sheet or signature). When used in combination with the lithographic process, which is based on the repulsion of oil and water, the offset technique employs a flat image carrier on which the image to be printed obtains ink from ink rollers, while the non-printing area attracts a water-based film (called “fountain solution”), keeping the non-printing areas ink-free. Slightly inferior image quality compared to rotogravure or photogravure printing, see below. (

Open Thread Stitching: A style of binding for a hard cover book for which the spine is not covered and thus reveals (opens) the thread stitching (& gluing as applicable) of the multiple signatures that form the interior pages (text block). Also known as Naked Bound. See example.

On press: When the signatures for a book are being printed. Sometimes photographers can be present and provides an opportunity to interact with the pressman to make some last moment printing tweaks, e.g. adjust the density of the ink.

Over-sewing: A type of robust book binding that is very strong in keeping the book intact, but does not usually allow the book to lay flat, thus if the content on the

Page: One side of a leaf. (

Page Layout: is the part of graphic design that deals in the arrangement and style treatment of elements (content) on a page. Page layout is a higher-level concept involving intelligence, sentience and creativity. (

Page Spread (see Page Layout above): A basic unit in book design is the page spread. The left page (called verso) and right page (called recto) are of the same size and aspect ratio, and are centered on the gutter where they are bound together at the spine. (

Pamphlet Stitch Binding: a simple sewing pattern that can be done very quickly and it is very effective for binding a small number of pages. Depending on the sewing sequence, you can tie it off inside the book’s gutter or on the outside of the cover. (

Paper: is a thin material produced by pressing together moist fibers, typically cellulose pulp derived from wood, rags or grasses and drying them into flexible sheets. Characterized by type, thickness and weight and is a key design factor for the look and appearance of a photobook.  (

Perfect Binding: consist of various sections with a cover made from heavier paper, glued together at the spine with a strong glue (not sewn). The sections are milled in the back and notches are applied into the spine to allow hot glue to penetrate into the spine of the book. The other three sides are then face trimmed. It is the easiest and least durable way to produce books. (

Photogravure (Gravure) printing: a type of intaglio printing process, which involves engraving (photoengraving) the image onto an image carrier. In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a cylinder because, like offset litho printing and flexograhy, it uses a rotary printing press. Capable of transferring more ink to the paper than other printing processes, it is noted for its remarkable density range (light to shadow) and hence is a process of choice for fine art and photography reproduction. Gravure’s major quality shortcoming is that all images, including type and “solids,” are actually printed as dots, and the screen pattern of these dots is readily visible to the naked eye. (

Photo Offset printing: Involves using light-sensitive chemicals and photographic techniques to transfer images and type from original materials to printing plates. In current use, original materials may be an actual photographic print and typeset text. However, it is more common — with the prevalence of computers and digital images — that the source material exists only as data in a digital publishing system.

PhotoBook (The PhotoBook): An extremely interesting blog to read commentaries about contemporary photographic books. Oops! I forgot, you already are! Thanks!! Doug.

POD (Print on Demand): printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book (or other document) are not printed until an order has been received, which means books can be printed one at a time. (

Prepress (Pre-Press): is the term used in the printing and publishing industries for the processes and procedures that occur between the creation of a print layout and the final printing. The prepress procedure includes the manufacture of a printing plate, image carrier or form, ready for mounting on a printing press, as well as the adjustment of images and texts or the creation of a high-quality print file.  (

Printing:  is a process for reproducing text and images, typically with ink on paper (medium, substrate) using a printing press  (

Publisher (Publishing): The term refers to the person or group who is (financially) responsible for the distribution of printed works such as books. It includes the stages of the development, acquisition, copy editing, graphic design, production (printing, folding, binding), and marketing and distribution of newspapers, magazines and books. (

Oversewn (aka sewn) binding: the signatures of the book start off as loose pages which are then clamped together. Small vertical holes are punched through the far left-hand edge of each signature, and then the signatures are sewn together with lock-stitches to form the text block. Oversewing is a very strong method of binding and can be done on books up to five inches thick. A variation is the Smyth sewn binding, see below. (

Rotogravure (see Photo-gravure above)

Saddle-stitch: A type of binding process that uses meta staples through the centerfold also called saddle-stitching, joins a set of nested folios into a single magazine issue; most Zines are well-known examples of this type of binding. (

Score: A groove or crease made (cut) into a surface. For bookmaking, paper is usually scored to facilitate bending. A long leaf maybe scored to create a gate fold. For artist books, an book-maker might use a bone paper folder to manually score (crease) the sheets.

Screen (printing):

Self-publishing (DIY): the publication of any book or other media by the author of the work, without the involvement of an established third-party publisher. A self-published physical book is said to be privately printed. The author is responsible and usaully in control of entire process including design (cover/interior), formats, price, distribution, marketing & PR.(

Signatures: A signature is a sheet with multiple pages printed (e.g. flexographic printing) on it (commonly a sheet that is 25″ x 38″). If you look down at any hard cover book from the top, you will see that the pages are joined to the binding in groups & each of those groups is one signature. The pages are printed in a particular way on the sheet (using a process called “imposing”) so that the sheet can be folded down to the size of a single page and the pages will be in the correct order and orientation. (

Slipcase: is a four or five-sided box, usually made of high-quality board stock, into which binders, books or book sets are slipped for protection, leaving the spine exposed. Special editions of books are often slipcased. (

Smyth (sewing-through-the-fold) sewn binding: The signatures of the book are folded and stitched through the fold. The signatures are then sewn or glued together at the spine to form a text block. In contrast to oversewing (see above), through-the-fold books have wide margins and can open completely flat (lay-flat). However, the text block of a sewn-through-the-fold book is not very secure, which can cause some signatures to come loose over time. (

Spine: The vertical edge of a book as it normally stands on a bookshelf. It is customary for it to have printed text on it.  (

Stiff-cover (Softcover, Paperback):  (

Substrate: The actual materials of composition; an example wood pulp for a paper sheet versus a substrate material of cotton, linen or other that could create a paper sheet.

Swiss binding: The book cover is not attached to the face top edge, completely detached from the text block. See example.

Tape binding: No cover is used at all and the cloth lining is exposed, which includes a tape wrapped spine.

Text: The copy, illustrations and other symbols or data that is printed on a page or throughout the book.

Text Block: This is the interior body of the book after the signatures are bound together before the addition of the endpapers and covers. Does not necessarily mean that there is only text, as for many photobooks, there will be only photographs in the text block.

Tipped-in image: A photograph or other panel that is glued into the front or back page of the book’s exterior cover, usually within a slightly embossed area reserved by the designer for this additional object.

Tri-fold page (Concertina fold): A leaf (two pages) that is printed and folded in a manner that a panel is concealed within the fold and revealed when the leaf (pages) are extended.

Trim size (book size): The size of the book block after printing, folding, final trimming (cutting) and binding.  (

Varnish (Spot Varnish): A printing process to apply a transparent, hard, protective finish or film finishes to a signature. In books these are usually a glossy finish but may be designed to produce satin or semi-gloss sheens by the addition of “flatting” agents. A spot varnish is when only a small specific area on the page (e.g. the photographic image) is varnished to change its appearance relative to the paper. (

Zine (Magazine): are considered more ephemeral than books, and less durable means of binding them are usual. In general, the cover papers of magazines will be the same as the inner pages (self-cover) or only slightly heavier (plus cover). Most magazines are stapled or saddle-stitched; however, some are bound with perfect binding and use thermally activated adhesive. (


I hope that this resource page has helped and if I am missing (or correcting) a photobook term, please let me know.




  1. […] me who are very interested in creating artist books and self-publishing. Thus I initiated a new Reference page on my photobook blog The Photobook to provide definitions and links to sites (usually Wikipedia) […]

    Pingback by Book definitions on The Photobook blog | Doug Stockdale's Singular Images — December 13, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

  2. […] very interested in creating their own artist books and self-publishing. Thus I have initiated a new Reference page available on the upper right side bar of this blog to provide definitions and links to sites […]

    Pingback by Photobook definitions on a new Reference page | The PhotoBook — December 13, 2013 @ 7:41 pm

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