Q. Can I Print My Own Text and Rebind Along With a Bible?

I received an interesting question from Father Robert Lyons that touches on two of my dreams: (1) using self-publishing technology to print your own text blocks and (2) rebinding supplemental texts under the same cover as a Bible. A lot of people wonder about the practicality of this, so here's the question followed by my attempt at an answer:

Q. I am writing today because I am working on a project to produce a Liturgy book for our local congregation. Heretofore, we have used self-publishing options to produce limited run texts, but we intend to release a complete, bound book that can be used as a one-stop-shop for Daily Prayer and the Eucharistic Liturgy of the Church. On the downside, however, since this is for a small congregation, we cannot afford the royalties to reproduce biblical texts, so I've been looking into having our book bound up with a Bible (we use the NLT). The main problem I am seeing is that we can get a 500 page prayerbook printed for $30 via Lulu, but the paper is so thick that it would seem to be impossible to bind it up with a Bible in one cover that would fall open (or at least lay somewhat open!). On the flipside, I am unaware of self publishing options that offer thinner papers. Do you have any thoughts on how one might approach such a project on a small scale?

Let's start by unpacking the problem a little bit. To pull off a project like this, you need to be able to output a text (in this case the "500 page prayerbook") with the same trim size as an existing Bible text block (in this case an NLT), on sufficiently thin paper to make the width of the finished product realistic. Thanks to the desktop revolution, producing the supplemental text block is no problem, and thanks to digital short run printing, neither is printing it. 

The problem starts when you try to specify paper stock. I'm not well versed in the current state of digital printing, but last time I checked the options were pretty limited. No one offers output on India paper, which means your text block is going to be relatively thick, and it won't combine harmoniously with the pre-existing Bible text block. In addition, most digital short run printing results in a perfect-bound paperback, which is not really suitable for rebinding. The signatures aren't intact to be sewn. 

So before a project like this will be viable, someone will have to offer digital printing on appropriate paper with a sewn binding. I'm not aware of anyone who does. Have any readers come across a suitable service? If so, please share. You'll make a lot of people very happy.

The next step is binding the supplemental text block with the pre-existing one. Finding someone to do that might prove even more challenging. As readers looking for someone to make an interleaved Bible have learned, most rebinders don't seem to be interested in the task — or if they are, the process is so labor intensive as to make the cost prohibitive. This is why I've largely given up on my dream of having a Bible rebound under the same cover as a selection of doctrinal standards. The only way I know of to do it right is to produce a single text block combining the two, and for that you need the involvement of the translation's publisher. 

I suspect that, given the current state of digital printing, the most elegant solution is to stop where you're at. In other words, keep the prayer book and Bible separate. Adjust the trim size on the former so that it corresponds roughly to the latter, and settle for a side-by-side set. 

Am I right about this? Hard to say. I'd be very interested in hearing what other people think … especially those of you who have attempted (or just day dreamed about) a similar undertaking.

27 Comments on “Q. Can I Print My Own Text and Rebind Along With a Bible?

  1. I found that Amazon CreateSpace is cheaper than Lulu.
    At 25 copies the price on CreateSpace drops to $11.50 / copy, and if you pay for the Pro plan for the book (only $39.90) that falls to $6.85. With the Pro option 25 units would be $171.25; I found no further price breaks.
    I’d love to take a crack at doing a POD Bible if it were bound, with thinner paper, like a Cambridge Bible.

  2. I haven’t yet found a digital publisher that will print on india paper, though there are many (including Lulu) that do offer sewn bindings.
    Fr. Lyons’ project does remind me of a side-project I worked on about 18 months ago. I took OSIS-formatted XML versions of Titus and Esther (from http://bibletechnologies.net/) and used XSL and a couple other tools to create a paragraphed, single-column, center-reference, margin-numbered layout that represents my personal ‘ideal format’ for the Bible. However, I came across two blocking issues: a lack of OSIS versions of most modern translations and a lack of a publisher that could publish a single-volume of sufficient length (an estimated 1,930 pages).
    Reading this makes me think it’s time to dust off those efforts, particularly since I’ve come to realize the obvious, namely that I could get my ‘ideal’ Bible published in 3-4 volumes instead of one. This doesn’t address Fr. Lyons’ specific needs, and I add my name to the list of those interested in any digital publishers who offer an Bible-publishing-friendly range of paper choices.
    One other question: Does anyone know where you can purchase OSIS versions of the ESV, TNIV or HCSB?

  3. So, like, I join your group and come to your church, and as a new member, I’m given the book, [ the BOOK! ] that is both a 500 page prayer book, and a 1200 page bible, so like 1700 pages. Great. Weightlifting bricks.
    Strikes me that this is a two piece project. Prayer book. and Bible. Shrink your prayer book with editing, formatting, or smaller type size.
    Ha! I’ve seen the entire new testament printed on a single side of a 8 1/2 x 11 sheet from a digital printer. Used as a promo for Konica Milota bizhub Pro 1200.

  4. At http://www.snowfallpress.com it is possible to print a single copy of a Bible up to 1600 pages at present on paper that is 714 pages an inch with a trim size of 6inx9in. As the trim size increases the page count decreases some. At 714 pages an inch this is about as thin as you can go on a digital printer with pre-cut sheets of paper. The cost is $1.25/book + $0.01/page if the trim is 6inx9in or smaller ($0.02/page if larger than 6inx9in). There is no minimum order quantity and not setup fee.
    As a member of the OSIS Technical Committee I have been involved with creating OSIS XML files files for over 100 translations and am actively working with a majority of the Bible societies through Virtual Storehouse (www.virtualstorehouse.org). At present there is no way to purchase OSIS files for any of the major English translations. I am fairly confident that there are OSIS files for the ESV, I know there are files for the NIV and I don’t think there are files for the TNIV and HCSB at present. There is a pretty strong undercurrent at play currently to get all of the Bibles into OSIS, so this will be changing of the next year or so.
    If you are typesetting from an OSIS file (I have also written a lot of software to typeset Bibles from OSIS), if you use the Weidman font you will get a lot more text on the page.
    However, the easiest route for the projects where each page is not reformatted is to simply start with a PDF of the scripture text and add on the “custom” pages to the front or back. There is an initiative under way to provide a online service to do just that but they have not released a version to the public yet.

    • So how best to print bibles in foreign languages and save the people who have not heard about our Savior ?

  5. Todd T, welcome to this blog; I’ve been hoping someone like you would show up! So do I understand correctly that printing to thinner Bible/India paper is pretty much a roll process, where the paper is under constant controlled tension, and so needs large offset ink printers, whereas the print-on-demand world uses digital printers based on large sheets, where the pickup and feeding inevitably generates compressive forces which thin paper can’t tolerate?
    Your snowfallpress website mentions that your firm will soon be doing casebound binding like other PoD vendors that have been mentioned…I assume those will be sewn bindings so your software will correctly arrange/rotate the pages on the printed sheet prior to folding into signatures? If sewn, will they be the Smyth-sewn format or the side-sewn format you get from McCain or Moffett binding machines? Most of us have strong preferences in that area and with other PoD houses it’s not clear what you’re getting.
    Many here are motivated to produce specialty Bibles based on widely used English translations; I was delighted to see on your vitualstorehouse page how you’re using PoD technology to produce low-volume runs in far less common languages. Keep up the good work!

  6. There are two ways that paper is fed to both digital and offset presses. Cut sheet and continuous/web fed. As you mentioned to get to the thinnest paper (India Paper) you have run from a continuous sheet. We are currently running cut sheet digital presses at Snowfall Press and have gotten down to very thin paper (714 pages per inch). We would be able to automate a web fed digital printer and still produce single titles but have not seen the volume of business to justify the related expense.
    We are working toward offering case bound books. At present our first offering would not be sewn. In order to cost effectively produce a sewn book you generally end up with a run of some length in order to justify setting up the binding equipment for each job. It is possible to use PUR glue (rather than hot melt glue) and get what is suggested to be an equally strong bind. Does this group have any experience/opinion on the subject?
    I have created a process that would produce covers “heat burnished” covers on the “fake” leather material for producing a higher end product that could be combined with a truly sewn book block. Does anyone on this list know of a resource that would offer at a cost effective price a service to do the sewing and binding of batches of different titles if the signatures were delivered already printed and collated? If we could find a binding partner I may be able to find the printer for even India paper.
    (We already handle the imposition/placement/orientation of pages within signatures automatically when printing digitally.)

  7. Gee Todd, we’d love some adhesive education on making perfect bind more desirable. (I fought the urge to say more perfect.) I was of the impression the standard is still PVA (polyvinyl acetate). PUR (polyurethane) might be flexible enough but does it “wet” the pages enough to give adequate pull strength?
    I’m afraid this crowd is going to need some real convincing to consider perfect bind. My experience is that perfect-bound volumes really need to be babied, and even then, after about 10-20 years, they just fall apart, like old scratch pads. Particularly for the folks here that make a lot of notations, they really want their volumes to last a lifetime and will pay accordingly. (Then again, I’m not sure that describes all the “specials” that this thread is addressing.)
    Actually most of the Print On Demand firms mentioned in this thread offer sewn bindings, although none specify if they’re side-sewn or smyth-sewn. Of course, they might not be real keen on sharing their capital investment with a competitor! Maybe the best thing is to talk to the distributor of the binding machines themselves? What you probably want is a contact at the outfit that bought the used machine from the firm that just bought a new one. Still, distributors tend to know these things and the wise ones know to be nice to even the small guys because they could be the big accounts in the future. And I’d like to think as big as the book business is, there could be folks that just specialize in binding up textblocks. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen folks that just do the “casing in” operation, but you want the step before that. About all I know of the business is what I see on web pages (!) but I’d estimate there’s more capital costs in printing than binding so you’ve already done the heavy lifting.

  8. I will be at the graphics show in Chicago next week with the purpose of looking at more binding options. I will look at PVA and PUR along with other aspects of binding.
    You will get no argument from me about the superiority of proper sewn bindings. For what you are looking for on this site you are likely to always want a sewn binding. That said there are 10s of millions of people who can not get a Bible in the language they can read at any price and in any binding, including many millions in the US. For people in this situation I argue for a printed copy in the best binding that can be produced.
    But I would really like to improve the binding as much as possible and offer proper sewn bindings and covers that are more long lasting. In the end we write software to automate all aspects of printing, folding, etc… and engineer hardware that traditional print shops operate. As a result any shops doing any of the craftsman work related to binding should see us as customers/partners rather than competitors. We would want to hire them and send steady and consistent work to them.
    The good news is that proper binding is a fairly labor intensive process regardless of how the book block is printed. By combining one-off printing on thin paper that can be sewn with traditional binding it will be possible to have the level of quality that will endure time and use and deliver printed products that met the needs of narrower markets.

  9. This all sounds great! I’m thinking of interleaving a bible. Can someone tell me where high quality india paper can be purchased in sheets (not rolls)? I’d love to get some of this kind of paper.

  10. India paper in sheets is very difficult to come across these days. The other problem is that inkjet and laser printer are not able to feed it. It is too thin. The rollers are not able to pick up a single sheets and constantly misfeed. Laser printers have the further problem with heat. Since a laser printer heats the toner to cause it to melt onto the paper, this normally causes india paper to wrinkle anr/or become brittle.
    There is thin paper available in sheets. People have been successful to get it to feed through straight path inkjet printers (ones where the sheet does not have to bend in order to be fed). It is available from the Paper Mill Store. It is 9lb 100% cotton bond paper. I believe that it is about 1100 ppi. The cost is about $25 a ream. The link to it is: http://www.thepapermillstore.com/product.php?productid=9304

  11. DKFCR, Thanks for the ref on the great paper. There is thinner paper available yet–I think it’s largely a Japanese art thing–but like you say it won’t feed through laser printers. It’s made from silk cloth and meant for artistic applications, even by Western artists. But it should work for Michael who wants to just interleave blank sheets in a custom volume. That’s provided he’s happy with perfect (glued) binding now or (with Todd’s help) we find a low-volume binding house that does sewn bindings.

  12. I am not sure about what is available in the United States in regards to low volume binders. However, if someone is in England, there are quite a few. When I was in the United States, I used a binder that dealt with Libraries. Libraries are in constant need of binding books. Often they are edge sewn, but are normally able to bind signatures. I cannot remember the name of the company I used. But, they were able to produce a smyth-sewn book from pre-printed and cut signatures. One was not able to provide an unfolded, uncut sheet. They did not have the machine to fold a large sheet.
    On the topic of india paper. I should mention that there is an India Paper available in sheets. It is called Biblio and is available in packs of 100. It is quite expensive. But, it is very opaque and thin. One can write with a fountain pen without bleed through.

  13. Just read through the comments so far in the thread. Todd, if/when you automate a web fed printer and get the paper thickness down even further (ideally in the 1000+ sheets per inch range), I will absolutely be one of your customers, at nearly any reasonable price. Printing is generally the biggest hurdle that must be crossed in turning a custom bible into reality. Mailing signatures to England is always an option if no one in America will do it! I am really excited to follow this and future threads on the subject!

  14. I can only find Biblio paper at http://www.paper2go.co.uk in A4 size under Product Type paper&card and the Rangename Translucent. Assuming paper density is that of water or 1 million grams per cubic meter, the 50 gram per square meter “thickness” works out to .05 mm or .002″ per sheet. With 2 pages per sheet, that’s 1000 pages per inch. They also reference an Onion Skin paper at 34 gsm (~1500 pages per inch) on their Paper Information page but I can’t find it in their product selector.
    Biblio paper is “only” 9 pound sterling per 100 sheets or ~15 cents/sheet from this UK source with free shipping on orders over 45 pound sterling. They don’t qualify that’s Britain Only but they might since the fountain pen sites say shipping is very expensive. Perhaps someone (Dom?) knows of a USA supplier?
    I came across this while looking…it’s a pretty nice intro to papermaking in small-to-medium batch sizes:

  15. Falkners also sells sheets of Bible paper. But, these are large sheets that would need to be cut to size. Offenbach Bible is available in various weights. With these thin papers, it is important to ask for a PPI count or the mil thickness. The problems is that the fibre density of thin papers is different and the weight will not tell you how thick it is. It might give you an idea, but it isn’t all that accurate.

  16. Shipping from England is not that expensive. The problem is that many stores charge outrageous sums to ship outside of the UK.

  17. So, it’s been a month. Work out your priorities and get back to blogging.
    (We miss you!)

  18. Miss your posts Mark, especially the reviews. By the way, you were spot on with the ESV3 review – great Bible. Come back soon!

  19. Todd: We have rapidly been looking for updated OSIS information, but seems more or less like bibletechnologies.net is dead.
    Is there ongoing development/maintenance of OSIS? And what is the best way to get involved.

  20. Start small, Think big!
    As many people commenting here, and Mark of course, I am also interested in getting a Bible of my own design produced. I however, am more interested in the cover at this point. Does anyone have info on where I could get just the interior (anyone know the technical term for the interior content?) in a classic printing of say NIV or other options? I am hoping to purchase them wholesale and have them covered both Leather bound and paper back. If anyone has any suggestions please let me know. Thanks

  21. Justin, what you’re looking for is called the text block. Most find it simpler/cheaper to just buy a mass-produce full volume, and remove the cover and do a quality binding, either by getting into the craft themselves, or using one of the re-binders Mark includes in the right margin.

  22. I do a lot of spiritual writing, using copperplate nibs and a copperplate style and ink. The paper I use does not meet my expectations even though I buy my paper at paper specialty shops (are suppliers etc). Is it possible for a financially strapped individual like myself to purchase Bible paper in small quantities? I will even buy some of your rejected inventory and I’ll cut to size if need be. I pray that you will not dismiss my request and that we can come to an agreeable solution and within my budget since I am retired and on a fixed income. Please take this request the highest channel in your company. Thank you for your consideration concerning this matter. Respectfully Adolph Ramirez.

  23. I have a manuscript that has 700 x A4 pages.
    Because I want it to be printed on light weight i.e. Bible-quality or newsprint paper, it seems i can’t complete my dream as no POD company in the world offers this, stocking only heavy / standard paper! Gutted.

  24. So, could anyone tell me how hard this request would be. I have a certain Bible envisioned, but nobody prints it. I would really like a Wide Margin, NKJV Bible, with size 12 font. Even 14 would be sweet. 10 would be bearable. All I can find on the Market is the 7.9pt Cambridge Bible and Nelson used to make one. I just want larger font so I can read it while it is on the table and I am standing and I want large margins for notes. I have a cheap Nelson Giant print Bible now that I love the text size of, but the margin space is smaller than I’d like. And since it is falling apart, I’m looking to replace it. I’ve even considered if I could print it one place an that bind it another. I’d love to have all of the references in the Nelson/Cambridge Bibles, but could live without them if I had the large margin space.

    Ideas? I wasn’t sure if I could get the permission from Nelson to just print myself my own personal Bible. Also, if the printer could not print as many pages as I needed, could I split it into two halves and then have those bound. I’m not really concerned with how big the Bible ends up…

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