Bookbinding for beginners: What to know and how to get started

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Bookbinding has been around for ages but is still very much alive and kicking and one of the trendiest creative hobbies around today (just ask the cool kids!).

It’s the perfect pastime if you relish customized handbound notebooks, scrapbooks, journals, and more, whether for personal use, gifts, or as meaningful items destined to be passed down to loved ones.

This bookbinding for beginners guide covers the basics to help you start exploring this craft, including a rundown of essential bookbinding supplies, popular techniques, terminology, and newbie tips.

Let’s get started!

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What is bookbinding?

Notebook binding_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Bookbinding is the art form of creating handmade books from scratch by applying aesthetic and functional techniques with the help of specialized tools and materials.

The core of bookbinding involves assembling paper sheets, whether in folded sections or individually, and binding them together along one edge.

Depending on each style and technique, different binding elements are applied. The most popular include bookbinding glue, needle and thread, and staples.

In some cases, binding machines are used to create booklets, but these devices are primarily used for practicality and speed vs. artisan craftsmanship.

Bookbinding also entails creating book covers, hard or soft, using different textiles and materials — popular picks include soft cloth and leather.

In addition, decorative elements like embossed paper, patterned endpapers, and handmade paper are commonly used to add special touches and enhance overall aesthetic.

The most popular bookbinding projects for beginners include everything from notebooks, (art) journals, sketchbooks, and scrapbooks to photo albums, diaries, and portfolios.

Bookbinding for beginners: Is bookbinding hard?

Bookbinding tools_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Bookbinding can be challenging and may take some time to master due to the various steps, techniques, and level of precision required to create a well-bound book.

However, overall, the difficulty level of this creative hobby essentially depends on the type of binding you do and the complexity of your materials.

On that note, beginners won’t need to worry about super intricate bookbinding techniques when starting out; there are plenty of simple, easy-to-do projects that look fantastic and can be done with just a few essential tools.

On the other hand, more advanced projects such as leather-bound and hardcover books will demand a more elaborate toolset and a higher level of skill. But remember, with practice, anyone can learn how to bind their own books!

Before taking up bookbinding for the first time, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Expect a learning curve. There are more accessible binding methods you can explore at first, like Saddle Stitch binding, but as you evolve in the craft, things will get a little more complex.
  • Bookbinding is time-consuming and requires taking things slowly and accurately. This isn’t the craft for you if you’re the impatient type and tend to rush through projects!
  • Depending on the complexity and materials of your project, supplies can get a little pricey. Stick to essential bookbinding supplies or bookbinding kits for beginners; you’ll have everything you need for your first projects.
  • Bookbinding requires a spacious craft area since you’ll be trimming paper, cutting fabric, and more. In other words, you’ll be making a mess! Having a designated craft table to get the job done is a good idea.

Are bookbinding supplies expensive?

Are bookbinding tools expensive_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

The cost of bookbinding supplies varies significantly based on quality, quantity, and the technique(s) you want to explore.

If you’re new to bookbinding, you don’t have to break the bank on expensive supplies to start, but there are specific materials you don’t want to cut corners on.

For example, bookbinding essentials like thread, needle, awls, and even adhesives tend to be pretty inexpensive — unless you’re after a more pro-toolkit.

Nevertheless, materials like leather, decorative paper, and book cloth can get pricey, especially considering you should invest in high-quality options to ensure longevity, endurance, and impeccable finishes.

Remember, bookbinding projects should be made to last, so always consider durability. This is particularly important if you’re creating items for frequent use or to be passed down as heirlooms!

Cheaper materials won’t hold up well (especially pleather!) and will have you repairing book spines and gluing pages way too often. However, this isn’t to say you can’t start off with more basic, affordable alternatives when testing the waters.

A practical way to save time and money is by looking into bookbinding kits. These can cost anywhere from $20-$50+ and contain everything you need, including beginner-friendly instructions and projects.

Essential bookbinding materials

Bookbinding supplies_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

So, what exactly does one need to start bookbinding?

To be honest, a few things! However, nothing overly complicated to learn or difficult to find. Also, required tools will vary depending on project size, layout, and the technique of your choice.

We have a complete guide on essential bookbinding supplies for beginners, but if you’re in a hurry, here’s a quick rundown of the basics you’ll need to jumpstart your first ventures:


This is the most fundamental material for bookbinding, and choosing the right quality, weight, and texture is crucial for achieving professional-looking finished products and durable results.

Book boards

Book boards are a crucial component of bookbinding, as they provide structure and support to the covers and spine of a book.

Bookbinding awl

Bookbinding awls are essential tools used for punching holes in paper, leather, or other materials and are commonly used in bookbinding to create sewing stations/marks along the spine of a book.


Available in different variations and material types, bookbinding thread is used to sew pages together and attach them to the spine of a book. The most popular type of thread used for bookbinding is waxed linen thread.

Note that not all bookbinding techniques require sewing.

Bookbinding needle

These long, thin needles are specifically made for bookbinding and are used to sew pages together and attach them to book spines.

Bone folder

Bone folders are versatile tools used in bookbinding to crease and fold paper and smoothen out any wrinkles or bubbles in the pages and covers of a book.

Bookbinding adhesive

Bookbinding adhesive or bookbinding glue is used to attach a book’s spine, covers, and pages. Bookbinding tape is another adhesive used mainly to repair and strengthen book spines as they begin to fall apart.

Book cloth

Book cloth is a sturdy yet flexible, durable fabric commonly used to cover, protect, and embellish book covers. This material comes in various colors, designs, and textures.

Cutting tools

Cutting tools, such as a utility knife or a paper cutter, are essential for bookbinding as they help accurately cut paper, book cloth, and boards to desired shapes and sizes.

I recommend getting a cutting mat for this part of the process!


Scissors are helpful for trimming small areas of paper or book cloth during the bookbinding process. Electric scissors can help cut through thicker fabrics.

Metal ruler

Metal rulers are essential for bookbinding as they provide a straight edge for accurately measuring and cutting paper, book cloth, and boards.

Bookbinding press

A bookbinding press compresses and holds pages, covers, and book spines together while glue dries to ensure pieces remain intact.

Bookbinding techniques every beginner should know

Bookbinding techniques_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

There are many bookbinding techniques to try, but the one you choose should be in tune with your skill level, project type, purpose, and materials.

Below, I’ve listed the most popular bookbinding techniques every beginner should be familiar with!

Saddle stitch bookbinding

Saddle Stitch binding_bookbinding techniques
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Pros: Easy and budget-friendly

Cons: Limited to fewer number of pages

Saddle stitch binding is one of the most straightforward bookbinding methods. It involves folding pages in half and stapling them along the fold line.

This technique is usually seen in small booklets, magazines, and brochures and requires minimal supplies. However, while simple, it takes time and practice to know how to place and line up staples correctly and evenly along the fold.

Perfect binding

Perfect binding_bookbinding techniques
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Pros: Professional-looking finishes and durability

Cons: Does not lay flat and requires a larger number of pages

Perfect binding is another popular bookbinding technique and involves gluing pages together along the book spine, with a cover glued on top. You’ll see this method applied to paperback books!

This binding technique is fuss-free, although a little more challenging than saddle stitch binding since it requires precision of page alignment and mastering bookbinding glue application.

Coptic binding

Coptic binding_bookbinding techniques
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Pros: Aesthetic and functional technique

Cons: More challenging to master

Coptic binding is a slightly more elaborate bookbinding technique and requires a needle and thread. For this process, pages are sewn together through the spine, allowing books to lay flat when open — ideal for left-handers!

This technique is perfect for items meant for frequent use, such as sketchbooks, art journals, notebooks, and more. Coptic binding is a more detailed, decorative approach to bookbinding and, therefore, requires some practice and skill.

Japanese binding

Japanese stab binding_bookbinding techniques
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Pros: Artistic, unique designs

Cons: Limited to thinner booklets

Japanese binding (or Japanese Stab binding) is one of the most intricate bookbinding techniques beginners can try out. Pages are bound using a series of knots and loops, creating decorative results.

It’s unquestionably more time-consuming and challenging than most beginner techniques, but oh-so-worth-it if you’re all about transforming basic notebooks and journals into works of art!

Being a more elaborate method, I recommend learning from a kit at first. Check out our list of bookbinding kits to find one that works for you!

Spiral and comb binding

Comb binding_bookbinding techniques
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Pros: Easy to do and flat-opening/easy to fold

Cons: Not as durable as sewn-bound alternatives

Spiral and comb binding is easy and perfect for binding in bulk. These aren’t artisan methods but very convenient alternatives if you’re after practicality!

This approach is easy for beginners and involves punching pages with evenly spaced holes and binding them using a spiral coil or plastic comb, allowing pages to lay flat when open.

Binding machines are typically used for this process, especially to create everything from reports and manuals to workbooks, music sheets, booklets, and more.

This type of binding is more prone to wear and tear vs. sewn-bound books but quick workarounds if functionality is your goal.

Bookbinding project ideas for beginners

Project ideas_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

If you’re new to bookbinding and looking for easy projects to get started, here are a few ideas that might interest you.

All the projects listed below are suitable for beginners who want to try their hand at bookbinding through basic techniques.

Depending on the type of project, you can create bookbinding projects for personal reflection, creative expression, record-keeping, or to preserve cherished memories — every reason is a good reason!

Not to mention, any of the suggestions below make for thoughtful, creative gifts!

  • Art journals
  • Leatherbound journals
  • Pamphlets
  • Sketchbooks
  • Guest books
  • Agendas/planners
  • Notebooks
  • Baby books
  • Garden Journal
  • Herbarium book
  • Music book
  • Poetry book
  • Family history book
  • Diaries
  • Scrapbooks
  • Photo album
  • Travel notebooks
  • Storybooks
  • Zine-making

Bookbinding jargon for beginners

Example notebook_bookbinding for beginners
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

As a bookbinding newbie, the technical jargon and book anatomy can seem overwhelming at first.

However, I will say that knowing basic terminology will be super helpful when starting out — especially if you’re looking into online tutorials for beginners or following instructions on a bookbinding kit!

Here are a few basic bookbinding terms you should know:

  1. Binding: The process of attaching the pages of a book to create a finished volume.
  2. Signature: A group of folded pages that make up a book section. Signatures are sewn or glued together to create the book’s binding.
  3. Grain: The direction of the fibers in a sheet of paper or other material. It’s important to understand the grain when folding or cutting materials for bookbinding.
  4. Endpaper: The paper used to cover the inside covers of a book and connect the book block to the cover.
  5. Gutter: The inner margin of a book where the pages are bound together. You’ll see this mainly in perfect binding and hardcover books.
  6. Sewing: Stitching signatures together to create a bound book. Not all bookbinding techniques require sewing and stitching.
  7. Spine: The vertical edge of the book opposite the opening where pages are bound together.
  8. Mull: A strip of cloth used to reinforce the spine of a book. This material is typically used for book repairs.
  9. PVA: Polyvinyl acetate is a popular type of glue commonly used in bookbinding.
  10. Joint: The area where a book’s front and back covers meet the spine.
  11. Casing-in: Refers to the process of attaching the book block to the cover.
  12. Folds: The creases made in paper or other materials when folded, such as in the creation of signatures.
  13. Head: The top edge of a book, opposite the spine.
  14. Tail: The bottom edge of a book, opposite the head.

Bookbinding for beginners: Tips and advice for newbies

Bookbinding for beginners tips
Photo via Stephanie Bento (Tiny Workshops)

Bookbinding for Beginners 101: You will make mistakes, you will make a mess, and you will need to practice.

And that’s perfectly OK!

You’re bound to come across some bumps in the bookbinding road, but remember that this is an excellent way to learn and improve as you move forward.

That said, here are a few things I’ve learned that might help you!

1. Consider paper grain

Paper grain is more important than you may think. As you may know, paper consists of fibers that lay in a specific direction; this is known as grain direction.

While not always a deal-breaker, if you’re working on a bookbinding project meant to last and/or for frequent use, you’ll want to identify your paper’s grain direction and fold paper signatures accordingly.

Doing so will help reduce strain on the paper, preventing cracking and potential breakage from the binding over time.

A great way to get a look and feel of how this makes a difference is to create two super simple notebooks, one with folds against and another along the grain, and see how effectively each holds up.

2. Don’t underestimate bookbinding thread

I highly encourage you to be particular about the thread you use for your bookbinding projects.

Waxed linen thread is the best option. However, it can be hard to find since it’s very specific to the craft and can get a little pricey depending on where you purchase it.

But take it from me: be discerning when choosing your thread. For example, using chunkier thread will add swell to your book spines, create friction, and make it harder to turn pages without potentially ripping.

Alternatives I recommend are upholstery thread or embroidery floss since they are both solid and thin. You can run them through beeswax to create waxed-linen thread look-alikes for similar outcomes!

3. Glue sturdy book boards

When gluing paper to book boards, I recommend doing this on both vs. one side of your boards.

Here’s why:

Gluing paper onto only one side of your board will create weight, leading to warping once the glue has dried thoroughly. On the other hand, if you apply paper to both sides, the weight of the dry glue is distributed more evenly, leaving you with straighter, sturdier boards.

Pro tip: printmaking rollers and brayers are great tools for effectively spreading glue on surfaces and getting rid of air bubbles during this process!

That’s it for this in-depth guide on bookbinding for beginners! Feel free to drop questions or suggestions in the comments below.

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