Cloth Covers All the Rage…Again

by: Dianna Brodine

In 1903, Paul Adam wrote and published Practical Bookbinding. The how-to manual for the early 20th century was considered a definitive work, covering all aspects of bookbinding from paper type to backing boards to cover materials. In Practical Bookbinding, Adam said, “The real protection against outward injury to the book lies in the cover.” Indeed, the cover of a book protects its contents from stains, tears and other injuries to the delicate pages. Book covers also are decorative, providing the first glimpse into the subject and personality of a bound book. In the early 1900s, although commonly used, cloth wasn’t the only option for bookbinders. When discussing cover materials, Adam had this to say:

“Cloth is more durable than paper, calico being mostly used. This is made in all colors and designs, and was formerly imported from England; but today German manufacturers produce a really good article. Plain linen cloth, black, green or grey; sail cloth; buckram; moleskin and beaver are used in the making of account books.” Today velvet is still used in the bindery, chiefly as a covering for portfolios, albums and addresses, and except for metal clasps remains without ornamentation. The bookbinder’s best material, to which is given the choicest, most expensive and most painstaking decoration, is leather in its various kinds. Sheep skin, undyed or split and dyed, serves for school books and other cheap work. Goat skin and morocco are better kinds, the latter being preferable both as regards price and quality.”

Although it’s doubtful that many binderies are currently using beaver on the shop floor, cloth is still in demand for book covers. In fact, it may be seeing a resurgence with customers looking for a high-end, eco-friendly appearance. “The on demand market has created a new demand for special printable coatings for covers and less demand for many core products,” explained Jack McLoraine, vice president of sales at Gane Brothers. This demand for one-of-a-kind covers, combined with the trend toward sustainability, has created a renewed interest in cloth covers. Gane is a distributor for Holliston LLC, which produces HP Indigo-friendly cloth products. “Impressions ‘F’ grade cloth and Pinnacle ‘B’ grade cloth passed rigid testing from Hewlett Packard and the Rochester Institute of Technology,” said Wagenaar. “This product affords the opportunity to produce one image at a time using a high-quality cloth product.”

A product offered through LBS, Des Moines, IA, was featured on the autographed versions of the presidential autobiographies of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The books are covered in Verona Natural-finish rayon cloth with tissue backing. “Verona is a luxurious natural cloth woven from rayon fibers and backed with lightweight paper to support the fabric and prevent adhesive from seeping through the weave during production,” explained Rob Mauritz, vice president of sales for LBS.” Rayon is a popular choice because of its distinctive texture and palette of brightly saturated colors. It also decorates beautifully with foil stamping, blind embossing, screenprinting and litho printing.”

Both presidential autobiographies were foil stamped, one in gold and the other in silver on Verona cloth. Midnight 570 was chosen for the Clinton book, while the Bush tome was covered in Coal Black 599. Foil stamping on rayon cloth, or even natural cloth, often has a learning curve. “Many of our customers routinely stamp tightly woven cottons coated in aqueous acrylic,” said Mauritz. “The coating fills in the gaps between the woven fibers and makes the surface smooth and fairly uniform. These qualities make the cloth very forgiving during the stamping process. However, the rayon used in Verona isn’t spun or woven as tightly as the coated cotton cloth. This relaxed weave gives Verona its appealing texture, but also offers less surface area for foil adhesion.”

In the case of the Bush and Clinton autobiographies, the challenge was overcome by using a foil type with a release that conforms to the rough texture of the cloth well enough to hold the design. “We suggest film with backing from Great Western,” Mauritz stated. “This foil often is used in library binderies and has a good balance of adhesion and strength – perfect for working with open-weave cloth.” Mauritz also suggested double-hitting the design to crush the fibers, creating a more uniform stamping surface. In all cases, each bindery should consider testing the cover material on its own equipment. LBS provides materials for setup and technical consultation for that purpose.

Gary Sweeney, vice president, marketing and sales for Holliston, Church Hill, TN, discussed a cloth cover featured in The Band, a collection of music from the years 1968 to 1975 (5-disc CD set), housed in a hardbound book. Covered in Linen-Set®, a cotton-based B grade book cloth, the cover shows detailed print work that was offset-printed with conventional inks and finished with a UV topcoat. “The end user was interested in a product that would be sustainable, durable and offered a unique look,” said Sweeney. “The texture and durability of cloth cover material are well known, but what is not commonly known is that many types of cloth make excellent substrates for printing.” With the natural fibers of a woven cloth comes the difficulty of printing a textured surface. Enhanced pressure and additional drying time are generally required to achieve maximum ink coverage and preparation prior to the UV top coat application.

It seems that in bookbinding, what’s old is new again. Cloth covers are seeing use in hardcover books, menus, photo albums and packaging applications. As a result, cover material suppliers are stepping up to serve the market with cloth that is printable, stampable and appealing.