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Bookbinding is an age-old craft steeped in tradition, and the adhesive used in the process can shape the longevity and quality of the finished book. As an adhesive supplier, we work with many bookbinding companies and understand that some adhesives are more suited for specific applications.

This article will cover the top three adhesive choices for bookbinding work, their unique characteristics, and specific applications.

Gelatin Glue Bookbinding Applications

Open book with red cover

Traditional hardcover bound book with gelatin glue. 

Gelatin glue, also known as hide glue, has been used in the bookbinding industry for centuries due to its excellent adhesive properties and historical significance. It’s commonly used in traditional bookbinding, also known as hardcover binding. Here's how gelatin glue can be used in bookbinding:

  • Binding Text Blocks: Gelatin glue is commonly used to bind a book's individual pages or sections together. This process involves applying a thin layer of gelatin glue to the spine of each section and then pressing them together. As the glue dries, it forms a strong, durable bond that holds the pages in place.

  • Backlining: In some bookbinding methods, a layer of gelatin glue is applied to the spine of the text block before attaching the book cover. This process, known as backlining, helps reinforce the spine and provides additional strength and durability to the book.

  • Endpapers and Hinges: Gelatin glue can be used to attach endpapers to the inside covers of a book. It is also used to create hinges that allow the book cover to open and close smoothly. These hinges are typically applied with a flexible adhesive to ensure the book can lay flat when opened.

  • Repair and Restoration: Gelatin glue is often used in book restoration and repair work. It can be employed to reattach loose pages, mend torn pages, and repair damaged spines. The adhesive's reversible properties make it ideal for restoration work because it can be softened and reactivated if necessary.

  • Leather Tooling and Decoration: In fine bookbinding, gelatin glue can be used to attach leather covers to the book's boards. Additionally, it may be used in tooling and decorating leather covers. Gelatin glue allows for precise adhesion of decorative elements.

  • Conservation: Gelatin glue is preferred in book conservation efforts because it is a reversible adhesive. Conservators can remove and replace old glue without causing harm to the original materials, which is essential when preserving valuable or historic books.

  • Pasting Labels and Titling: Gelatin glue can be used to attach labels, title plates, or other identifying information to the spine or cover of a book. This ensures that the book is properly labeled and cataloged.

While gelatin glue has been widely used in bookbinding, modern synthetic adhesives offer some advantages in strength and flexibility. Conservators and bookbinders often choose the adhesive that best suits the specific needs of a project while considering the historical context and long-term preservation goals.

PUR Glue Bookbinding Applications

Open Book

An example of perfect binding for a softcover book with PUR glue. 

PUR (Polyurethane Reactive) glue has gained popularity in the bookbinding industry due to its exceptional adhesive properties and versatility. PUR adhesives are often used for perfecting binding, also called softcover binding. Softcover books are often wanted for educational environments, as the laminated cardstock they are bound in offer protection from wrinkles, tears, creases, and dirt.

 Here's how PUR glue can be used in bookbinding:

  • Perfect Binding: PUR glue is commonly used in perfect binding, a popular bookbinding method for softcover and paperback books. In perfect binding, the pages are trimmed and roughened at the spine, and then a thin layer of PUR adhesive is applied to the spine edge. The cover is then wrapped around the text block, and the adhesive cures, forming a strong and flexible bond. PUR glue provides excellent adhesion to a wide range of paper types and has superior durability over time.

  • Lay-Flat Binding: PUR glue is ideal for lay-flat binding, which allows books to open flat without damaging the spine. This is especially important for cookbooks, reference materials, and technical manuals. PUR adhesive's flexible and durable nature ensures that the pages remain securely bound while allowing the book to lay flat.

  • High-Quality Publications: PUR glue is often chosen for high-quality publications, such as art books, photography books, and premium catalogs, where a strong and long-lasting bond is essential. It provides a clean and professional appearance with minimal glue squeeze-out.

  • Security and Legal Documents: PUR adhesive is used for binding legal documents and other important materials where tamper resistance and longevity are crucial. The strong bond created by PUR glue helps ensure that the documents remain intact and secure.

  • Coated and Glossy Papers: PUR glue is compatible with a wide range of paper finishes, including coated and glossy papers, which can be challenging for other binding adhesives. This makes it suitable for books with specialized paper types.

  • Environmental Resistance: PUR glue is known for resisting environmental factors like temperature extremes and moisture. This makes it suitable for books subjected to harsh storage conditions.

  • Book Repair and Restoration: In book restoration work, PUR adhesive can be used to repair damaged spines and rebind books that require a strong and long-lasting bond.

Hot Melt Bookbinding Applications

Hot melt glue, also known as hot glue, is not typically used in traditional bookbinding due to certain limitations of this adhesive in bookbinding applications. However, it may find some specialized uses in specific bookbinding-related. Here are some potential applications for hot melt glue in bookbinding:

  • Spine Reinforcement: Hot melt glue can be used to reinforce the spine of a book by applying a thin layer along the spine's edge. This can hold the pages together and provide some additional strength, especially for thinner publications or booklets. However, it may not be suitable for larger or heavier books.

  • Temporary Bindings: Hot melt glue can be used for temporary or short-term bindings, such as drafts, prototypes, or mock-ups. It provides a quick and easily reversible binding solution when permanent binding is not required.

  • Craft Projects: Hot melt glue is often used in book-related crafts, such as making homemade journals, scrapbooks, or decorative book covers. It can be used to attach embellishments, decorations, or inserts to the pages or covers.

  • Book Repairs: In some cases, hot melt glue may be used for minor book repairs, such as reattaching loose pages or mending small tears. However, it should be used sparingly and with caution, as it may not provide the same long-term durability as other adhesives used in book conservation.

Hot melt glue, while useful in some applications, has some drawbacks for traditional bookbinding, including:

  • Limited Flexibility: Hot melt glue tends to be less flexible than other binding adhesives like PUR or traditional animal glues. This lack of flexibility can lead to problems in books that need to open and close frequently.

  • Susceptibility to Temperature: Hot melt glue can soften or melt at high temperatures, which could be a concern if books are exposed to heat or sunlight.

  • Lack of Reversibility: Hot melt glue is generally not reversible. This means that it may be challenging to repair or restore a book bound with hot melt glue without causing damage to the pages.

  • Limited Adhesion to Some Materials: Hot melt glue may not adhere well to certain types of paper, coatings, or surfaces commonly used in bookbinding.

In summary, while hot melt glue has its uses in some bookbinding-related tasks, it is not the preferred adhesive for traditional bookbinding, where long-term durability and archival quality are essential. More specialized adhesives, like PUR glue or gelatin glues, are preferred for most bookbinding because of their superior adhesive properties and suitability for long-lasting bindings.

Choosing the Right Glue for Bookbinding

Ultimately, the right glue to use for bookbinding comes down to your specific application and the surfaces you are using. Often, the best way to determine if an adhesive is suitable is to perform research, including dyne testing, glue-up tests, force tests, heat, humidity, and freezer tests. If you need help, let us know! Our adhesive experts take pride in our Lab Testing capabilities.

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Topics: Book Binding Adhesive, PUR Glue, bookbinding manufacturers, gelatin glue