Finishing refers to all the activities that are performed on printed material after printing. This includes binding, the fastening of individual sheets together, and decorative processes such as die-stamping, embossing or laminating.

Finishing can be:

  • an in-line process – which means that units attached to the end of the printing press perform the finishing operations. This is typically the case with web presses as well as many digital presses.
  • an off-line process – which means that printing and finishing are completely separate processes.

The overview below lists major finishing processes.

Bindery processes

Cutting and trimming

Paper stock may need to be cut or trimmed more than once during the production of a job:

  • Sometimes the paper that is in stock is too big and needs to be trimmed prior to printing a job.
  • When multiple signatures are combined on one press sheet, those sheets need to be cut after printing.
  • Sheets may need to be trimmed to fit folding machines or other bindery equipment.
  • After folding and binding the unbound sides need to be trimmed. For books, this is often done with a three-knife cutter, which has three blades to simultaneously trim three sides.
An operator setting up a guillotine cutter

Cutting and trimming are usually done using a guillotine cutter. A stack of sheets is placed on the bed of the cutter and the angled stainless steel blade cuts through it at the desired position. All the stacks are subsequently often placed in a jogger, a vibrating table that squares the stacks of sheets.


For magazines, books,… large press sheets need to be folded into signatures. This involves a series of right-angle folds in which the sheet is folded multiple times. Folding a sheet once makes four pages, two right-angle folds make eight pages,…

Other types of work require parallel folds in which two or more folds that are oriented in the same direction are made in a sheet. This is typically done for leaflets or brochures. Some common types of folds are:

There are two common types of folding machines: the knife folder, also known as a right-angle folder, and the buckle folder. In general knife folders are used for heavier stocks, while buckle folders are used for lighter paper types.

Collating and gathering

These processes involve placing (folded) sheets in the correct sequence. Collating refers to sorting individual sheets into sets. Many laser printers and copiers have a collating function. Gathering is a similar process but it involves folded signatures. Gathering machines have up to thirty slots or pockets in which signatures are fed manually or automatically. The machine then gathers the signatures into what is known as a book block. Such machines can also have a binding function, such as for instance a stitcher.


There are different ways of binding sheets together. Below are the most commonly used techniques:

  • Perfect binding: Pages are fixed to a cover or spine using glue. This process is used for paperback books, magazines, telephone guides,…
  • Saddle-stitching: Pages are bound by driving staples through the center of the spine of folded sheets. This wire binding technique is commonly used for magazines, newsletters, small catalogs,… but is limited in the number of pages that can be bound.
  • Side-stitching: This type of wire binding is less common than saddle-stitching. The staples are driven through the pages, usually parallel to the binding margin. Reports are often bound this way.
  • Thread sewing: A thread or cord is used to stitch a book block together. This is often done in conjunction with using an adhesive. Thread sewing is used for hardcover books. Afterward, the book cover is attached using a technique called case binding. As with wire binding, there are two types of thread sewing: saddle-sewing and side-sewing.
  • Comb binding: The teeth of a plastic ‘comb’ are inserted into a series of slits drilled or punched into a stack of sheets. This process is often used for reports and presentations.
  • Spiral binding: A continuous wire or plastic coil is threaded through holes drilled or punched into a stack of sheets. Spiral binding is typically used for notebooks.
  • Loose-leaf binding: A set of holes is drilled in a stack of sheets which are then inserted into standard or customized ring binders or post binders. This binding technique is used for notebooks, presentations, financial reports, manuals, or any other type of publication that requires frequent updating.
  • Padding: the binding of a stack of sheets using a flexible adhesive so that the sheets can easily be removed. Notepads are a typical example of padding.

Decorative processes

Embossing and debossing

Embossing is the process of adding a relief image to a book cover or other printed material. Sometimes an ink or foil is used to accent the relief image. When the stamped image is left as is, this is called blind embossing. Debossing is the opposite, creating a sunken image on the substrate.

Foil stamping

Foils can be a real eyecatcher when applied to books or magazine covers. This is especially true for metallic foils which reflect light and add a silvery or golden glow. Such foils are applied using a pattern on a heated die that presses a roll of foil against the substrate. Adding the foil can be combined with embossing in a process called foil embossing.


There are different types of coatings that can be applied to printed matter. Some are water-based and take time to dry, others such as ultraviolet coatings dry when exposed to light or heat. The different types of coatings include:

  • Varnishes protect and also have a decorative purpose. Depending on the effect that needs to be achieved these can be high-gloss or matte coatings. Sometimes a varnish isn’t applied to the entire surface but only used to make certain pictures, logos or text columns stand out. This is called a spot varnish.
  • Primers are used to improve the ink reception or to facilitate the application of another type of coating.
  • For packaging, barrier coatings improve the resistance to oxygen, water or chemicals.


Laminating refers to bonding a separate material or layer of material to the printed matter. The most common type of laminating is sealing the print between two layers of a plastic material. A typical example of this are menu cards for restaurants which often need to be both sturdy and water-proof.

Edge staining

The edges of the pages of a book or catalog are sometimes colored to mark different sections. This is called edge staining. Gilding is a special case of edge staining in which gold leaf is applied to the edges of a book.


Converting refers to all of the finishing operations which transform a printed piece into another physical form. This includes bagmaking and box making but more general processes such as bookbinding, waxing, coating, laminating, folding, gluing or die-cutting are also considered converting operations.

Other finishing operations


Irregularly shaped printed matter such as coasters or labels are cut out of the substrate in a process called die-cutting. The die contains knives or creasing rules that have been prepared specifically for a certain shape.


Products like envelopes, stamps, or labels need to have a moistenable adhesive applied.


Indexing refers to adding plastic index tabs or index thumb cuts to the edges of printed sheets. These can help readers locate specific information.


Invoices, forms, tickets, and other documents sometimes have a number printed on them, which is done separately using a numbering machine. Some of these numbering machines can also crease or perforate the documents.

17 thoughts on “Finishing

  1. It’s great that you talked about bindery and how its process takes place! Recently, my sister said she’s interested in learning how to bind her own projects. I believe your article could provide key binding insight to her, so I’ll be sure to share it! Thanks for the information on how there is more than one binding technique!

  2. I’d like to information about how to estimate finishing operations of printed materials, such as binging, die-cuting, folding, collating and gathering, foil stamping, etc..

    1. Pedro:
      The best way to get information about costs associated with various magazine finishes is to submit a magazine printing quote to an offset press. The costs of magazine finishes/cover coatings are inextricably predicated upon the specifications of the magazine to be printed: trim size, page count, paperstock, paper weight, print run, etc. All of the aforementioned and additional details should be outlined in your printing quote. Predicated upon the aforementioned, an offset press customer service rep will then be able to give you more specifics in regard to the costs of the desired finishes for your magazine.

  3. I’ve been doing letterpress from 1984. Printers more less the public have no idea what we do. Running a finishing service for printers now is like making cheese for the guy that makes bricks. He just doesn’t have a clue what you do. Sim Harp Sharp Letterpress

    1. Well, newspapers do al their finishing in-house (or even inline, to be more precise). Aren’t most commercial printers not using in-house finishing equipment as well? If they only rely on finishing services for very specific types of applications, I can imagine that they are not very familiar with them. Or maybe your comment applies to another segment of the market?

  4. Hi Team
    Do you have a history of Cutting, Trimming and Guillotines from 1990 to present day?
    We have a guillotine operator retiring and would love to include some facts and images from the day.

  5. Hello I understand how newspapers are printed, but how are they cut and folded so that the pages are in the correct order.

    1. Paul:
      Your question was brought up by a visitor to my website. I’ll basically paste part of the answer I provided below. He wanted to know about more about magazine printing in general but especially about the print imposition process. Hope this helps.
      It is a rather lengthy endeavor to try to explain “print imposition.” In a nutshell, “imposition” refers to how magazine pages are organized for the offset printing process. In this regard, it is important to understand the difference between a “reader spread” and a “printer spread.” A “reader spread” refers to the order in which the pages actually appear in the magazine. A “reader spread” is sequential. i.e. front cover, inside front cover, page 1, page 2, page 3, etc. In essence, it is the sequence that the magazine is in when you pick it up to read; hence the name “reader spread.” A “printer spread” is how the pages of the magazine are imposed (hence the name “imposition”) for the printing process. A “printer spread,” also referred to as “print imposition” is non sequential. So, what does this mean?

      Well, when a magazine is printed utilizing an offset press, there is a printing schematic that determines the imposition (the ordering of the pages) for the printing process. The printing schematic will vary predicated upon the overall page count and whether the magazine is full color, all black and white or a combination of the two. In a “printer spread” page 1 may be next to page 14 and page 7 may be next to page 21, etc. and the overall layout of the pages in a given signature will vary. So remember, as mentioned earlier, the magazine will be printed in “sigs.” Hence, a magazine that has, let’s say, 64 pages, will be printed in “4 sigs” (16 + 16 + 16 + 16 = 64). When you request a printing quote from an offset press, it will make mention of the total number of sigs in your magazine and how they will be printed, i.e. sig #1 1/1 = 16 pages black and white, sig #2 4/4 = 16 pages 4 color (CMYK = Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, Black,) etc.

      Ok, you say, but if a magazine is printed utilizing a printer spread, which is non sequential, how does the final magazine, once it’s printed, come out in a sequential reader spread format? The answer is that, after all the sigs are printed, they usually go through a heater (which dries or “sets” the ink; hence the name “heat set offset press”) and subsequently the sigs are folded. Once the sigs are folded (and then stitched using a saddle stitching machine or perfect binding process), the pages will appear in the reader spread format that we normally associate with magazines and newspapers.

  6. great start !!! (new google )
    in the ‘print -> finished’ story….
    when you print – is it 12-up ? ( depending on menu/ flyer ) A1 ?
    when you cut / fold are you designating folders for specific outputs for designated Muller hoppers?

    it’s almost million outputs per 24Hr run ? ( depending on pages/quality )

    It’s a fascinating set of machinery that combined with a knowledgeable workforce is the reason these machines cost millions !

    ( and I thought [ staples were square/rectangle profile wire specifically cut to be ‘stapled’] and [ stitching was round wire – for stitching materials together ] )

    All the Best !

  7. please, can you list all pre-press, press and post press equipments, their description and their uses.

    Please provide it now am join printing company and i am totally fresher in this filed. please corporate

    1. Sorry, that takes too much time and I do not find it something interesting to do. Good luck with the career, though!

  8. I didn’t know finishing had such an in-dept process. I also would have a hard time between “embossing” and “debossing”.

  9. please, can you list all pre-press, press and post press equipments, their description and their uses.
    i’m a student and i’m reseaching on that.

    1. Of course! If you mail me the address of your school, I will even print it all out and send your assignment directly to the teacher.

  10. Is there a way that we can calculate fold compensation that is based off the paper thickness (caliper) and any latitude the bindery might require for variation in the process/machines?

  11. If you’d be interested in using guest bloggers now and again, I’d be glad to write something on finishing or some aspect of the printing process. Have bought and/or sold printing for 30 years…came from the days of rubylith to the advent of desktop publishing and still work in the industry. See writing samples on the ‘lucid at random’ blog on this site: and contact me via the contact form.

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