Bookbinders and Bindery Workers
- Most bookbinders and bindery workers train on the job.
- Employment is expected to decline, reflecting the use of more
productive machinery and the growth of imports of printed material
that is already bound.
- Opportunities for hand bookbinders are limited because only
a small number of establishments do this highly specialized
The process of combining printed sheets into finished products
such as books, magazines, catalogs, folders, directories is known
as “binding.” Binding involves cutting, folding, gathering, gluing,
stapling, stitching, trimming, sewing, wrapping, and other finishing
operations. Bindery workers set up, operate, and maintain the
machines that perform these various tasks.
Job duties depend on the kind of material being bound. In libraries
where repair work on rare books is needed, bookbinders
sew, stitch, or glue the assembled printed sheets, shape the book
bodies with presses and trimming machines, and reinforce them
with glued fabric strips. Covers are created separately, and glued,
pasted, or stitched onto the book bodies. The books then undergo
a variety of finishing operations, often including wrapping in
paper jackets. In establishments that print new books, this work
is done mechanically.
In firms that do edition binding, workers bind books produced
in large numbers, or “runs.” A small number of bookbinders work
in hand binderies. These highly skilled workers design original
or special bindings for limited editions, or restore and rebind
rare books. Library binders repair books and provide other
specialized binding services to libraries.
Some types of binding and finishing jobs consist of only one
step. Preparing leaflets or newspaper inserts, for example, requires
only folding. Binding of books and magazines, on the other hand,
requires a number of steps. Workers first assemble the books and
magazines from large, flat, printed sheets of paper. They then
operate machines that first fold printed sheets into “signatures,”
which are groups of pages arranged sequentially. They then assemble
the signatures in sequence and join them by means of a saddle-stitch
process or perfect binding (where no stitches are used).
Bookbinders and bindery workers in small shops may perform many
binding tasks, while those in large shops usually are assigned
only one or a few operations, such as assembling sheets in a specified
sequence, performing perfect binding, or operating laminating
machinery. Others specialize as folder operators or cutter operators,
and may perform adjustments and minor repairs to equipment as
Binderies often are noisy and jobs can be fairly strenuous, requiring
considerable lifting, standing, and carrying. Binding often resembles
an assembly line on which workers perform repetitive tasks. The
jobs also may require stooping, kneeling, and crouching, but equipment
is now widely available, such as scissor lifts, that minimize
such activity out of concern for ergonomics.
|Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
Most bookbinders and bindery workers learn the craft through
on-the-job training. Inexperienced workers usually are assigned
simple tasks such as moving paper from cutting machines to folding
machines. They learn basic binding skills, including the characteristics
of paper and how to cut large sheets of paper into different sizes
with the least amount of waste. Usually, it takes 1 to 3 months
to learn to operate the simpler machines but it can take up to
1 year to become completely familiar with more complex equipment,
such as computerized binding machines. On letterpress equipment,
as workers gain experience they advance to more difficult tasks,
such as embossing and adding holograms. As workers advance, they
learn to operate more types of equipment.
Formal apprenticeships are not as common as they used to be,
but still are offered by some employers. Apprenticeships provide
a more structured program that enables workers to acquire the
high levels of specialization and skill needed for some bindery
High school students interested in bindery careers should take
shop courses or attend a vocational-technical high school. Occupational
skill centers also provide an introduction to a bindery career.
To keep pace with changing technology, retraining is increasingly
important for bindery workers. Students with computer skills and
mechanical aptitude are especially in demand.
Bindery workers need basic mathematics and language skills. Bindery
work requires careful attention to detail; accuracy, patience,
neatness, and good eyesight also are important. Manual dexterity
is essential in order to count, insert, and fold. Mechanical aptitude
is needed to operate the newer, more automated equipment. Artistic
ability and imagination are necessary for hand bookbinding.
Training in graphic communications also can be an asset. Vocational-technical
institutes offer postsecondary programs in the graphic arts, as
do some skill-updating or retraining programs and community colleges.
Some updating and retraining programs require students to have
bindery experience; other programs are made available by unions
to their members. Four-year colleges also offer programs, but
their emphasis is on preparing people for careers as graphic artists,
educators, or managers in the graphic arts field.
Without additional training, advancement opportunities outside
of bindery work are limited. In large binderies, experienced bookbinders
or bindery workers may advance to supervisory positions.
In 2004, bookbinders and bindery workers held about 81,000 jobs,
including 7,200 as skilled bookbinders and 74,000 as bindery workers.
More than 3 out of 4 bindery jobs are in commercial printing plants.
Traditionally, the largest employers of bindery workers were bindery
trade shops, which are companies that specialize in providing
binding services for printers without binderies or whose printing
production exceeds their binding capabilities. However, this type
of binding is now being done increasingly in-house, and is now
called in-line finishing.
The publishing industry employed nearly 1 in 10 bindery workers
and the advertising industry an additional number. About one in
twenty work in the employment services industry, which supplies
temporary workers to companies that need their services.
Overall employment of bookbinders and bindery workers is expected
to decline through 2014 as demand for printed material slows and
productivity in printing and bindery operations increases. Contributing
to this situation is the trend toward outsourcing of work to firms
in foreign countries, where books and other materials with long
lead times can be produced more cheaply. Most job openings, however,
will result from the need to replace experienced workers who leave
the occupation, many of whom will be retiring in the next decade.
Computers have caused binding to become increasingly automated.
New computer-operated “in-line” equipment performs a number of
operations in sequence, beginning with the presses’ output and
ending with a finished product. Technological advances such as
automatic tabbers, counters, palletizers, and joggers have reduced
labor requirements and have induced printing companies to acquire
in-house binding and finishing equipment and maintain a permanent
staff to operate them.
Growth in demand for specialized bindery workers who assist skilled
bookbinders will be slowed as binding machinery continues to become
more efficient. New technology requires a considerable investment
in capital expenditures and employee training, so computer skills
and mechanical aptitude are increasingly important for bindery
Because the number of establishments that do hand bookbinding
is small, opportunities for hand bookbinders will be limited.
Though experienced workers will continue to have the best opportunities
for these specialist jobs, the work done by hand bookbinders is
being replaced by other activities in the binding-and-finishing
Median hourly earnings of bookbinders were $13.71 in May 2004.
The middle 50 percent earned between $10.22 and $18.14 an hour.
The lowest 10 percent earned less than $8.67, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $21.50.
Median hourly earnings of bindery workers were $11.31 in May
2004. The middle 50 percent earned between $8.92 and $15.06 an
hour. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $7.38, and the highest
10 percent earned more than $19.30. Workers covered by union contracts
usually had higher earnings.
Other workers who set up and operate production machinery include
prepress technicians and workers; printing machine operators;
machine setters, operators, and tenders—metal and plastic; and
various other precision machine operators.
|Sources of Additional Information
Information about apprenticeships and other training opportunities
may be obtained from local printing industry associations, local
bookbinding shops, local offices of the Graphic Communications
International Union, or local offices of the State employment
For general information on bindery occupations, write to:
For information on careers and training programs in printing
and the graphic arts, contact:
- Graphic Arts Education and Research Foundation, 1899 Preston
White Dr., Reston, VA 20191-5468. Internet: http://www.makeyourmark.org/
- Printing Industries of America/Graphic Arts Technical Foundation,
200 Deer Run Rd., Sewickley, PA 15143.
- NPES The Association for Suppliers of Printing Publishing,
and Converting Technologies, 1899 Preston White Dr., Reston,
VA 20191-4367. Internet: http://www.npes.org/education/index.html
of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational
Outlook Handbook, 2006-07 Edition