Plastic Covers for Paperback Books

Reinforcing Paperback Books With Commercial Clear Plastic Covers

Many library supply companies sell self-adhesive clear plastic cover
protectors to protect and reinforce paperback books. These plastic cover protectors may be a good solution for maintaining a paperback collection.
Remember that these covers are basically large pieces of plastic tape and should not be used on materials that cannot be replaced. The book cover cannot be bound into the volume at a bindery once a plastic protector has been applied.

Look for cover protectors that are very flexible. This is very important as the added stiffness of the cover can put a great deal of stress on the glue between the spine and the text block. Too much stress at the hinge can cause the cover to separate from the text block.
Many of these manufactured covers come with special tape used to reinforce the attachment of the cover to the text block. Again, any material used to reinforce the cover hinge needs to be very flexible. If this tape is not flexible, the first page of the book will not turn freely. If that page doesn’t turn freely, the page will crease along the edge of the tape and fall out.

paperback books

Reinforcing Paperback Books

How to Reinforce Paperback Books With Board and Japanese Tissue

  • Open the book cover to its natural fold line and crease with a folder.
  • Photocopy any information on the inside of the front or back covers.
  • Trim the photocopies and tip (click here for instructions) onto the text block.
  • Reinforce the cover hinge fold with a 1” strip of Japanese tissue. l/4” of the tissue should extend onto the text with 3/4” on the cover.
  • Dry with the covers open under weight.
  • Cut two pieces of thin board. The boards should be the exact height of the cover and the width should be the width of the cover minus l/4”. 
  • Apply PVA to one piece of board and lay it onto the text block GLUE SIDE UP.
  • Line up the board with the top, bottom and fore edge and carefully close the cover. The board will be l/4” less wide than the text block so it will not sit flush with the cover hinge.
  • Use a folder or a book press to press the board onto the cover.
  • Repeat on the second cover and dry under weight.

paperback books


General Paperback Book Repairs

paperback booksMany of us have an abundance of paperback books. Unfortunately, many paperback books are not well constructed so they are often in need of repair.
It can be a poor use of your time, as well as extremely frustrating, to attempt to repair a paperback book that was not constructed to be repaired.

Paperback books that are constructed in single pages glued   together can pose quite a problem for repair. Unlike the techniques used by library binders (double-fan binding with flexible glue), mass produced paperback books are not constructed for multiple use. They are not usually fan bound, and the glues that are used in their construction tend to be with fast drying, brittle glue.

Higher quality paperback books are constructed with sewn signatures that can be repaired just as hard cover books with signatures.
There are several options for those of us with large collections of paperback books.

  • Small, thin paperback books can be housed in pamphlet binders.
  • If a paperback book is considered part of a permanent collection, such as a reference book, reinforce it before shelving it or send it to a library binder before use.
  • If a paperback book is projected to have a great deal of immediate use, but is not seen as part of a long-term permanent collection, give it minimal reinforcement and repair as possible. When the book has been repaired once or twice, either discard it or buy a replacement copy and reinforce or bind it for use.
  • If a PB book is projected to have minimal use, give it minimal reinforcement and repair if possible.

Do not attempt to continually repair a book that is not constructed so that it can be repaired.


Rebacking – Attaching a New Book Spine

book spine damageThe last part of rebacking your hardcover book using Method One is Attaching the New Spine Cloth to the Text Block

  • Position the spine so the glued-down part of the turn-ins are centered on the text block spine, even with the top and bottom of the book boards.
  • Mark the edges of the replacement spine cloth on the cover board.
  • Put a strip of waste paper on the cover, lined up with the marks and glue from the waste paper toward the spine of the text block. Be careful not to get glue on the spine of the text block.

Before proceeding further, make sure the spine is right-side up on the text

  • Position the replacement spine on the book. Center the head and tail; then lay the edge of the replacement spine against the line of glue on the cover.
  • Press the replacement spine onto the book board. Work the book cloth into the joint with a folder.
  • Insert rods into the joint. Dry under weight for a few minutes. 
  • Turn the book. Wrap the replacement spine tightly around the book. Mark the position of the replacement spine on the book cover.
  • Lay a piece of waste paper along the marks.
  • Apply glue working from the waste paper toward the joint. Be careful not to get glue on the spine of the text block.

The replacement spine should fit tight around the spine of the text block.

  • Work the cloth into the joint with a folder.
  • Support the cover with book boards or other books.
  • Apply glue to the extending tabs and fold them onto the endpapers.
  • Rub them down with a folder.
  • Put rods in the joints. Dry the book overnight in a press or under weight.

Rebacking – Lining the Text Block Spine

rebacking a book

Now that you have removed the original spine, we continue with Method 1 for rebacking a hardcover book.

  • Lining the Text Block Spine
  1. When the book cloth spine is removed, examine the paper spine liner attached to the text block. This paper spine liner consolidates the signatures of the text block and helps evenly distribute the stress of opening the book. Many modern book manufacturers do use enough paper liners or a good quality of paper to line the spine. In many instances, the paper spine liner is not even completely glued down. Taking the time to replace the spine liner ensures the book will function better and last longer.
  2. Open the text block to the center of the book and see how the spine arches. Does it form a gentle curve or a sharp “V”? When a book opens with a sharp “V”, all the stress of opening the book is concentrated in one place. A gentle curve evens out the stress of opening the book.
  3. If the original paper liner is not adhered to the spine of the text block, remove it by gently pulling it away or scraping it away with a dull knife. Be careful not to damage the crash or the sewing threads. It is not essential that all the paper be removed.
  4. If the original paper spine liner is well adhered but not heavy enough to form a gentle curve when the book opens, add additional paper liners to create the gentle curve.
  5. Measure the thickness of the text block from shoulder to shoulder with a strip of paper. Save this measurement until the repair is completed.
  6. Transfer the measurement to the spine liner paper and cut a strip of spine liner paper. The cut strip should be longer than the height of the book boards. Remember the grain of the spine liner should run up and down the spine of the book.
  7. It is best to use a medium weight paper to line the text block spine; two or three layers of thin paper is better than one thick layer. Acid-free papers or Japanese repair tissue can be used. The paper spine liner must have the grain running from the head to the tail of the book and should be the exact height and width of the text block spine.
  8. Lay the spine liner against the spine of the text block, mark the height and then trim the spine liner to the exact height of the text block.
  9. Apply adhesive to the spine liner paper in a star burst pattern and position on the text block spine.
  10. Firmly attach the paper spine liner to the text block spine using one or both of the methods below.

1. Use a folder to rub the paper spine liner to the text block spine. Make sure the paper liner is well adhered to the text block; pay special attention that the edges (sides, head and tail) are firmly attached.
2. A 1” stencil brush makes a good tool to firmly attach the spine liner to the text block. Use an up and down tapping motion to work the spine liner into the text block. Pay special attention that the edges (sides, head and tail) are firmly attached.

Let the paper liner dry then open the book. If the open text block forms a “V” instead of a gentle curve, repeat the procedure. Many books need more than one layer of paper liner, especially if they are large or heavy

Complex Book Repairs

Serious repair problems take more time and skill to accomplish than any other level of repair. Often, books that need advanced repairs were poorly repaired in the past.Here is the list of complex repair instructions I will cover in the next few posts.


Replacing Missing Pages

loose pagesWhen a page is damaged beyond repair or has been previously mended with
clear plastic tape, it may have to be replaced to keep the book usable. If a page is missing entirely, the only option is to replace the page.
Check to see if a library has a second copy of the damaged book to use to photocopy a replacement page.

The photocopy paper will probably be larger than the book so the page(s) will need to be trimmed to fit the book. Replacement pages add thickness to the spine that can cause it to swell or split. Usually only 3 or 4 replacement pages can be safely inserted. All pages should be photocopied front and back to keep the added thickness to a minimum. All photocopied pages need to have a 3/4 – 1” wide inner margin for tipping or hinging into a book. The margins of the copied page should be uniform. The text on both sides should be in alignment.

Replacement pages that fold out of the book, such as maps, should be copied in sections, hinged together, then trimmed to text block height.
Single-sided copies should be aligned with the upper right hand corner of the paper. Since most books are not the same size as photocopy paper, it will be easiest to photocopy each page, cut and paste them into the correct position on a single sheet of paper, and then photocopy that page front and back. The edge margins can be trimmed to the correct size after the page is copied.

Use a light table or work with an outside window to line up the print and margins on the two pages for the correct placement. Use a light table or work on an outside window to line up the print and margins on the two pages for the correct placement.
If the cut and pasted photocopy came directly from the book, the finished replacement page will be a second generation copy. The more generations a copy is from the original, the less clear the print will be.
If possible, use acid-free bond paper to make copies for replacement pages.
Regular bond paper is acidic and can cause future damage to the book.
Acid-free bond can be more expensive than regular photocopy paper but one package of acid-free paper will last a long time if it is only used for photocopying replacement pages. Acid-free paper is also available in 11 x 14” and 11 x 17”. These larger sizes can be useful when replacing end sheets printed with maps or printed information.
Some photocopy machines have double-sided copy features, but it is not always best to use this feature. When a photocopy machine has a doublesided copy feature two separate paper trays are used, one outside the machine to load the paper and one inside the machine to store the paper between the first and second printing steps. Using two different paper trays often means the margins on the two sides of paper do not line up correctly. Each machine is different so experiment to see how a particular machine works.
If a photocopy machine does not have a double-sided copy feature or it does not make accurate double-sided copies, double-sided photocopies can still be made by copying the first page and then manually re-inserting the paper into the paper tray to print the second. For proper registration, IT IS IMPORTANT TO USE THE SAME LEADING EDGE OF PAPER IN BOTH PROCEDURES. There may still be a difference in the margins but it will be consistent each time and the cut and pasted copy can be readjusted to compensate for it. For instance, the second page of copy might need to be 3/8” lower than the first for the final copy to be even on both pages.
It may take several attempts to determine the correct difference between page 1 and page 2.

Trim the finished copy to the correct height then tip-in (using the instructions in the tipping in post ) or hinge-in (using the hinging in instructions post). Trim the fore edge to the correct width.

Hinging In Plates or Illustration Pages

Not these plates!

Plates (illustration pages) can be attached to a text block in several ways.

Some plates are printed on folded sheets that are sewn into the text block as part of a signature. Other plates are printed on shiny, stiff paper, then tipped onto the page with glue. As the original glue dries up, the plate can separate from the text and fall out of the book.

Plates can be replaced by re-tipping them to the page or reattached by creating a Japanese tissue hinge between the plate and the text block page.
Use the technique for hinging in a text page to hinge a plate into a book.

Check the original placement of the plate on the page as some plates are smaller than the pages of the book and are often centered on the page.
If the plate was originally tipped in along the side (usually the left side of the plate) it can be reattached along that edge or along the top edge of the plate.
Hinging from the top edge of the plate gives more support to a heavy plate.

Re-attaching Illustrations and Plates

Not these plates!

Plates are illustrations that are printed separately from the text of a book.
Many plates are smaller than the text block page and are attached to a page of a text block by tipping them in along one edge.

This is common even in books with sewn text blocks because plates are often printed on coated paper that is heavier than the paper used to print the text block. When the original glue dries up, the plate separates from the text and falls out of the book.
The best way to tip a plate back into a book is to apply glue to the edge of a plate using the second technique outlined in the previous post – Reattaching a Text Page.

It can sometimes be a better choice to use the Hinging-In an Illustration or Plate outlined in a separate post.

Reattaching a Single Text Page

book cornersEach book will accept a repaired or replaced page in a different way. Some pages will sit easily into the hinge area, others will slide in from the top or bottom of the text block. Practice putting the page into the book before gluing to see how the page goes in the best.
Often a repaired page cannot be replaced as far back into the spine as when the book was new. If the edges of the repaired or replacement page extend beyond the text block, the page can tear and need future repair.
If the page does not fit correctly in the text block, especially in the case of
replacement pages, trim the height of the page so that the top and bottom
edges will be flush with the edges of the text block. Use a sharp knife and straight edge to trim the margins as scissors will not give a straight edge.
Leave an oversized margin at the fore edge of the page which can be trimmed to the correct size after the page is tipped-in the book.

Several methods can be used to apply glue to a page; practice each one and
see which works best. Often, different techniques will work in different
1) Using a very small paint brush apply glue to the edge of the page. Do not attempt to use a large brush to apply a small amount of glue. It is very difficult to control a large brush in such a small area and the glue could wind up in all the wrong places.
2) Use a piece of waste paper to mask the inner margin of the page. Leave approximately l/16” exposed of the page exposed. Apply glue across the waste paper toward the edge of the page. Remove the waste paper before placing the page in the book.
3) Apply a l/8” line of glue on a card size piece of thin cardboard or a piece of stiff card stock. Draw the inner edge of the paper along the line of glue making sure the paper edge is covered in a thin, even bead of glue. If the page needs more glue, draw it through the glue again.
If there are some areas that have too much glue and others that are not covered, draw the page over a dry piece of card stock to even out the adhesive.
Once the glue is applied to the page, carefully maneuver the page into the
book. Use the technique that worked best when the page was positioned in
the book before the glue was applied.
Put wax paper directly in front and behind the tipped-in page. Besides
keeping moisture from traveling throughout the book it also protects the
pages from excess glue that can adhere the pages to each other.
Put the repaired book under weight and let dry overnight. When the repair is
dry, carefully remove the wax paper and make sure the page is securely
attached to the book.