Intro to Book Design

thoughts through in ink and pulp

This is my current bookbinding workshop.

I like notebooks, but I typically burn through a notebook every two weeks. I tend write a lot and jot down notes throughout the day. As a result, I've slowly accumulated too many notebooks.

My biggest grip is that there is no rhyme or reason to how I organize my notes. Typically, I just grab a random notebook on my way out the door and use that for the day. Yes, I do put dates on my journal entries, but it's still getting increasingly difficult to reference archived journal entries. These books just collect dust in the corner of my bookshelf or in boxes under my bed.

Currently, I'm in the process of moving away from writing on pen and paper towards a more managable paperless lifestyle. This is for several reasons:

  1. It will reduce clutter in my room for other projects I'm interested in.
  2. I'll have a system to quickly reference my notes.
  3. I've have a streamlined way to digitize and backup my physical notes. I've lost a a fair share of notebooks in my life. Last month, I lost my main notebook resulting in weeks of my life is forgotten in some lost-and-found box in some coffee shop or library.

This goal of digitizing my life, however, does not abdicate my passion for finding the perfect notebook. There's nothing that can replace the convenience of a small notebook—jotting down notes, the feel of pen on paper, the physical accomplishment of writing an entire page. There is something intimate and personal about writing that typing can never replace. Also finishing a notebook from beginning to end give me this euphoria like no other. Same thing with completely depleting the ink of an pen. (Too bad I don't have this feeling when I need to refill my gasoline.)

As a result, I've decided to make transfer this passion for the perfect notebooks into bookbinding. Rather than spending the bulk of my time shopping around for the perfect notebook, I'll just design one. It's—well, in theory—more economical and fun.

Materials and Workshop

Let me show you the rig that I have so far.

  1. Pamplet Stapler
  2. Paper Guillotine
  3. Paper
  4. Printer

I've organized all my bookbinding material into one shelf built-in wall shelf in my room as a make-shift bookbinding workshop.

I like this spot for a multitude of reasons.

  • It has a built in overhead light so I know I have proper lighting.
  • It's not dusty like the workshop in my garage.
  • It is waist high so I have the option of bookbinding while standing up.
  • It consolidates all of my bookbinding material in one neat and organized place. I love the plastic shelf! In the nearby future, I plan to label the shelves.

Planning and Design

So far, I'm pretty satisfied with organization and workflow. It's simple: Printing, folding, stapling, and cutting.

I already have some ideas about notebook design. My Version 1 will be an 80-page staple-bound B5 notebook. (For mental reference, think about a medium sized Moleskine notebook. Mine will be similar in design to the cahier.) Personally, I find a 200+ sized notebook too big for me.I want to maximize my euphoria and minimize the loss of data as described in the introduction. Also, if I want to backup my notebook, I can easily destaple the notebook and run it through my feed scanner.

Since I make the notebook from scratch, I can format the journal in any style I like. Lined, dotted, blank, watercolor. One positive is that I can mix and match the paper design as well (for example: where one side can be dotted while the other side is blank).

The positives to making my own notebooks definitely outweighs the negatives:

Positives Negatives
A Creative Outlet Requires Physical Space for Equipment
Economical Steep Learning Curve
Customizable Less Economical if I still want to buy notebooks
Intro to Publishing DIY Notebooks look and feel less professional

What About Making Books?

Don't worry. I haven't forgotten about making books.I'm working on a progression. First, I want to focus on stapled booklets and then eventually move onto making sewn-bound books. Here the overall flowchart for this project:

graph TB subgraph Stapled A[Blank Stapled Notebook] --> B[Stapled Booklet] A -->|Five Notebooks| C[Coptic Bound Archives] end subgraph Sewn Binding C--> D[Coptic Bound Notebook] B --> E[Sewn Bound Book] end subgraph Publishing & Selling E --> F[Leather Coptic Bound Book] D --> G[Leather Coptic Bound Notebook] end

Future Updates

After I finish making a batch of Version 1, I'll make a post showing you my first impressions as well as ideas for future improvements.

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The Perfect Notebook

reflections on the best possible journal

Shelf of notebooks
We are living in the golden age of notebooks. So many types, style, and pricing tiers.

In one of my previous posts, I briefly discussed my desire to create the perfect notebook, but I wanted to just spend a little bit more time to fully flesh out my thoughts on the perfect notebook.


Before I continue, let me say something so I won't get in trouble. This is all personal opinion. I really don't like saying saying this, but it needs to be said: My idea for a perfect notebook is personal opinion. I don't know why people get offended at a post about personal interests. For the most part, this ENTIRE blog is personal opinion. And if I do have an belief that is absolute whose infraction requires jailtime and a swift whipping, believe me, I'll tell you. (Maybe people mistake my enthusiasm with castigation.)

My questions about why others do what they do or buy what they buy is general curiosity, not an an abashment. If I like something and tell you why I like it, I'm not trying to force you or shame you into becoming an accolyte of my eccentric niche interests. My interests and discussions are a bubbling forth of enthusiasm.

If you like hardcover fountain pen friendly notebooks, great. Do ya thang! If your perfect notebook is smearing poop all over your aparment wall, all the power to you!

But for me, I like soft bound saddle stitch notebooks.

Gosh, hatemail from internet strangers are strange.

Qualities of a Perfect Notebook

Whew. Now that that's over, a good notebooks—for me, in my own personal opinion, after consulting with the Minerva (the greek god of wisdom, war, art, schools, and commerce)—serves three purposes: Catharsis, Cataloging, and Crafting. Additionally, a good notebook needs to be cheap.


When I think about ideas, they rattle in my head, and subconciously my mind continually rehashes the same thought over and over again because it doesn't want to forget. When I finally write it down, my mind magically just lets go of the thought because the thought is physically stored somewhere for future reference. It's hard to describe that feeling—it's as if breathing again after hold my breath for a long time.

Writing thoughts down makes them less terrifying and less complicated. There are many times when I am worried about some issue, but when I tell someone about it, when I actually vocalize the problem, it sounds well... silly and impuissant. Same thing with writing it down. When I fully flesh out the problem-even cumbersomely-this looming abstract conundrum turns into a solvable hindrance.


Small thoughts are the building blocks for larger thoughts.

Ooh! I like this saying. I'm going to frame it like an pinterest inspirational post.

I'm forgetful. However, a book won't forget. A post won't forget. It can only be lost or destroyed. That is why I write my thoughts down.


And pen on paper. The rough paper. The lightly sweet smell of the paper. A plush comfortable chair. Elegant lines of ink that loop, twist, and turn on pulp. In the morning with steaming tea or at night under a dim light. There is something real, intimate, and calming about the routine of writing.


In Natalie Goldberg's book Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within, she talks about whenshe buys expensive journals (and I'm paraphrasing), she feels like she needs to have expensive thoughts. This slows down her creativity because she feels as if she has to be extremely careful about what she writes.

Her solution is quite simple. She buys cheap notebooks so she can write cheap thoughts. She exhausts her thoughts until she has nothing left to say.

I agree with this. Buying an expensive notebook is counterproductive. If I wanted something polished and neatly worded, I'd buy a book. A notebook should be messy. Usually when I get a new notebook, I'd scribble all over the first page. This sobers my conciousness to take my writing less seriously.

Why Softbound Notebooks?

Well, I don't baby my notebooks. I throw them, bend them, rip pages out, spill coffee all over them. (Please don't treat your babies like I treat my notebooks.)

I just don't view my journaling scribbles as my magnus opus. They are just a first draft to much deeper thoughts.

That is why I like soft-bound staple-bound B5 notebooks. I can comfortably carry them around. They fit in my pants pocket and conform to the shape of my fat thighs.

I also frequently fold the pages of my notebook back. If I did this with a perfect bound notebook, the glued spine would crack, and the papers would fall out. Also, the design of a perfect bound notebook prevents the books from laying down flat resulting in loss of writing space.

Everything Else

Other than what was described above, the properties of a notebook depend on the situation. Size, paper material, cover material, and all that other stuff is dependent on the situation.

What do you think? What is your "perfect notebook"?

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Three Types of Stapled Notebooks

I've been thinking about what sized of stapled notebooks I should make, and after further thought, I've decided to focus on three main sizes.

  1. A5 style notebooks (5"[127mm] by 8.25"[210mm]).
  2. Narrow Notebooks (4.33″[110 mm] x 8.25″[210 mm]).
  3. Pocket Notebooks (3.5"[89mm] x 5.5"[140mm]).

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Notebook Design: Version 1

I finished my first round of notebooks, and I've got to say that I'm impressed. It turned out better than I had hoped. I tend to be pessimistic about the future, so when the it actually becomes current, I'm consistently find myself pleasantly surprised. I should note that Version 1 will look different from subsequent versions because this first attempt was meant as more of a trial run rather than a sellable commodity.

In specific, the production of the Version 1 notebooks was meant to:

  • Get rid of scrap paper.
  • Trial run new equipment.
  • Test run the production of a notebook.

I feel fairly confident in most of the equipment other than the printer, and I know for sure that I need to upgrade my corner puncher and buy a paper folder.

Design and Discussion

Without further ado, here is a small sample of my Version 1 notebooks.

Pretty, right?

I used leftover pastel colored card stock from a previous project. There are four different colors: red, gray, green, and yellow. If I decide to use this color scheme in the future, I will probably sell them in a pack with one of each.

Dotted Paper

For this first project, I decided to make only dotted notebooks because they are my favorite. However, when I make Version 2, I'll make lined, blank, and dotted notebooks. I don't plan on making grid notebooks because I think that the dotted notebooks are just as good and much more versatile for making tables and charts. I also intend to make isodot and hex dot notebooks as well (for all you organic chemists and DnD players out there.)

dotted notebook
Look at all the blue dots!

The grid spacing of the dotted paper was made with the default 5mm spacing. However, I decided to use light blue dots instead of black because I find the color unobstrusive and visually pleasing. In addition, these dots can be filtered out of a scanned paper (considering you don't use blue ink.)

Rounded Corners

rounded corners
Decent but could be better.

When cutting the corners, I had to be a little attentive especially when using a cheaper paper corner cutter. However, when looking at the corners up close, they seem to line up fairly consistently. Personally, I would not mind selling this specific notebook just the way it is. My biggest gripe—and its a huge one—is how long it takes to punch out the corners. With the current corner punch, I can only punch 5 pages at a time. It's time consuming, and slows my notebook making process almost to a grinding halt. I intend to upgrade my system soon.

Staddle Stapled

notebook layed out flat
All that margin space is useful for notetaking.

I like how the notebook can be layed out flat, and there is clearly enough space to write in the inner margins. You can't do that with perfect bound notebooks.

consistent staples
The more consistent, the easier it is to coptic bind.

Just like the paper corner cutter, I have to be careful when using the booklet stapler. However, once you get the hang of it, the results are very consistent as seen above.

Further Thoughts and Reflections

Overall, I am very impressed with the final products of these notebooks. I was expecting it to look less professional, but it looks... actually sellable!

Efficiency and Paper Waste

One thing that I've noticed about making these notebooks is how much paper waste there is. Using this method, I would waste at minimum 1/10 of all the paper I use.

\[ \eta_{b}=100-\frac{A_{u}-A_{c}}{A_{u}}*100\]

\[ \eta_{b}=100-\frac{46.75\,in^{2}-(41.25\,in^{2}-0.017in^{2})}{46.75\,in^{2}}*100\]

\[ \eta_{b} \approx 88.2\%\]

Where \(\eta_{b}\) is notebook efficiency, \(A_{u}\) is the page area of an uncut notebook using US letter paper folded in half (8.50in X 5.50in), and \(A_{c}\) is the page area of a popular cut A5 notebook (5.00in X 8.25in). The equation above includes the 2 rounded corners from the top and bottom of the page which would decrease the total area of the cut notebook (\(A_{c}\)) by \(0.017\,in^{2}\).

Note: This calculation does not include creep factor because the value would change depending on number of pages and page thickness. However, it's value is not negligable in calculating \(\eta_{b}\) and would further reduce the efficiency from 0.5% to all the way up to 2%.

Losing more than 10% of my material everytime I make a notebook is something I cannot ignore. It's a waste of resources which is bad economically and ecologically. Yet, I'm not sure if this problem can be fixed because I need to trim the top edge, bottom edge, and fore edge in order to make them flush. I've thought about making custom sizes, but I want the notebook to be compatible with existing notebook accessories out there.


In terms of equipment, I've had some minor problems getting consistent cuts.

Paper Guillotine

I've only had the paper guillotine for several weeks and was expecting to tune and calibrate the cutting machine, but it seems to cut tried and true straight out of the box. However, the markings on the platform are not precise, so I have to premeasure the cut line from now on. I'm not complaining. It does cut paper very well, and considering the price, I never expected this cutting edge technology to be... well... cutting edge technology. (My apologies for the corny joke.)

For my booklet stapler, anything over 20 pieces of paper would be too much—even 20 is pushing it. It's not like the stapler can't punch through more sheets, but rather, there is not enough bite for the inner papers to stay inside the booklet after normal use and abuse throughout it's lifetime. If I continue to use this stapler, I will need to reduce amount of paper to maybe 15 or so. I want pages of the notebook to be a nice rounded number, so I'm limited to how many pages are used.

Problems with Corner Punch

I got the corner punch on sale at a craft store when I went to buy twist locks an old leather briefcase I am restoring. The punch is mediocre at best. There is too much margin for error, so I have to be very very attentive to make sure that it cuts correctly.


I'm still trying to understand Tuvak, my Epson ET-2750 printer. I love the tank system that many Epson printers use (which saves on ink), but Epson printers (especially newer Epson printers) are still is not completely compatible with Linux systems. During this first major printing job, I encountered some technical software problems. Also, the dotted paper does not always line up correctly when folding.

Paper Quality

Of course, the quality of the paper was pretty bad especially with juicier pens like fountain pens and rollerball pens. When using these types of pens, the paper feathers and ghosts very badly.

notebook feathering
I used a Pilot Precise V5 to make this flowchart.

On the plus side, I don't use fountain pens or rollerball pens very often. I'm more of a gel pen, mechanical pencil, or ball point pen type of person. However, if I do plan to sell notebooks online in the nearby future, I need to try to find some type of paper that is somewhat fountain pen friendly.

Last Thoughts

Now I have around 50 notebooks to fill up. I would say it will take around 8 months to finish. After I finish three notebooks, I will go onto the next stage of archiving them (by scanning) and begin to coptic bind them in preperation for Phase 2.

(By the way, I am thinking about possibly getting a Bookbinders Certificate License. I'll let you know if I actually follow through with it.)

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How to Make a Coffee Cup Booklet

However, the attractive convenience of disposable cups and bottles seems to always be an inhibiting factor when it comes to going packageless: if you buy just one cup of coffee or tea in a disposable cup every day, you’ll end up creating about 23 lbs of waste in one year. Packageless

Following the advice of another blogger, I decided to collect all of my garbage for a month to see how wasteful I was. After a month, I was surprised at how much non-recyclable and non-compostable items I bought. One area of improvement was reducing my use of disposable coffee cups. Since a large majority coffee cups are generally not recyclable or compostable, I had to throw them away in the garbage can.

Last week, I had a brilliant idea: I should make booklet covers out of them!

There is just enough paper from the coffee cup to for a small moleskine-sized booklet cover.

So I disassembled one of my coffee cups apart, and to my surprise, the large (Venti-sized) coffee cup had just enough paper to make a medium sized (3 1/2" x 5 1/2") notebook.

I looked around the internet to see if anyone else has thought of this but couldn't find a thing. So, I decided to make a tutorial about how to make a coffee cup booklet.

Tools and Materials


  • 20 oz Large Coffee Cup (Venti)
  • Paper
  • Staples

Basic Tools

  • X-Acto knife
  • Ruler
  • Stapler
  • Scissors

I used specialty tools in this tutorial. However, this booklet can be made with the basic tools described above. Here are the following tools that I used to make my booklets:

Specialty Tools

  • Paper Guillotine
  • Paper Corner Cutter
  • Saddle Stapler
  • Scissors


The directions are fairly straight forward. However, one of the difficulties in this project is the process of dissassembling the paper coffee cup. Since they're designed to be watertight, the paper is lined with plastic and made with a thick stock paper making it difficult to tear apart without wrinkling or damaging the paper.

Step 1: Peel Back the Paper Cup Lip

Here is a part of the paper cup lip partially peeled back.

The lip of the paper is folded back to hold the lid in place, add structural stability at the top, and create a watertight seal at the top. The paper is rolled outward, so you have to unroll it so you can can cut along the seam in Step 2.

Step 2: Cut along the Seam

Cut at the center of the seam all the way to the bottom of the cup.

Next, you need to cut along the seam of the cup. At first, I tried to rip the cup apart at the seam, but the cup was glued so tight that I often found myself ripping the sides of the cup making it useless. I just used some scissors to cut the seam from the top all the way to the bottom.

Here is the bottom of the cup cut in half.

Afterwards, keep cutting straight until you cut the base of the cup in half.

Step 3: Remove the base of the cup.

Be careful not to rip the sides of the cup used for the booklet.

The bottom of the cup is useless, so you need to carefully remove it. Take care to pull slowly so the base peels away rather than ripping the sides of the paper cup.

Optional: Step 3.5: Flatten out the sides of the cup

Putting the booklet cover under a heavy weight helps flatten it out.

The paper cup naturally curves to take the shape of a paper cup. You can flatten it out by...

  • curling it the opposite direction against the edge of a hard surface (like curling ribbons)
  • ironing it out using an electric iron
  • pressing it with a heavy object for several weeks.
The booklet on the left has been in my pocket for more than two weeks while the booklet on the left is brand new.

However, this is not necessary in my opinion because as you put the booklet in your pocket, it will loosen up and conform to the shape of your fat thigh.

Step 4: Cut the Outline of the Book Cover.

I used the Moleskine book cover as a template.

After the paper cup is dissassembled, you need to cut out the general shape of a booklet.

Add some extra margin space when cutting the booket for Step 5.

Leave extra margin space because you will need to cut the top, bottom, and foredge of the booklet. You also need to angle the template so that the image on the front cover is centered on the booklet. Also, if you center the front cover, the back cover will not be centered.

Step 5: Cut and Fold all Pages of the Booklet

Here are some of the folded pages for the booklet.

I used fountain-friendly archive-quality paper for my notebooks.
Get some paper, cut them to a manageable size, and and fold them in half.

Step 6: Bind/Staple the Booklet Together.

Once you have all your pieces, you need to put everything together and staple bind them. If you don't have a saddle stapler, that's OK. You can staple them using a regular stapler and then fold afterwards. Another method is punch holes in all the pages and fold the staples in by hand.

This is saddle stapler I used.
I marked the edges of the paper with a pen, but next time, I will probably use a pencil so I can erase the markings.

If you want, you can sewn-bind them instead of stapling them.

Step 6: Cut the Edges

This is the paper guillotine that I used to cut the edges.

Lastly, you need to cut the top, bottom, and fore-edge of the book. I used a paper guillotine to cut the paper, but you can use an X-Acto knife to cut the edges of the booklet.

Step 7: Cut the Corners

I used an industrial paper corner punch, but you can use an X-Acto knife to cut the corner as well.

Once you cut the top, bottom, and fore-edge, you need to cut the corners of the paper to help prevent folded corners. Also, it just looks aesthetically pleasing.

Step 8: Use your Journal and Enjoy

I tested the paper with several types of pens.

You should celebrate! You are saving the enviroment and also have a nifty new notebook.

Pictures of Coffee Cup Notebooks

Here is a few samples of my final product.

Here are some sample front covers of my freshly made booklets.
Here are some sample back covers of my freshly made booklets.
Here are all the booklets that I made.
The industrial punch is useful for making consistent corners.

Here is a comparison of my notebook to a small Moleskin cahier.

Thoughts and Reflections

There are two reasons why I like making these notebooks:

  1. It's better for the enviroment - The general rule is that you should reduce, reuse, and then recycle. From now on, I'm going to buy a thermos so I buy less paper cups. However, since I already bought these paper cups, I might as well put them to good use by recycling them rather than throwing them away.
However, not all of the paper is used from the coffee cups so there is still some waste.
  1. Waterproof Cover - Since the paper was originally designed to keep in water, it's reasonable to assume that it will help keep water out.

Thank You for Reading!

This tutorial is a small part of my larger project to make my own book business. If you want to see my current progress, you can take a look at my book design project page (which I update weekly.)

If you have any questions, comments, or suggestions for improvement, please comment below.

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Bolted Down Handle of Paper Guillotine

"I've owned and used my HFS 12"" Heavy Duty Paper Guillotine for a little over a month now, and I have to say that I'm impressed. I was a little worried from the bad reviews—oil stains, slanted cuts, dull blades... but so far, I haven't had any problems.

It's all about tolerances. Whenever you get a piece of machinery, don't push it to its limits. If it can cut up to 400 pages, don't try to cut the 400 sheets of paper on it every day. It will eventually buckle and fail. Personally, I only use it to cut 150 pages at a time, max.

I love the paper cutter. It has a small toolbox where you store all your screw drivers and extra bolts, a smooth and even cutting action, and a solid, heavy frame with rubber feet. In short, it's awesome.

However, there has been one thing that fustrates me, and it fustrates a lot of reviewers too. Inside the vice handle, there is a small piece of plastic that holds the rubber grip in place, similar to a two-piece shaft collar. Sometimes, when I am too enthusiastic in unclamping my booklets, the rubber grip comes loose, and the two pieces of plastic fly everywhere.

Well, I finally lost one—Yes, bummer—but it was inevitable. I don't know why they designed the paper guillotine that way, but it seems like a temporary fix instead of a permanent solution.

Here is one of the two pieces. I lost the other one.

As a result, I finally jumped the gun and bolted the handle down using a screw. I used the smallest drill bit I could find and drilled a hole in the metal bar, slowly increasing the drill bit until the hole was the right diameter. Even then, the metal bar was too tough for the screw's teeth to bite onto. But that's not something that a quick blow of a hammer can't fix.

Anyways, here is the final result:

The wide inside diameter makes the washer droop, but the screw is dead center.

It's not perfect—far from it—but the rubber grip rotates even more freely and is attached rock solid. If I were to do this gain, I would spend the time to tap-and-die the hole so the screw would fit like butter. I would have also put some silicon lube prior to reattaching the rubber handle.

Now, the paper guillotine works perfectly. Awesome.

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