June 26 2021

Projects Bookbinding Miniature Book Replicas

Miniaturizing a collection catalogue
Table of Contents


    During the Coronavirus pandemic I picked up yet another hobby making small things - bookbinding, concentrating on miniature books (because I love all things miniaturized). A miniature book is any book no more than 3" in any of its dimensions, according to the Miniature Book Society. After making my first couple of test books, I thought it would be fun to replicate books made by family members in miniature, to be given as gifts.

    I started with the Catalog of the Andrew Alpern Collection of Drawing Instruments. As the title implies, it is a catalog of the collection of drawing instruments my uncle Andrew collected over the course of four decades, spanning over three centuries of drafting. The collection itself now resides at Columbia University (CLIO record), and a physical copy of the catalog can be found on AbeBooks.

    There's also a short video about the collection on YouTube.


    The internet can be an incredible resource for learning new skills. Below are a handful of some of the sources that were most useful to me.

    Probably the best resource that helped me learn to do this is Darren Schneider's DAS Bookbinding, and his corresponding YouTube channel, and the index of videos he's also compiled on his website. Very clear, detailed video tutorials that really show everything you need to know. And now I hear all the steps in my head in an Australian accent every time I'm working on a book.

    All of my supplies came from two bookbinding suppliers - TALAS, located in my home town of Brooklyn, and Hollander's, in Ypsilanti, Michigan. Between the two of them you can find everything needed to get started in bookbinding. Talas is the only US-based source I've found for Ramieband, which is invaluable if you're using sewn-in tapes on miniature books, because it's so much thinner than linen tapes while still being very strong.

    A list of the specific materials and tools used can be found at the end of this article.


    Material Matching

    Replicating a book necessitates matching the original materials as closely as possible. To that end I ordered sample books of various lines of bookcloth, endpapers, and headbands from Talas and Hollander's to try to get the best match I could.

    I don't know what line of bookcloth was used in the original, as I didn't get a perfect match, but I found a pretty good match in the Cialux 1522, an Italian bookcloth from Manifattura del seveso. It's also thinner and more supple than some, which is an advantage for miniature books (although it had other disadvantages, which you'll see when we get to foil imprinting).

    Digital Recreation


    I used an Epson Perfection V850 Pro to scan the source material. There are no photos of that process - if you've ever scanned a large number of pages, you know how tedious it is. The Epson does a great job -- I think it's been on the market for something like 10+ years now, but I guess the state of the art in consumer flatbed scanning technology just hasn't advanced much in that time, as it's still generally reviewed as the best scanner you can get for under $1000.

    Dust Jackets

    Once scanned, all the source material needs to be put in a form that be printed out, cut, folded and bound into a book. Because the dust jacket of our copy was somewhat sun-faded in places, I started with recreating that, because if I couldn't print out a convincing dust jacket, the whole thing wouldn't fly.

    The photo on the back of the dust jacket was particularly faded, but fortunately the same photo appears inside the book, so I was able to substitute that. In the end, with the exception of the inner flap text, I ended up recreating the typography entirely, especially since the final size of the book necessitated making a slight modification to the layout of the spine for aesthetics.

    I believe the original is typeset in Aldus nova, a modern update to Hermann Zapf's classic Palatino. Rather than purchasing the typeface, I simply used Palatino, which is a close enough match when scaling the book down to 1/4 scale, less than 3 inches.

    The layout of the dust jacket was done in a combination of Affinity Photo and Affinity Designer, an excellent low-cost alternative to the Adobe suite of software, which also doesn't require a subscription to keep using, which is nice.


    A traditionally sewn binding book is made of folded pieces of paper, each one of which is called a folio, on which are printed 4 "pages" of the book. A number of folios are nested together to make what's called a signature. Multiple signatures then make up a book. Often the exact number of physical pages in a book is governed by this structure - if you've ever wondered at why there are 3 or 4 blank pages at the end of book, this is probably why.

    The trick with signatures is that they're double sided and nested, so the outer most folio must be printed with the first, second, next to last, and last pages of the signature. Then the next inner most has the third, fourth, third from last, fourth from last, etc....

    I decided on 4 folios per signature, or 16 pages of content, because at the size I wanted to make this book that fit perfectly on a standard 8.5" x 11" sheet of paper, so each sheet of printed material is exactly one signature - nice and tidy.

    The layout of each signature I did in Affinity Publisher, first by creating a template, with cutting guides on both sides, and then tweaking the template so that it would be well-aligned when printed double sided. This process is going to naturally be specific to each printer -- I made a lot of test prints with alignment marks on each side, then held them up to the light with a digital caliper to measure how much I needed to tweak the positioning to get good enough alignment.

    Some printed out signatures prior to cutting


    Assembling and punching the signatures

    Each signature page is cut individually, lining up a steel ruler with the cutting guide marks.

    The resulting 4 folios, prior to folding and nesting.

    Once each signature is nested, you have to make holes in the spine for sewing. This can be done in a variety of different ways - I'm using a custom built punching cradle (see the Materials & Tools section at the end of the article) with a simple cardstock guide to get consistently aligned holes in each signature.

    A group of assembled and punched signatures, ready to be sewn.

    Sewing the signatures

    Sewing the signatures together using a lightly waxed linen thread.

    I'm sewing 3/8" wide Ramieband tapes into the spine, a technique for strengthening the spine. Ramieband is a very thin, very strong non-woven plant fiber tape.

    The finished sewn signature. At this point a small bit of PVA glue is applied to keep the signatures tightly together. Just enough to adhere them at the ends, but not enough to run down and stick the pages together.

    Finishing the text block

    I forgot to get a photo of attaching the end papers. I'm using the tipped on endpapers method, where they're simply glued on the "tip" of the paper (the folded end). The first and last signatures each have a blank page that the end paper glues to, and it helps pull the text open when you open the book.

    One the endpapers are attached, some of an open-weave cheesecloth like fabric that's alternatively known as mull, super, tartan, or crash (so many names!) is applied - this both strengthens the spine and provides support for attaching the text block to the cover.

    At this point the two now nearly finished text blocks are placed under some weights to press them flat for a while.

    The last step to finish the text blocks is applying the end bands. These are purely decorative, but they look very nice, and fill in a little space that might leave an unsightly gap without them.

    A finished text block, ready to be cased in.

    Making the covers

    The original has a foil stamped design on the cover, and a foil stamped title on the spine. I was able to replicate these with my Cricut Maker machine, which has a couple of methods of applying foil to materials available. First I had to trace the design into a vector format which the machine could interpret. Because of the small scale, I basically re-drew the design with some simplifications, since once scaled down by 75%, much of the detail would be too small to produce good results on the machine.

    This is where I had to do some experimentation. My first attempt at adding foil to bookcloth was for a practice project, where I used the Circut foil transfer kit with Arrestox bookcloth. The cricut foil transfer kit uses just pressure to apply the foil to whatever is underneath the stylus. Arrestox is a somewhat heavier bookcloth which takes an impression well, and the foil transfers beautifully to it, with good durability.

    Not so the Cialux -- it's a thinner cloth, with a different finish, and the foil didn't transfer well. Even worse, it rubbed off with handling, until there was no foil at all left on my prototype!

    Fortunately, there's another option that worked well -- there's a heated foil quill available from the awfully-named "We R Memory Keepers" (really?). It's a heated stylus that heats up from a USB connection, and the heat was enough to help bond the foil to Cialux.

    The boards for these miniature books are an unusual material for bookbinding. Traditional book board I could only find in relatively large quantities, and down to 1.5mm. But for the scale, I wanted something around 1mm in thickness. So I ended up using .040" styrene sheet, a material I use for my scale spaceship modelling.

    It's 1mm thick while being plenty rigid enough, and not affected by moisture, so it's a pretty decent material for the purpose at this scale.

    Once the boards are cut and the imprinted bookcloth is ready, finishing the covers is a fairly simple matter of checking alignment, glueing the boards to the covers, and trimming the corners so they can be neatly turned in.

    Casing in

    With the text blocks and covers ready, the final step is the "casing in", or inserting the text block into the cover (aka the "case"). This is easily the most nerve-wracking step of the process, as a mistake at this stage is almost certainly unrecoverable, and could mean re-making the entire book!

    Fortunately, the casing in went well, resulting in two hardback bound miniature books - probably the best executed instances I've made yet.

    After that, all that remained was to print the dust jackets and attach them.


    Materials & Tools


    Everything here was printed on an HP Tango-X inkjet printer. It's pretty amazing how far inkjet printing technology has come in resolution, color, and affordability. The Tango is a sub-$200 inkjet with not a lot of features, but still capable of gorgeous output.

    Dust jackets are printed on 37lb/140GSM double sided glossy photo paper from Photo Paper Direct.

    Text blocks are printed on Hammermill 28lb premium color copy paper.

    Punching Cradle

    A punching cradle allows you get consistently placed holes in each signature without damaging the signature or risking misalignment of the folios.

    As mentioned above, I built my own for this project. While I did find one commercially available that was small enough for miniature books, I had materials that would work and it was more fun to make it myself.

    I designed mine in SketchUp 3D, then exported the outlines of the parts as SVG to be cut out of 2mm chipboard (for the support structure) and basswood (for the main surface).

    Then, because I had some scrap bookcloth to be used up from a previous test project, I had the machine cut out pieces of bookcloth perfectly sized to cover the cradle.