Making book covers

Following on from my previous post that shows how to make a concertina photo book, I thought it might be useful to show in detail how to make a hard backed cover with spine as a variation of the concertina form. Externally it looks more like a conventional book.

The dimensions for this particular book are as follows:  Concertina consisting of 7 pages each measuring – 148mm high x 105mm wide.  Two book boards – 155mm high x 115mm wide.  Spine board – 155mm high x 10mm wide.

If you’ve not really made book covers before, I’d suggest that you make a ‘dummy’ book to the dimensions of my example using any cheap papers and board. It will help you to understand the various stages without having to work out your own calculations.


A few pointers before you begin. Try not to use old newspapers as a gluing surface as I’ve found that the print can sometimes make a mess of your work. Instead use some inexpensive blank newspaper paper either on a roll or A3 sheets. You can get it from craft shops or the internet. For gluing I use PVA glue as it creates a good bond between paper and book boards. Have some baby wipes to hand – they’re really useful if you get gluey fingers while you are assembling the book and it means you won’t mark your book covers or photos with glue.

For cutting paper and boards I use a Swann Morton scalpel with retractable blade and a metal ruler to cut against. The cutting mat I use is a OLFA Deluxe cutting mat Model NCM-L made in Japan. It’s double sided and self healing and while not the cheapest, it’s the best I’ve come across. The one I use is A1 size. Make sure you change the scalpel blades regularly, particularly after cutting book boards which quickly blunts the blade. I also find a clear plastic ruler easier for measuring because you can see through it. This one is a Blundell Harling 18 inch. It’s good because it’s got lines in the middle that help you to line up text, photos etc. The other thing that is helpful is a bone folder. I use a teflon one from Shepherds Bookbinding. It’s very hard wearing and smooth. Also from Shepherds, I use their size 12 superior brush for applying PVA glue. It’s beautifully made and most importantly, the bristles don’t come out and stick to your book.


You will need to have the concertina of your book made and to hand so that you can calculate the spacing of the book boards and spine. Before you cut the book boards make sure the paper grain is running parallel to the spine. You do this by bending the card slightly – the direction that the board gives more easily is the direction the grain lies. You do this because when the board is wet when glued it tends to curl along the grain and running it in this direction strengthens the book structure.

Lay the closed concertina on the book board and mark the border. It depends on the look you’re after but I tend to cut the boards with about a 5mm border all round. Measure and mark the second book board then cut both. They should hopefully be exactly the same.



Next up is to add a book board spine. The dimensions for this will be the height of your book boards (155mm)  by 10mm width for a 7 – 10 page concertina. The spacing between the spine and the boards here is important because if you make the spacing too small the book won’t close over the interior and if it’s too wide it’ll look out of proportion and clumsy. (The spacing for this book is 6mm between book board and book board spine on each side, but you could probably get away with 5mm)20190930_164952






I’m not big on calculations so I work out the spacing by physically assembling the book using masking tape. Place the concertina between the two book boards like a sandwich and have a look at the spine depth that would be needed. Put the concertina to one side and lay the two boards and spine on the mat lined up with a ruler at the base – make sure they are pushed hard against the ruler which will ensure they keep a nice straight line. Slide the boards apart along the ruler to where you think the spacing would be wide enough for your concertina.


Carefully tape the boards together with masking tape making sure the don’t move. Place the concertina on the right hand book board and close. You’ll now see if it’s a good fit. If it’s not closing because the cover is too snug, remove the making tape and slide the spacing a little wider, then replace the masking tape. If the fit is too big then slide the spacing smaller, then replace the masking tape.


I’ve made mistakes at this stage and ended up ditching completed book covers. Anyway this method works for me because the interior concertina always fits.

Next up is covering the boards. I’ve hand painted jaconette calico instead of bought book cloth or paper as I couldn’t find the exact colour I wanted.


Cut the cover allowing for a 20mm border all round the boards. Draw round the boards with a pencil, then with a cut-off piece of book board lay it across each corner and mark. Using the cut-off board gives a perfect spacing when folding the book cloth.


Cut off the angles.







Paste the centre with PVA glue keeping within the pencil lines.


Place the boards exactly on the pencil lines making sure it all lines up. There isn’t too much leeway for re-positioning so try and get it right first time.


Press down on the book boards to make a good contact. Turn over and smooth to remove any air pockets. Turn over and remove the masking tape.


Paste and fold over the two longest ends. As you fold, press down on the fabric and pull it towards the centre of the book to tighten it against the edge.


Carefully close the book encouraging the book cloth to bend inwards using a bone folder. It doesn’t need to adhere to the reverse side of the book cloth –  seen here as two white stripes.


Paste the short sides. Use a bone folder to press down on the book cloth that sticks out slightly.






It should look like this. Fold the cloth over onto the book boards as before and you should end up with a neat corner.

Now for the endpapers. I’m using cartridge paper torn from a sketch book as I liked cream tone and texture. Measure it to 227mm wide x 135mm high. This will allow for a 10mm border. You can have a thinner border if you like.


Paste as before using PVA glue and attach. I do this by eye but you can put tiny spots at each corner using a pencil to guide you. Make sure you can cover them with the paper so you can’t see them when you’ve finished – sometimes when you rub out pencil marks it can leave an obvious mark. Smooth the endpaper making sure there are no creases or air pockets.


Carefully close the book, gently coaxing the endpapers into the groove with the bone folder. It might feel a little stiff but the paper will stretch slightly. Smooth the spine and the edges of the book boards as you do this. Your book cover is now made … phew!

Now attach the concertina to the book cover using PVA glue.



Once glued smooth it down as you did the endpapers. I tend to position the concertina lower down on the book boards rather than centrally as the concertina sits better on a surface when it’s extended.



The book now needs to be placed under weights overnight while the glue dries. This stops any warping and ensures good contact of all paper and boards. Lay the book open on a clean piece of paper and put grease proof paper on top of the book covers. Then put a heavy book/s on top. Don’t put weights on the spine or the concertina pages, instead lift them up supported between the weights.

For this book I wanted a photograph on the front cover.


I printed the image onto Hahnemuhle Fine art rice paper as it’s a nice weight at 100gsm. Thicker paper can be used with a different effect. I used spray glue for this because I find using PVA glue on small pieces of paper can cause damage because it’s too thick when you apply it. Again, as a guide,  mark the position of the photo with tiny pencil spots making sure the photo covers them when glued in position.

As a final touch I press a line into the book cover using a bone folder and ruler to give the impression that the photo is embossed. Place the ruler right on the edge of the photo paper and strongly press on the bone folder and into the book cover and run along the ruler. Repeat if the groove isn’t deep enough. Make sure you don’t make the groove extend beyond the photo paper because you want a nice neat edge.



If you are making an edition I find it’s easier to make them all at the same time so each stage is repeated for however many books in the edition, rather than finish one book and then start on the next. It means you aren’t having to think about measurements and remember techniques.

If you are in or near Bradford on Saturday 26th October 2019, this book is included in the Impressions Gallery Photobook Fair 11am – 4.30pm. Admission is free.





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