Monochrome is a hand-made community magazine. Its inaugural issue, 1.20, features fourteen photographers’ works across 50 8½x11” pages in black and white. Printed, assembled, and packaged at home.
In this article, I describe the perfect binding method, printer, paper, tools, and materials that went into creating this magazine, as well as the circumstances under which it was fabricated.
If you’re new to home publishing, this read will help you get a better idea of what it takes to make your own “‘zine” or magazine.
Have you done this before? My technique for perfect binding quickly, neatly, and without the need for specialized tools could prove to be useful.
✪ Note: I used my Polaroid SX-70 to illustrate this article because it has the closest focus distance out of all of my film cameras. It’s also a lot of fun to shoot, and it could be held with one hand. But the images are in black and white, with some blur. You’ve been warned.
The content acquisition story. 🦠
Publishing is laborious. Whether it’s this blog or a physical print, original design, and thoughtful content take time and effort. For this project, my motivation to pour hours and dollars until completion was the pandemic.
I began working sedately on Monochrome in 2019 until I halted everything following my grandmother’s passing. The pandemic hit shortly after, which is when I felt the need to be creative and to use that energy for something positive.
COVID-19 made a defining impact on Monochrome’s inaugural issue. The call that I posted during the initial lockdowns focused on the photographers’ homes — the only safe, sometimes only legal, space to be. Their submissions revealed thirteen uncanny, private visual stories.
Not long after I started working on the received material, I got distracted/depressed by the pandemic, climate disasters, economic downfall, protests, and mobs of angry people on the news. Thankfully, the patience and support of the contributors and my wife’s kind encouragement allowed me to finish the draft.
✪ Note: I will not be focusing on the curation, editing, and digital layout techniques here. Instead, I will describe the physical print process that followed.
It’s no surprise that I had to make a few mistakes before getting everything right, considering that I’ve settled on rather demanding requirements.
Most of the ‘zines I’ve seen, made, and bought thus far are relatively small. They typically comprise either a stack of paper folded in half, stapled in the middle — like the Analog.Cafe Vol. 1 (pictured) — or petite perfect-bound booklets made to order at a pro shop.
I wanted to maintain control over the entire process while producing a full-sized magazine with a nice finish that could have a 16x11” (40cm x 28cm) spread and wouldn’t take an hour to assemble. The only way to do this is to perfect bind.
Perfect binding is a method of fastening pages without folding paper, and without stapes, stitches, or coils. Paperbacks, photobooks, and most well-made magazines are perfect-bound. The problem with that method is that it requires a lot of book press tools to be efficient and a lot of labour/curing time when done at home.
It took over a hundred sheets and dozens of test copies to get Monochrome looking right. Eventually, I settled on stapling the sheets as close to the edge as possible and covering the staples with custom-sliced cardstock paper to precisely fit the magazine’s width. This method may not fit the perfect-bound description exactly, but it looks and feels the same.
My printer of choice for this project is Epson ET-M2170, a consumer monochrome inkjet.
ET-M2170 produces monochrome pages cheaper than most laser printers with better quality gradients. It does duplex (double-sided) printing — critical for jobs like this. This Epson printer does not use disposable ink cartridges. Instead, a $30 bottle of ink is dumped into its tank, which is enough for about 50-200 copies of 50 heavily-illustrated pages in HQ mode.
I’ve also used its built-in flatbed scanner to digitize all of the Polaroids in this article. Not particularly impressive but worth having.
I tested a 100% recycled pulp stock made from coffee cups a few miles from where I live. Unfortunately, it fell short when it came to weight.
A few trials later, I settled on non-recycled 32lb (for the inner pages) and 60lb (for the cover pages) stocks, both certified by Forest Stewardship Council.
The print job.
I’ve sent collated duplex jobs to my printer from my InDesign document in batches of five to ensure that I’m not wasting too much paper, should anything go wrong in the middle of a job. I started with the inner pages, creating 480 double-sided sheets for 20 copies. The cover pages were printed next.
Each job over an hour, creating a moderately-tall tower of paper that I sorted and split with bookmarks into individual magazine copies.
Each set of magazine pages had to be carefully aligned. I did that by stacking them vertically against the table surface and lightly tapping the stacks’ edges with a ruler for a perfect, flush fit. The two clips on either side of the future spine did a great job securing them until they got fastened together with staples.
Stapling the pages.
I used my heavy-duty stapler with a carefully selected gauge to add three braces close to the edge while making my best attempt at holding the pages flat. I then squeezed each staple tighter with tweezers to avoid bulging from below the spine.
I’d argue this makes a much stronger booklet than if it was perfect-bound with glue alone. Because the staples are so close to the edge and flush with the paper, opening and spreading the magazine is very easy. I did, however, anticipate an inch of extra gutter space near the spines during the layout.
With just the spines left to do, I’ve assigned an envelope for each booklet so that, once assembled, I could immediately inspect and get them ready for shipment.
Making the magazine spines for perfect binding.
I used Recollections 12x12” Black Linen cardstock paper for the spines. It’s thick, black, and beautiful. Sliced and pre-cut, for easy, neat bending, it created an ⅛”-thick corner, enough for all the 25 stacked sheets.
Having tried book tape, let me tell you this: cardstock spines are infinitely better at this job. Book tape makes the packages look as if they’ve been slapped together carelessly or repaired after a dramatic accident. On the other hand, paper matches the texture and colour much better; its thick, uniform fold lines are beautiful, and it’s a much more pleasant and easy material to work with.
Gluing the spines.
The final step. The beautiful pre-cut cardstock spines are carefully brushed with Gorilla Wood Glue and maneuvered to cover the staples and exposed paper edges.
Shipping tests/your copy/questions.
All that remains now is to print shipping labels and drop off the envelopes at the post office.
A few of the magazines got returned to my address because postal machines had an issue reading the address. They were folded and thrown inside my cramped mailbox, which served as a nice test for rough handling. I’ve noticed that the self-adhesive yellow paper envelopes do not always stay glued in transit, so I started adding a bit of packaging tape on top to keep the pages safe. Surprisingly the envelope with no padding turned out to be enough to keep the copies in impeccable condition upon arrival.
Speaking of tests, the only honest way to feel the results of the method described here is to buy your copy of Monochrome at the Etsy store.
With that purchase, you will also become a proud owner of a diverse and telling collection of photographs from the days that changed everyone’s lives.