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Thesis binding and printing options


If you have recently completed your dissertation congratulations are in order! But the work is not finished – you now have to get your dissertation in front of examiners in a professional format. There are a number of factors to consider when producing a physical copy of your thesis:

  • Type of binding (for example: helical or softback)
  • Paper size (are some pages better suited for A3?)
  • Print options (single or double-sided?)
  • Paper quality (a range of gsm options are available)

What is Thesis/Dissertation Binding?

Thesis binding involves fastening the physical pages of your dissertation together to produce a single presentable document. As simple as it sounds, there is a lot to get right, and dissertation binding is important in giving a good impression of your work.

What are the different types of dissertation binding?

Spiral/Helical/Wired binding

Spiral binding (also known as helical binding) and wired binding are very common for bachelors and masters dissertations. These options give a professional look and allow pages to be rotated 360 degrees, making for easy reading. Spiral binding uses a plastic coil, whilst wire binding uses a metal wire.


Fastback/softback binding

Fastback binding (also referred to as softback binding) uses glue to keep your dissertation pages together. This is not a very common choice for dissertation binding as it is rather formal for bachelors and masters, and perhaps not formal enough for PhD theses. Fastback binding also comes with a risk of glue losing fixity over time leading to pages falling out.


Thermal binding

Thermal binding is not very common but can be used for bachelors or masters dissertations. This type of binding is permanent (so pages cannot be easily added/removed) but is generally inexpensive. Another disadvantage of thermal bindings is that pages cannot be opened 360 degrees (as with fastback binding).


Plastic comb binding

Comb binding involves punching holes down the side of the page and binding with a plastic comb strip. This binding option is also suitable for bachelors and masters dissertations. It is a cheap option but can sometimes become difficult to navigate as pages become stuck on the plastic combing. One advantage of plastic comb binding is that it is easy to add and remove pages.


Paperback binding

Paperback binding will give your manuscript the appearance of a book and comes with personalisation options i.e. a titled cover page, spine and back. This gives a very professional appearance, too formal for a bachelors or masters dissertation, but ideal for a PhD thesis.


Hardback binding

Hardback binding again gives a book like appearance, but is expensive and typically reserved only for PhD theses. In addition to custom titling, spine and back, there is a range of material and colour options for hardback binding e.g. the gold lettering you may have seen on academic books.


What Paper Size Should I use?

Most universities will provide very clear instruction on paper sizes, most often A4. However, some pages such as technical drawings or maps may be best shown on A3. In these cases ‘fold out’ pages are an option but must be approved by your university guidelines.

Print Options:

Check your university guidelines when deciding whether to print single or double sided. If printing double sided, be careful as some pages should not be printed back to back. For example, new chapters should start on the right hand page (of a double spread) so blank pages may be required.

What Paper Quality is Suitable?

Paper thickness is measured in grams per square metre (gsm). Although there is no ideal paper thickness, too thin and you risk your dissertation feeling low quality. Too high and you risk your dissertation pages feeling like cardboard, and again pointing to low quality.

A general rule of thumb is to go with around 90gsm for pages inside a dissertation bound through helical binding, fastback binding or plastic comb binding. Paperback and hardback dissertations call for higher quality paper – around 110gsm.

Popular UK Services:

Ryman is an affordable thesis binding service, with a range of options for dissertations and theses. Ryman often have stored on University campuses or nearby, so you can check the services provided by your local store (as an alternative to ordering online).

Doxdirect is an online service which offers a large amount of customisation when choosing a thesis binding option. The door to door service also offers a wide range of delivery and production options so you get your bound thesis in your hand as quick as possible.

Thesis Online has been around for a long time (established in 1920), and have a very good reputation. They offer an online thesis binding service and have a hand online calculator which allows you to modify your binding, printing, and deliver options and see the impact on cost in real-time.

Things to Note:

Whichever service you use to bind your thesis or dissertation, there are a few important things to remember:

When using an online service check the turnaround time. Most services take around a week to print, bind, and deliver, though faster services are available at a cost. Some universities have an onsite printing service that students can use. These services likely offer binding options which satisfy your department’s dissertation submission requirements.

An electronic copy and physical copy of your dissertation will be read differently. Whilst consecutive pages are easy to compare on a computer screen, a physical copy may have pages printed on opposite sides of a single page (if double page printed) which makes side by side comparisons difficult. This is something to consider if your text frequently refers to images or tables overleaf.

Most thesis printing services only accept PDF file formats. Ensure that when you convert your dissertation to PDF that you review the document to ensure no errors occur during conversion.

Check your university dissertation guidance on margin requirements. It is also important to factor in margins when considering binding options. Typically a minimum margin of 2.5cm is required on the side of the page to be bound.

Although it comes with an additional cost, it may be useful to purchase personal copies of your bound thesis. You can then bring your bound copy to your Viva, and ensure that what you and your examiners are looking at are identical.




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