Bookbinders make a book from flat sheets or folded sections of paper. They bind the book together and make various types of covers to hold the book block.

A well-equipped bookbinding shop contains a variety of specialised machines which are used for cutting, folding, gathering, stitching, gluing, forming, case-making, etc.  Specialised operations such as the repair of old volumes or the making of single copies of luxury volumes are usually performed by hand and require specialised skills.  Printed sheets are generally folded into sections of 16 or 32 pages and arranged into order. Plates are inserted at the assigned places. Next, the book is sewn together and/or the spine glued.

Colouring or gilding may be applied to page edges. The cover is prepared and the cover and book are then put together. Hand binderies specialise in special bindings, original bindings and the restoration of rare and valuable books.

Bookbinders seldom perform all the different binding tasks although they will have been trained in all of them.  Bookbinders usually specialise on the type of machine they operate, such as gathering or sewing, or they may do hand binding.  They usually work indoors in well-lit and ventilated printing and bookbinding shops.  The work among machines may be noisy, although hand-binding shops may be less noisy.

One of the most important qualities required by bookbinders, as with all printing operations, is the ability to work with accuracy.  A reasonable level of mechanical and finger skill is also required and persons should be able to operate machines and perform other mechanical tasks to a high degree of efficiency. 

There have been tremendous technological changes taking place in bookbinding and there is a continuous demand for young people to be trained to a high level of competence.  The prospects for motivated young people are unlimited.

Personal Requirements

  • neat and accurate 
  • alert, patient and careful
  • sense of responsibility
  • certain amount of mechanical insight
  • physically fit and must possess stamina
  • mechanical and finger skill
  • able to operate machines and other mechanical tasks efficiently

How to Enter

Schooling & School Subjects

  • Grade 10 Certificate for a learnership at a company.
  • National Senior Certificate for full-time training at the South African Printing College


What to Study

Prospective bookbinders can qualify in two ways:

  • By serving a learnership at a company where they receive practical in-service training (Competency-Based Modular Method) under the supervision of skilled tradesmen, while theoretical classes are conducted through the Distance Learning Department of the Southern African Printing College.
  • By attending the 6 months full-time course at the Southern African Printing College where both practical and theoretical teaching/training is done (Competency-Based Modular Method). After the successful half year at the College the students have to be enrolled as learners for a minimum of 66 weeks before being allowed to do the Final Competence Test.


  • bookbinding shops
  • publishing firms
  • commercial printers
  • government printing works
  • large libraries

Further Information

SA Printing and Allied Industries Federation (PIFSA)
575 Lupton Drive, Halfway House Midrand
Gauteng 2191 South Africa
Tel: (011) 287-1160

Getting Started

  • visit the premises of a local printing firm and ask permission to observe bookbinders at work
  • try to obtain part-time or holiday work as a helper in a printing shop

Related Occupations

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