Print Finisher/Bookbinder

The Job and What's Involved

Print finishers/bookbinders turn printed materials into finished products, such as books and other documents.

Some finishers/bookbinders set up and operate large machines that combine a series of actions, from cutting pages through to producing a bound book. Other print finishers/bookbinders operate pieces of individual equipment, such as guillotines or heat-pressing and binding machines that are used to perform separate tasks.

Typical tasks include:

- Cutting, folding and collating
- Stapling, stitching, gluing and binding
- Applying coatings
- Stacking and packaging the finished products

Increasingly, the equipment used is automated.

Print finishers/bookbinders feed the machines with paper and monitor the work as it progresses. They correct any faults or badly fed paper and carry out routine maintenance. Most print finishers are skilled to perform all of the tasks required, though some work is done in a team of finishers, each performing one function.

Although most of this work is now done by machine, a few highly skilled craft workers carry out bookbinding by hand. They use special hand tools and work with high-quality materials, such as leather, linen thread and gold leaf for lettering. They normally work on small numbers of special edition books or on the repair of old or damaged books.

Their tasks include:

- Making bindings
- Sewing pages
- Gilding
- Lettering

Print finishers/bookbinders may work shifts, including some weekends. Part-time work is possible and overtime may be available.

They work in factories or workshops where conditions can be noisy and the work can involve some lifting.

Craft/hand bookbinders work in factories, small workshops, museums or libraries. Some are self-employed and may work from home. They may travel to meet customers.

Print finishers/bookbinders may start on around £16,000 a year. With experience, earnings may rise to around £28,000, including bonuses for shift work.

A finisher leading a team may earn up to £35,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are about 10,500 printing companies in the UK, employing around 140,000 people. Around 90 per cent of them are small family-owned firms which employ fewer than 20 people.

The main employers are:

  • Print companies and high street print shops.
  • Firms that specialise in printing and binding.
  • The internal print departments of large organisations, such as local authorities or universities.

Printing companies are found in many towns. There are significant numbers in London and south-east England and in Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham, Birmingham and Bristol.

Printing is sensitive to changes in the wider economy, seasonal fluctuations in orders, and the growing use of online resources rather than printed material. However, the industry is still robust and skilled employees are in demand.

Jobs are advertised in the local press, in Jobcentre Plus offices, in trade publications such as PrintWeek, and on the website There are also specialist recruitment agencies that have their own websites.

Education and Training

There are no set entry requirements to become a print finisher/bookbinder, but many employers may expect four GCSE's (A*-C). English, maths, science and technology subjects may be preferred.

Apprenticeships in print and printed packaging may be available.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

The Diploma in manufacturing and product design may be relevant for this area of work. It focuses on the design and development of products, the use of different materials and the commercial side of manufacturing.

Courses in craft bookbinding are offered by providers in various parts of the UK. These range from short courses to degree and diploma qualifications in fine bookbinding and book repair. The Society of Bookbinders lists these on its website.

Entry to a Higher National Diploma/Certificate (HND/HNC) course is usually with a minimum of one A level or equivalent. Entry to a degree course is usually with five GCSE's (A*-C), and a minimum of two A levels or equivalent. Those without the usual entry qualifications can take an Access course. It is important to check specific entry requirements with individual colleges and universities.

Self-employed craft bookbinders are likely to need a driving licence.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

A course designed as an introduction to the sector is run by The Institute of Paper, Printing and Publishing. The modular course takes place on one day a week over ten weeks in London, Leicester and Huddersfield. Students are assessed continuously and are awarded the IP3 Certificate on successful completion.

Trainees and apprentices may work towards NVQs. Those available include:

- Level 2 and 3 in mechanised print finishing and binding
- Level 3 in hand binding

Alternatively, they may work for:

  • City & Guilds Certificates at Levels 2 and 3 in printing and graphic communications.
  • ABC Level 3 Awards in craft bookbinding, or in print finishing and paper purchasing.
  • NCFE Awards and Certificate at Levels 1 to 3 in creative craft using bookbinding.

The British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF) offers short courses in specific skills, including a course for employees wishing to progress to team leader roles in the industry.

There is also a postgraduate diploma in the conservation and restoration of books and library materials at West Dean College.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Print finishers/bookbinders must:

  • Have a flair for practical work.
  • Be precise and meticulous.
  • Be able to measure and count accurately.
  • Work well independently and as part of a team.
  • Be flexible enough to switch tasks and adapt to new techniques.
  • Have normal colour vision and good eyesight.
  • Be physically fit.
  • Have no allergy to glue.

A craft/hand bookbinder also needs:

  • Good hand skills.
  • Artistic flair.
  • The ability to pay attention to detail.
  • To build good relationships with customers.

Your Long Term Prospects

Potential managers in the print industry can join the YMP Organisation, which is a not-for-profit organisation run by volunteers who work within the printing, packaging and graphic communications industries. It offers structured training programmes, company visits and networking opportunities.

After gaining experience, print finishers may progress to a supervisory role and ultimately may move into management. Those working in smaller companies may need to change employer to gain promotion.

Get Further Information

British Association for Print and Communication,
Catalyst House, 720 Centennial Court,
Centennial Park,
Elstree, Hertfordshire WD6 3SY
Tel: 020 8736 5862

British Printing Industries Federation (BPIF),
Farringdon Point, 29-35 Farringdon Road,
London EC1M 3JF
Tel: 020 7915 8300

Institute of Paper, Printing and Publishing,
Runnymede Malthouse, off Hummer Road,
Egham, Surrey TW20 9BD
Tel: 0870 330 8625

Proskills, Centurion Court,
85b Milton Park, Abingdon,
Oxfordshire OX14 4RY
Tel: 01235 833844

The Society of Bookbinders

West Dean College,
West Dean, Chichester PO18 0QZ
Tel: 01243 811301

YMP Organisation

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