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Hard or Soft binding? Contextual terminology dilemmas between education Institutions and bookbinders


• hard copy (printed copy) - is NOT the same as Hard binding.
• soft copy (electronic copy) – is NOT the same as Soft binding.


Institutions such as Universities and Colleges used to (before modern PC’s) only have hand typed paper copies of their Thesis and Dissertations. Hence Soft bound (pre-Viva) and Hard bound (post-Viva).


Soft bindings were designed for cheapness and speed as a pre-Viva exam copy, to be read by the examiners. Pre-Viva copies were typed and the Soft binding had to be able to be dismantled for Viva advised corrections to be changed. Therefore any corrections made during the Viva, could be re-typed and inserted into the original bound copy, ready for the final Hard bindings.

Soft bindings are for these purposes requiring similar spine lettering to a finished Hard bound copy, also requiring to be free standing. Therefore, simple glue binding secured the pages, with a cloth wrap around cover with spine lettering, although Soft bindings had to adapt to a ‘free-standing’ therefore a thin board was introduced for Soft Bound option.

Hard bindings were post-Viva (after corrections were added/changed). The Hard copy was fit for the purpose of being added to the Universities/College Libraries, therefore had to withstand the weathers of use.


Modern post-PC use, soft copies are a term of electronic copy, therefore hard copy is the term for printed copy. As you can see the term soft copy and Soft bound, with hard copy and Hard bound can easily be misinterpreted by the unsuspecting student and Tutor/Supervisor. Which is where the humble bookbinders' dilemma begins.


Bookbinders, binding both Hard and/or Soft bindings, know that these terms hide a multitude of styles, some of these are similar and some are diverse, price ranges vary from a few pounds to over four figures. Therefore, bookbinding terms are subject to a great deal of variation and diversity as much as the subject matter of your chosen Thesis and/or Dissertation.


To summarise, the terms and meanings are socially constructed within an environment, for a common understanding and meaning. The terms and meanings that are understood within the educational institution have a specific understanding with the University, College, Tutor, Supervisor and student. However, the same terms may have different understandings and meanings within bookbinding establishments and staff.

We at City Binders bookbinders will use our knowledge, experience to guide the bewildered student, to isolate your particular requirements and a combined effort of mutual understanding.

Writen by David Stevens