How to turn a PDF into a printable book?

It’s the year 2024.

We’ve seen AI come in like a storm. AI generated content (and books) constantly hog the headlines. Everyone seems to think the world is going fully digital…just like they thought 10 years ago. 

Not sure about you, but I’ve gotten my hands on an e-reader lately. Oh, the convenience, the ease of storage and goodbye to days of dealing with dust and book mites. The e-reader market is estimated to grow 6.31% annually till 2029!

And yet, I still miss the experience of reading a physical book. 

It’s not just me. Even the statistics show that consumers still prefer printed books:

That said, e-readers and digital books do provide us with access to a greater variety of books. With resources like Project Gutenberg, we can access the best literature and classics for which the U.S. copyright has expired. 

With access to so many digital books, there may come a time when you find yourself tinkering with the idea of converting your favorite book into a physical book. 

You may have been moved by a classic you’ve gotten from Project Gutenberg and want to make a custom book so that it can be eternalized on your bookshelf.

You may have notes from a lecture or an online course that you wish to convert into a physical book for frequent reference. 

Or, you may have written a book dedicated to someone special and close to your heart, and now you would love to turn it into a book. 

Regardless of your reason, I wrote this as a guide to help you turn your digital book from PDF into an actual book that you can read, keep or gift to that special someone. I hope you’ll find this guide useful!

P.s. If you’re working with published material, please only do this if you have the rights to do so. If unsure, please check with the publisher. This guide isn’t here to help you pirate the precious works of creative minds.

How to turn a PDF into a printable book in 4 steps:

  1. Convert your file to PDF (Optional)
    1. If your document is on Word or Pages, you can save it as a PDF.
    2. If you’re working with an EPUB file, you can use this or search for an EPUB to PDF converter using your favorite search engine.
  2. Use a website or software to convert your PDF for bookbinding (resources below)
  3. Print the book signatures as generated by the website or software
  4. Start binding your book!

p.s. if you’re looking for Bookbinding Tutorials, browse ours here!

🔖Bookmark the following resources that’ll help you convert your PDF for bookbinding!

Free Websites To Convert PDF for Bookbinding

1. Bookbinding.js

Bookbinding.js is a free to use website that helps you convert any PDF into files that you can print and bind into a book. 

While it is fairly intuitive, it does offer a wide range of customization based on how you can bind a book. 

The simplest way is to upload your PDF, use the default settings (on a 4 page signature) and click “Generate PDF Output”. You should get a series of PDFs divided by signatures, simply print them out in order, double check the pages (having page numbers would ease the process) and start binding your book. 

2. Book Binder App

Book Binder App is another free to use website, all you need to do is to upload your PDF and select your desired settings. Instead of multiple PDF files, Book Binder App generates a single PDF file which could make the printing process faster. 

In my case, I’ve found it easier to generate a document for duplex printing. Then, I can simply select to print “Odd Pages only” first, then flip the papers around and send a second printing job with “Even pages only”.

Of course, if your printer can handle duplex printing, then you don’t have to go through this extra process! Simply select Duplex printing and print all the pages at one go. Your printer will notify you when it is time to flip the pages.

You should check and arrange the printed pages by signatures once the printing job is done before you proceed to binding your book!

3. PDFImpose.it

Another free to use website is PDFImpose.it that helps you convert a PDF for bookbinding. This website allows you to choose from 8 different types of projects which include a “Hardcover” book and a “Saddle Stitch” book. 

This website is fairly easy to use because you’ll only need to choose the layout you desire in order to proceed. Customizations are optional and can be ignored if you do not wish to be overwhelmed. 

The downside to using this website is that the files you uploaded may be stored by the owner of the website. Full disclosures have been made on the website, so read through it if you’re working with material that is sensitive or private. 

If you’re not comfortable with the idea of uploading your files to a website, then consider the following software instead: 

Free Software To Convert PDF for Bookbinding

1. Adobe Acrobat

Adobe Acrobat is a free software that lets you read, view and interact with PDFs. You would likely be already using it to view PDFs on your Mac or PC.

Firstly, you’ll need to decide on the number of pages in your signature. If you’re using regular printer paper (~70 to 80gsm), 4 pages is a good amount to start with. 

Then all you have to do is to go to “Menu”, hit “Print”, select “Booklet” under ‘Page Sizing and Handling’, and change the page number selected:

For your first signature, you should printing pages 1 to 16,

For your second signature, you should be printing page 17 to 32,

And so on…

You may have extra blank pages in the end, you can either choose to print them out or reduce the number of pages on your last signature. 

2. Bookbinder by Quantum Elephant

“Bookbinder” is a free software that runs on Java. If you do not wish to upload your documents to a website, you would find this software very useful. 

All you have to do is to download the latest version from Quantum Elephant and make sure that you have Java installed on your computer to run it.

Thereafter, all you need to do is to select your PDF and desired settings:

Then hit ‘Generate Document’.

The software will generate a series of PDF files that correspond to individual signatures, very much like the output from Bookbinder.js. All you need to do is to print them out accordingly to start binding your PDF into a book.

3. Booklet Creator

Another software you can consider using is Booklet Creator. You should note that the free version lets you export up to 16 pages at once, while the paid version generates all the signatures from your PDF with a single click of a button. 

It works similarly to Acrobat’s Booklet function. 

4. Microsoft Word or Pages or Google Docs

If you are unable to convert your document into PDF or do not wish to install a new software, you could also print your signatures using Microsoft Word or Google Docs or Pages for Mac users. In this case, you’ll have to spend more time inputting the page numbers manually.

Likewise, go to the “Print” options, select 2 pages per sheet, then input the pages for each sheet. You’ll need to set this up manually for the front side of each signature, flip the paper around then set up the next batch of pages.

Sample Image from Google Docs

5. Scribus

Scribus is an open source software used for layout and typesetting. It is available for use on most platforms including Mac and Windows. 

If you’re a writer, you may be using Scribus to typeset your book. The advantage of Scribus is that it lets you control the full details of how your book is typeset – i.e. margins, page numbers, etc. 

If you’re sending your book to a printer, Scribus is a great tool to rely on. However, if you’re printing the book at home, you’ll need to convert the file into a PDF and convert it for bookbinding purposes.

Useful Terminologies you should know

When working with a PDF, you should take note of the following terminologies:

  • Book Signature

Sections in your book. Each signature is usually made up of 3 to 6 pages, depending on the thickness of the paper you’re using. 

  • Folio

When you take a sheet of paper and fold it into two, that is now called a ‘Folio’.

  • Leaf

Each side of the folio is a ‘Leaf’, each folio with a single fold has two leaves.

  • Page

Each side of a ‘Leaf’ is a page, each ‘Leaf’ has two pages. 

  • Page Imposition

The process of arranging pages on a printer’s sheet in order to achieve your printing objectives.

  • Duplex Printing

Duplex printing is also known as double-sided printing. If your printer can handle duplex printing, it simply means it supports printing on both sides of the paper. However, depending on the printer, you may need to manually flip the papers. Check the user manual of your printer to find out more!

If your printer can handle duplex printing, you may find it more convenient to generate PDFs for bookbinding with that setting for a faster printing process.

Frequently Asked Questions 

What’s the Cheapest Way to Print PDF Books?

The cheapest way to print PDF books is to contact a local printer. They would have the expertise to convert your PDF into a book, so you don’t have to worry about the process.

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