There are four main document binding systems within the reach of a school office or resources room.
We looked at each of these systems, trying two wire binders, one comb binder, one dual purpose comb and wire binder, two thermal binders and a channel binder.
o Plastic comb binding Punched sheets are dropped on to a springy plastic "comb" which is held open to receive them. The open edges of the comb are allowed to close over the holes to secure the sheets.
o Wire binding Instead of a plastic comb, a thin plastic covered springy wire coil is threaded into the holes and squeezed together mechanically.
o Channel binding Papers are gripped by a specially- made cover which is squeezed in a press.
o Thermal adhesive binding Papers are put into a purpose-made cover which is then pre-glued along the inside edge of the spine. A heater is used to melt the glue so that it grips the papers along the spine.
Comb wire binding
These systems share the same basic principle and the finished effect is comparable. In each case the booklet opens flat, which eases writing and photocopying. Prices are very comparable and choice will usually be made on the basis of the appearance of the product. Malcolm Oakes, who produces hundreds of booklets a year for course members, says: "If you want things that open flat and free with a neat appearance, then it's comb or wire. Plastic combs don't look as smart as wire, and it was on that basis that we bought a wire binder. "
With plastic comb binding you put several sheets of paper into a slot and pull a handle to punch holes along the edge of the paper. Then you put a plastic comb on to the teeth on the machine and pull another handle (in some machines, the same one) to open the comb. You then put the punched papers on to the comb and push the handle back to close it. Wire binding is similar. However, getting the wire into the holes is more difficult than with a plastic comb. For this reason, wire binding is slower by a factor of about a third, important if you do a lot of binding and want to consider labour costs.
We tried two wire binders: the Wire-O Punch Bind and Renz Combi RW. Although they look very different, there was not much to choose between them. The Wire-O is more portable, and Malcolm Oakes thought that it punched more efficiently. The Renz machine is bigger, about the size of an old typewriter. Although we liked a channel which held the wire in position so that you could use both hands to drop the punched paper on it.
The comb binder we tried was a Magnum 510. It is a robust device, again about an electric typewriter size and Polly Fenn was unable to lift it. It is, on the other hand, extremely easy to use once the various settings number of holes, size of comb are settled.
Because comb and wire binding are so similar in principle, there is logic in Ibico's new small inexpensive Hi-Tech machine which does both. We tried this one, and found it to be a neat piece of equipment. It has a small desktop footprint, little bigger than a small computer printer, and the steadying feet and operating handle fold down to make it smaller still. "You could put it away in a desk drawer," said Polly Fenn. It performed both its functions perfectly well, although both Polly Fenn and I had trouble in getting it to accept smaller plastic combs. This was not, we thought, a suitable machine for hard life in a resources room, but would work and look very well standing by for the occasional binding job in the school office.
Comb Binder Magnum 510: Pounds 395 Ibico Hi Tech (comb and wire): Pounds 199 Wire-O Punch Bind: Pounds 450 Plastic combs: 10-12p each.
Wires: 12-15p each.
Single sheets of paper or card which are going to live a hard life can be covered with a clear plastic film which is bonded to the surface of the sheet. A laminating machine does this very efficiently and the product is considerably better than anything you can do by hand with sticky-backed material. For about Pounds 200, a school can have a device which will be invaluable for producing worksheets and wall displays.
To laminate an A4 sheet you put it in a "pouch" an envelope of transparent plastic open on three sides. Then you feed the resultant sandwich, closed end first, into the machine, sealing the sheet in plastic. From the other side comes your picture protected by a semi-rigid, clear and very smooth film. You can trim this, or cut the whole thing up, without loosening the lamination, because the plastic is bonded firmly to the paper.
The Sovereign 320 has adjustable temperature to accommodate different thicknesses of paper and plastic pouch. A thick pouch might be better, for example, if you wanted to laminate signs for outdoor use.
The IL12 CS has a fixed temperature, and although this is theoretically a disadvantage, I would be tempted, having experienced many staffrooms in action, to see it as "idiot-proofing".
I laminated some A4 colour photocopies on both machines, and the results were virtually identical: the plastic was clear and the colours were, if anything, enhanced rather than masked. This is not a job you can rush. You have to line everything up carefully and feed in the sandwich accurately. Try to hurry and you start to get creases and crunches. It took me over half an hour to do 20 photographs. You can buy bigger laminators which at about Pounds 600 will take A2 paper and at about Pounds 1,000 will do A1 posters.
Sovereign 320: Pounds 299 Ibico IL12 CS: Pounds 299
This uses a specially-designed cover that grips the papers inside. The one we tried, the System 20, will bind up to 150 sheets, and is extremely simple to use. You just put the sheets in the cover, drop the cover into the machine spine first and pull the handle. Malcolm was very impressed with the final product, which he visualised being used "for special publications or perhaps a school centenary book, something like that".
CH10 Channel Binder:Pounds 175 Channel bind covers: from Pounds 1.50 each
This is the simplest method of all, in the sense that it is the pre-glued cover which does the trick. The binder itself is essentially just a hotplate that heats up the glue.
You prepare your book by putting pages into a cover up to 200 sheets in the ones we tried. When the binder has warmed up (audible signal) you drop the cover, with its pages, spine first into it. This heats up the glue (audible signal again). Finally, you remove the bound book and put it in a rack to cool. Once it is cool, the book is firmly bound: you can hold a heavy book up by its middle page and it will be completely secure.
This is a very quick method because you can put several books into the binder at once, and be making up more while they "cook". The finished product looks excellent and a wide range of covers is provided. Suppliers also produce customised covers with a school's own lettering and illustrations.
The machine is cheap, but the covers, with the special glue, are quite expensive. A booklet bound by this method might cost ten times as much as one which was comb-bound. but for a small number of special productions this could well be acceptable.
We tried two thermal binders, the Excel 20E and the Ibico 310E. Both cost about the same, and although they differed in appearance and detail of working, they did the same job in the same way, and it was not easy to find any significant operating difference. Neither thermal nor channel bound documents will open completely flat, both resembling conventionally-bound printed books in this respect.
AgendaPanel = Excel 20E:Pounds 130 Ibico 310E:Pounds 125
Prices and suppliers
Wire and comb binders range from under Pounds 200 to over Pounds 2,000. Schools will not usually need a very expensive power-driven machine: for one thing there is rarely a need for booklets with more than a dozen or so pages. However, very small machines, though portable and neat, can be more fiddly to use.
This is an area complicated by educational discounts and special offers. You should check the suppliers for the best price. Some of the prices here will attract discounts of up to 50 per cent.
Our machines came from two of the major suppliers in this field.
Company Image UK who supply machines from a range of manufacturers. St George's House, Whitwick Road, Coalville, Leicestershire. LE67 3FA.
Ibico machines from Pre-Pro, Saxon House, Heritage Gate, Derby DE1 1NL. Both firms offer a range of services, guarantees, trial offers, visits by representatives and demonstrations. Both are clearly very committed to the quality of their products and are keen to help schools.