Some Book-Making Basics


What is paper grain?

The grain of paper is the direction in which most of the fibres lie. Grain is determined during the papermaking process, when fibres tend to align in one direction or the other. Paper is identified as either short grain (SG) - with the grain running parallel to the paper's short side, or long grain - with the grain running parallel to the paper's long side, depending on how the paper is cut.

The grain of all paper used in making a book must run parallel with the spine, ie it must run vertically from head to tail.

The fibres in handmade paper are not uniformly aligned, so there is no grain direction to worry about.

paper grain


How to identify paper grain direction

The droop test - position two pieces of paper, one portrait & one landscape, with equal amounts overhanging the edge of a table. Compare the amount of droop between the two sheets - the paper with the most droop identifies the direction of the grain. In the photograph you can see that the paper is long grain.

There are other methods of identifying paper grain - tearing, wetting and feeling for flex.


The dimensions of paper are usually given with the grain direction 2nd e.g. 570x780 is long grain, and 780x570 is short grain. But do not rely on this!

identifying paper grain


How to identify the grain direction of board

The droop test can be applied to large sheets of 2mm greyboard, but it is also possible to discern the grain direction of board by flexing.


It is a good idea to mark the grain direction in pencil on book-making materials. This is particularly true for large pieces of cloth, greyboard and paper which you will be gradually cutting into. As the piece gets smaller and smaller it is easy to lose track of the grain direction.

board grain


How to identify the grain direction of material

The grain of book cloth runs in the direction that the cloth has been manufactured i.e. along the length of the material on the roll and parallel with the selvedge.

material grain
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