Research competition : Ben's review – Bookbinding out of the box

Research competition : Ben's review

In 2021 we ran our first research competition, with the goal to encourage out-of-the-box thinking in bookbinding. The challenge was to design a slipcase with variable width and we received 22 submissions from binders around the world.

In this article I review the designs that seemed to me to be the most relevant, grouping them into 5 categories. I explain how the slipcases work while analyzing their strengths and weaknesses. 


In general, I designated by "walls" the narrow sides of the slipcase (top, bottom, back), and by "boards" the larger sides (right and left). I called "incremental" the expansion function including the intermediary measurements.


This is the principle that has been used most often, including by our winner, (with one important difference, however). The basic idea is that the walls are rigid and consist of two (or more) layers which slide relative to each other. In practice, this often results in a slipcase made of two halves, which can sometimes be separated. In order to unite these two halves, and to prevent them from separating more than necessary, the candidates have resorted to various methods.

- Magnets (Heike Zobel, Germany) : A are magnetic strips, B are steel plates


- Ribbons (Bart Wassenaar, Netherlands)


- Rubber bands (Silke Thiel, Germany)



- Dovetails (Prisca Joubert, France)


The main strengths of slipcases made this way are their stability, and the effectiveness of the expanding function, including all intermediary sizes. A consequence (up to you to decide if positive or negative) is that these slipcases usually look rather bulky. In terms of weak points, it should be noted that an expansion achieved in this way is not always smooth, that it often results in gaps here and there in the slipcases, and an uneven floor.

It is precisely this last point that makes the slipcase of Cora Rijper (Netherlands) stand out, for its floor is perfectly flat and even at all times.



This slipcase consists of three parts: a central part which is in fact a rigid, "normal" slipcase, and on either side, two hollow rectangular prisms, in which the central part fits and slides. This complex construction is in practice very easy to handle and very stable. In addition, the slipcase is truly closed at the top, bottom and back and does not allow any light to enter. Finally, visually, the result is a powerful and monumental composition, which complements its content beautifully.


In this category I have collected the solutions in which the width of the walls is made variable by folding, or similar methods. Slipcases made in this way display a high level of ingenuity.

Let's start with the slipcase of Ting-Hsuan Lu (Taiwan)

This slipcase uses the principle of the Jacob's ladder: the walls consist of four rigid strips which can be arranged either side by side for an internal capacity of 60 mm; or in two rows of two strips, for a capacity of 30 mm. The same Ting-Hsuan Lu shows us, in another proposition, a similar system but this time in heavy paper concertina walls.

Pilar Calahorra (Spain) proposes a similar solution using two rigid strips connected by thin tyvek, and a network of magnetized ribbons.

In the contracted position, the rigid strips are on top of each other, and in the extended position they are next to each other.

Even more spectacular is the solution of Emmy Van Eijk (Netherlands) who created walls out of a single, very narrow concertina, traversed by elastic bands



Except for Emmy Van Eijk's design, the weak points of this approach are that the results do not meet the requirement of incremental expansion. They are also of variable stability, some not holding up at all, others a little more, and overall the walls are often too vulnerable to survive the long term. These weak points are however offset by the ingenuity of the systems which are worth studying for their intrinsic intelligence.


Although they are also used in other categories, magnets deserve a category of their own. Designs using magnetic power as main resource tend to be composed of four, five, or many more elements. The most daring (and simple) of all is a proposition by Daniel Kelm (USA) which presents a completely collapsible construction, where each side of the slipcase prism is simply a board, covered and fitted with magnets, to be connected to the others. 




Irmtraud Ruttner (France) proposes an elaborate solution with portions of slipcases fitting into each other. 



Along the same line, Katja Künnemann (Germany) imagines an expandable slipcase made of two half slipcases, and a whole array of U-shaped intermediate slices, all connectable thanks to their internal and of course concealed magnets. 

The strong point of these solutions is without any hesitation the playfulness. Everyone loves magnets! On the other hand, these methods do not really allow incremental expansion, and one could also object to the need for another box to store the spare parts...


This is a principle in which the walls are disconnected from the boards on one side, and extend to form flaps of variable lengths, which are connected along the boards (Bruno Cadiou, France) 



or inside the boards (Terrie Reddish, New Zealand).

Bruno Cadiou proposes a semi-flexible construction in paper over board, Terrie Reddish a construction made of heavy paper only.

The strong point of Bruno Cadiou's design is its originality, with the final object's aesthetic closer to the world of leather goods than to the rigid casing traditionally implemented in bookbinding. The expanding function is working in all increments, the contents are well protected and the flaps that stick to the boards with magnets do not pose too many problems for neighbouring books on the shelves. A similar work in paper only is less convincing because insufficiently rigid. Note that this is generally the case with cardstock works for this subject.

A person who did not send her prototype finally developed the principle for a binding, we will see this later in the BONUS part.


There is only one slipcase in this category: that of Paul Garcia (England).

Unlike all other proposals, the external dimensions of this slipcase are fixed, and it is the thickness of the boards which is variable and allows the slipcase to adapt to its content. Each board is made up of two layers, which are pushed apart by means of a metal spring, concealed behind a gusset. The obvious weak point is that with this design, the volume occupied by the slipcase in a book shelf is the same, regardless of its content. Nevertheless, the idea is very interesting and perhaps fruitful for other applications. The contents of the slipcase are well protected and constantly subjected to light pressure. I wonder if this could be a solution for books which are reluctant to close, such as parchment bindings?


In the weeks following the competition, I witnessed a curious new type of binding appear on Instagram, bearing the colourful name of "Bambalina". 

The spine of this Bambalina binding, made of tyvek, mylar or canvas, disappears into the covers as the book-block opens...very interesting!

By talking with its creator Susana Dominguez Martin (Spain), it turned out that this novel structure was born out of a reflection on our expandable slipcase challenge.




All photos are by Kieke Schaaper, except the Bambalina photo (by Susana Dominguez Martin)

This article was first published in French in Art & Métiers du Livre n° 350 (mai-juin 2022), Éditions Faton, France

And also published in the MDE newsletter, no. 22, Germany (2023)



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