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The concept came to me as I was picking up supplies for the forthcoming semester. For a textile class I am taking, we are required to keep a portfolio of our swatches and color pallets in a 3 inch 3 ring binder. I didn't think about the aesthetic appearance of the binder until I was browsing in my local art supply store and saw these. Except, in store, they had so many pretty colors and sizes and decorations. But check the price tag. There is no way I can bring myself to spend $30, $40, $50 on a binder... (call me frugal)

So I combined some book binding techniques that I've learned over the years and out popped this instructable! 

In this instructable, I will show you how to take a normal, plain binder and turn it into something impressive, unique and professional. 

This is a little advanced as far as book binding goes, but if you've got the passion, I have the faith that you can do it. Always feel free to ask questions in the comment section. I am happy to help :)


Things you'll need:
  • A binder. This can be old and falling apart or brand spanking new. Just make sure that the clicky rings are in good shape. Also, you'll want to use a binder that is made of hardboard. Something more like this, NOT this.
  • Decorative paper - check out your local art supply store. They usually have a sale section where you can find pretty paper for less $. You can also use wallpaper, but it is somewhat harder to work with.
  • X-acto knife
  • cutting mat*
  • PVA glue* or elmers white glue 
  • ruler
  • wax paper
  • a barron* or wooden spoon that has a flat back
  • bone folder* or some hard oblong object

This project takes about 2 hours total to complete, but will need to dry overnight. 

Step 1: Cut the Vinyl Off the Binder

The goal is to reuse as much of the old binder as we possibly can. We are going to use the hardboard that is underneath the vinyl coating and the metal binder rings. 

Using an X-acto knife, cut away the vinyl. You might notice that on one side of the hardboard, the vinyl is glued down. Don't try to pull up the glued part. Just cut around it. 

I started by cutting along one side. Try not to damage the hardboard as you cut away the vinyl.

You will have three separate pieces after completing this step. 

Take the time to remove any overhanging parts of the vinyl

Step 2: Building the Spine

Now that we have three parts, let's use names for the sake of clarity.  

F - FRONT - the largest board without the binder clip

S - SPINE - the long skinny piece

B - BACK - the large piece with the binder clip. 


We are going to cut a piece of paper to hold together the three pieces. This will be called the SPINE PAPER, or SP for short. 


You will need to decide how far over you want your SPINE PAPER  to overhang. I decided on 2.5 inches. You will also need to account for the space in between the three pieces that allow the binder to bend. You will also need to account for the thickness of the board when the binder is folded closed. Math gives many people a headache, so SEE DIAGRAM IN IMAGES FOR DETAILS. 


A lesson on paper

There are many kinds of paper that you can buy and they all have different weights, looks, feels and serve different purposes. For this project, I use a heavier weight rice paper for the spine. It is much thicker than computer paper, but still flexible. You want the spine paper to be heavier weight so that it is more durable. This is the part of your binder that will receive the most wear.  For the F and B pieces, I used a decorative paper that is slightly thinner than the spine paper. I paid about $4.00 for each sheet of paper. Granted, the spine paper was left over from another project. And I still have left over pieces of each paper. 


After you have cut out your spine paper, paint one side of the spine with glue, and place on the spine paper in the appropriate spot. 

Flip the paper-glued-to-the-board over, cover with a sheet of wax paper and use a barron (or anything flat) to smooth. 

Step 3: Glue the Front and Back Pieces to the Spine Paper

Glue the front and back pieces to the spine paper. This is where it becomes important that you have your guides drawn correctly. You need to make sure that each side (F and B) have the same amount of space (3/8 inch) between their respective edge and the edge of the spine. (refer to pictures)


Paint glue onto the flaps and fold over the edge. You will need to cut out a divot to accommodate the binder clip.

Step 4: Cut Out F and B Paper

To measure out the paper, simply lie your binder face across the back of the paper, lining up the edge of the paper with the edge of the spine paper**. You want the face paper to overlap the spine paper by 1/4 inch. Use your ruler guide to make a one inch margin across the top, right and bottom sides of the binder face. You will want to make a pencil line for where the binder face will fit into the margins and a pencil line for where you are going to cut.  In other words, you want to be able to see your guides after you cut on the outside lines.


**I wanted the deckled edge to show on the front and back of my binder. If you don't want the deckled edge, use your straightedge and x-acto knife to cut 1/4 inch off of the side so you have a smooth edge and follow the instructions above. 


Put a piece of wax paper underneath the face of the binder, and then paint the face of the binder with glue. CAREFULLY and QUICKLY position the glue-covered-face on the paper that you have just cut out. Then, lay wax paper over the freshly covered binder face. Massage your baron in a circular motion over the wax paper to get rid of any air bubbles that might have formed underneath the paper. This helps to secure the paper and ensure that it will last a long time. 

The gluing process needs to happen pretty quickly, so I wasn't able to snap as many pictures during that phase... If you have any questions, please feel free to ask in the comment section. 



Step 5: Creating Perfect Edges.

This is the step where all of that time you took using your ruler guide will pay off.


Lay your binder flat out with the covered side (the side with the paper glued to it) on the table. 

Cut the corners off about an 1/8th of an inch away from the corner of the hardboard. This space is to account for the thickness of the hardboard when you fold the paper up over it. You want to make sure the cut is a close 45 degrees.  SEE PICTURE.

Make two tiny vertical slits along the right side of the overhang. One slit will be at the top and one slit will be at the bottom. These slits create a jutting edge called a flange. The flange is used to create a perfect corner, so that you don't see any hardboard underneath once you fold over the edges. To utilize the flange, tuck it around the corner while you are gluing down the vertical edge. REFER TO THE PICTURE

Place a sheet of wax paper underneath the bottom flap. Paint the bottom edge and fold up over the hardboard. Use your bone folder (or hard oblong object) to gently press against the edge. Cover that side with wax paper and use the barron to press out any air bubbles. 

Repeat with the top edge. 

Repeat with the vertical edge, but this time take care to tuck your flanges so that no hardboard is visible. 


Repeat this entire step with the other side of the binder. 

Step 6: Finishing Touches

If all of the vinyl had come off of the binder, that would have been awesome. I would have approached this in the beginning a little differently. However, we are working with what we're given. Ultimately, this amounts to less work and it looks pretty cool. 

This step is pretty open as far as what you can do. One good idea is to split a folder down the middle and glue one piece to the inside-front and one piece to the inside-back. 

Here's instructions for what I did:

Cut out a piece of rice paper (I used green). The rice paper I am using now is thinner than the rice paper I used for the spine. This is okay but not necessary. You can use whatever kind of decorative paper you want. 

I measured the piece so that it was thick enough to cover the ugly brown hardboard, plus cover the margin by about 1/4 inch. 

I measured out two pieces. One for each side of the metal rings. 

Paint glue onto the hardboard, and lay the rice paper over the glue. 

Carefully cover with wax paper and use your barron to get rid of any air bubbles. 

If your paper is too thin, you might want to skip using the baron and just use your fingers to make sure the seal is tight. 



Let dry, and then your binder is done! Now go out there and make some good work to fill it with!
Very nice! I think it will look even better for the class that you made the binder instead of buying one! Shows your awesome creativity :D
Thanks! :)
This looks great! I'm looking forward to trying this myself.
You should! This can be a little tricky, but I am certainly open to helping you out along the way. Post pictures of your own if you make one!!

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