Skip to Main Content

Artists' Books: Glossary

Artists' books defined: artworks realized in the form of a book.

A to Z list



Alphabet books: Books whose content focuses on letters of the alphabet displayed sequentially with corresponding words and/or images.

Accordion bindings: A continuous piece of paper (either a single sheet or joined sheets) which is folded back and forth into equal increments resembling an accordion.

Adhesive bindings: A type of binding in which leaves are secured together solely with an adhesive.

All along sewing: A method of sewing signatures through the fold by hand. Sewing thread travels in and out of the fold of one signature, from kettle stitch to kettle stitch, then passes to the next signature and travels in and out of the fold from kettle stitch to kettle stitch. Each pass of thread along the length of the spine attaches one signature to the text block.

Altered books: A form of mixed media artwork in which an artist creates a new, original work by altering an existing book

Alternative publications: Publications providing alternative information and/or using alternative distribution methods to mainstream publications. They differ from mainstream publications along one or more of the following dimensions: their content, aesthetic, modes of production, modes of distribution, and audience relations.

Aquatints: Intaglio prints resembling watercolors. The printing plate is covered with a coating and etched with acid so as to create a range of tonal values, often combined with line work.

Artists magazines: Magazines produced by an artist, group of artists, and/or occasionally with other collaborators.

Artists books: Artworks realized in the form of a book.

Asa-no-ha-toji: A type of Japanese stab binding using a decorative and functional stitching pattern resembling a hemp leaf.

Assemblages: Artworks entirely composed of or including found objects.

Back to the top


Belly bands: A strip of material wrapped around a book, often including titling or advertising content.

Blank books: Books with no textual or illustrative markings on their pages.

Blizzard books: Books created using a nonadhesive structure invented by Hedi Kyle (1990s) in which a single continuous piece of paper is folded to resemble multiple signatures when viewed from the spine side. This results in a series of pages, each containing a pocket.

Board books: Books whose cover(s) and interior leaves are thick paperboard. Commonly, each leaf is a minimum of two plies of paperboard thickness.

Board games: Games involving counters or pieces moved or placed on a pre-marked surface or "board," according to a set of rules.

Book objects: Sculptural or two dimensional artworks related to the form or concept of the book and/or its typical materials.

Bookmarks: Thin markers, commonly made of card, leather, or fabric, used to mark a place in a book. They may be attached to the book's binding or independent of it.

Boxes: Rigid containers in which materials can be kept or carried.

Brads: Fasteners inserted into punched holes. Consist of legs or tines which are separated and bent over to secure book leaves.

Buttonhole bindings: Sewn binding in which one or more areas have been removed from the spine cover, revealing the text block. Stitches are looped around the remaining spine pieces through each signature to secure the covering material to the text block.

Back to the top


Calligraphy: A visual art related to writing in which the design and execution of lettering is performed with a broad-tipped instrument or brush.

Carousel books: Multi-layered constructions which fold flat, opening either full length or into a circle to create a set of "scenes."

Case bindings: Bindings in which thr text block and case-- that is, the boards and covering material -- are prepared separately and later joined by gluing the end pages of the text block to the inside of the covers. This is a common binding method used for mass-produced hardcover editions.

Chapbooks: Small paper booklets usually made from a single sheet.

Clamshell boxes: Enclosures consisting of two trays mounted to a case, one tray fitting within the other when closed.

Cloth bindings: Bindings made with cloth covering material.

Collages: Artworks composed of paper, cloth, or other materials pasted onto a flat surface, resulting in a two-dimensional or very low-relief work.

Collographs: Intaglio prints using highly textured printing surfaces in which materials are applied to a rigid substrate, such as paperboard or wood, often achieving tonal effects.

Collotypes: Photomechanical prints produced by photolithography in which the printing plate is prepared using a bichromate process, gelatin, and greasy ink giving the prints their characteristic wormlike patterns of cracks.

Colophons: Inscriptions traditionally placed at the end of a book.

Coloring books: Books containing line art, intended to be filled with color by a user.

Comb bindings: Bindings containing round plastic spines which pass through rectangular-punched holes to secure leaves.

Comic books: Books presented primarily in the form of sequential panels representing scenes.

Composite photographs: Books presented primarily in the form of sequential panels representing scenes.

Conceptual artworks: Artworks in which the ideas or concepts expressed or referred to are their defining characteristics. Any finished material result is frequently regarded as a form of documentation rather than as part of the artwork itself.

Concertina bindings: Books bound by a strip of paper folded into an accordion fashion. Leaves or gatherings are attached to the accordion strip.

Concrete poems: Poems in which meaning is derived from spatial, pictorial, or typographic characteristics of the work, as well as from the sense of the words.

Coptic bindings: Binding structures in which gatherings are sewn through their folds and link or chain stitches are used to connect adjacent signatures. Typically, the spine is exposed and the thread elements are worked through stab holes in the outer boards or covers.

Copy art: Works produced using copying machines, often with a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) aesthetic.

Cut-paper works: Works in which designs and/or imagery are created by removing portions of paper and/or other substrate.

Back to the top


Decorated papers: Papers decorated by various means, including but not limited to marbling, stenciling, dyeing, or block printing.

Die cuts: Cut-paper works made using dies.

Digital bookworks: Works existing entirely electronically and requiring digital remediation for viewing, such as web media.

Digital content: Works containing content stored electronically and requiring digital mediation for viewing, such as web media.

Digital prints: Prints made from digital image files.

Documentary photographs: Photographs taken as or subsequently used as evidence.

Dos-à-dos bindings: Binding structures in which two or more text blocks are bound together to share a cover, and fore-edges face in opposite or alternating directions.

Drawings: Works produced through the manual application of lines on a surface.

Dust jackets: Detachable, unbound outer covers over a case or binding, usually made of paper and printed with text and illustrations. These outer covers typically have folded flaps tucked around the front and back book covers.

Back to the top



Edge treatments: Treatments applied to edges of text blocks including but not limited to gauffering, marbling, gilding, painting, pasting, speckling and staining.

Editioned works: Multiples of one work issued together and noted as belonging to the same edition, usually in the colophon or a signature and through the use of a numbering scheme.

Embroidered content: Works featuring decorative stitched designs as accessory elements.

Endpapers: Sheets used in the binding of a book, at the front and back of the text block. Typically, one half of a sheet is pasted inside a cover (the paste down), with the other half overlaying the text block (the fly leaf).

Engravings: Intaglio prints on paper incorporating impressions of a reverse design created on a printing plate, usually copper, into which the design has been incised (engraved) using burins or gravers.

Envelopes: Folded enclosures often with a flap and overlapping seams, commonly made from a single piece of material.

Ephemera: Written or printed materials created without the expectation that they will be retained or preserved.

Exposed sewn bindings: Bindings in which the sewing is exposed on the exterior of the book.

Exquisite corpse books: Books containing leaves cut from foredge to gutter and/or spine, so that parts of a leaf can be turned to reveal different combinations of spreads.

Exquisite corpse images: mages composed by several persons, in which each successive participant is not permitted to see the work of the previous contributor(s).

Back to the top


Facsimiles: Reproductions of an original object (e.g. books, documents, prints, and drawings), usually produced to be as similar to the original as possible.

Fan book: Books in which the leaves and covers are fastened to each other through a single hole, which serves as a pivot point around which the leaves can revolve and fan out.

Fanzines: Zines produced about a particular cultural phenomenom by its fans.

Fasteners: Devices used to fasten together the leaves, gatherings, covers, and/or other components of a book.

Fine press books: Devices used to fasten together the leaves, gatherings, covers, and/or other components of a book.

Flag books: Books in which an accordion-folded spine supports rows of leaves, or flags. The leaves are attached to alternating sides of the peaks of the accordion so that, when the book is opened, the flags crisscross each other in opposite directions.

Flip books: Books containing a series of illustrations which give the illusion of animation when flipped through rapidly.

Flutter books: Case-bound books featuring an accordion-folded text block that is attached to the front and back covers but not to the spine, so that the pages fall forward or flutter.

Fold-out books: Books with pages larger than the trim size of the volume, folded one or more times so as to fit within the dimensions of the volume.

Folios: Single sheets folded once. Folios are often combined into gatherings, which become signatures when sewn.

Fore-edge paintings: Paintings on the fanned or closed edges of a book. Fanned paintings are not visible when the book is closed, and are revealed only when the pages are fanned.

French door books: Books with components (such as pages, spreads, or covers) in which parallel folds create flaps that open outward similar to french doors. Flaps may be opened to reveal content within.

French link stitch bindings: Bindings using an all-along sewing pattern, in which stitches alternate between two sections, and long outside stitches link through the stitch from the previous gathering.

Back to the top


Games: Objects that include elements of structured play and/or challenges.

Gatefold books: Books comprised of a foldout sheet or sheets that open to at least double the page size.

Gocco prints: Prints made from a self-contained compact color printing system called Gocco.

Graphic novels: Novels or similiarly lengthy fiction or non-fiction narratives presented primarily in images. Frequently containing pages with multiple panels, which may be similar to comic books.

Greeting cards: Illustrated cards given to celebrate a holiday or event, or to express a sentiment. Often packaged with envelopes of similar size.

Back to the top


Hand sewing: Elements, including bindings, which are sewn by hand rather than by machine.

Handwriting: Text created by hand with a writing tool such as a pen or pencil. May be used for works executed in manuscript or print where the basis of the content was a handwritten element.

Hollow back bindings: Bindings in which the spine of the text block is not affixed to the spine of the cover material, leaving an empty space or hollow in the spine area between the text block and the covering material.

Back to the top


Illustrated books: Books featuring illustrations often used to supplement related text.

Ink-jet prints: Prints made from digital files using an ink-jet printer.

Intaglio prints: Prints made from a plate in which the image to be printed is incised into a surface. When the plate is inked for printing, the incised line or area holds ink while the rest of the plate's surface is wiped clean.

Back to the top


Jacob's ladder bindings: Bindings whose structure allows leaves to hinge at either edge.

Japanese screen hinge bindings: Bindings in which items are hinged together allowing for 360-degree rotation.

Journals: Works that record occurrences, experiences, or observations, usually from the perspective of the person(s) recording.

Back to the top


Kikki-toji: Bindings using a traditional variation of Japanese stab binding in which triangular groups of stab holes create a pattern of parallel stitches wrapping around the spine.

Back to the top


Laser prints: Prints made from digital files using a laser printer.

Letterpress prints: Prints made from letterpress printing.

Library bindings: Case bindings produced by mechanized processes in commercial library binding factories, designed for maximum sturdiness to withstand long-term use in libraries. Library-bound books usually feature a thick, stiff buckram covering cloth.

Lift-the-flap bindings: Books with flaps that lift up to reveal hidden content.

Limp bindings: Book structures in which no board or stiff material is present under the covering material, leaving the covers flexible.

Linocuts: Relief prints made using linoleum as the relief surface.

Lithographs: Prints made using a planographic printing process in which a design is deposited on the stone or plate with a greasy substance and the surface is chemically treated to accept ink only in the greasy areas.

Livres d'artistes: Limited edition books produced to a high standard of craft using fine materials and illustrated with original works of art by the featured artist(s).

Long stitch bindings: Bindings created using a sewing pattern that features long sections of stitching exposed on the outside of the cover's spine.

Loose-leaf bindings: Bindings that house individual sheets of paper in an exchangeable form, so that pages can be added, removed, or relocated in the book.

Back to the top


Machine sewing: Elements, including bindings, that are sewn by machine, as opposed to by hand.

Machine-bound books: Books bound by machine, as opposed to being bound by hand.

Mail art: Works of art designed to be sent through the postal service, often making use of the postal network as a conceptual device.

Map Fold: Large fold out sheets folded to fit into the book.

Marbled papers: Papers decorated with aqueous surface designs, which are created using colored paints or other pigments patterned on a liquid surface and then transferred to paper.

Matchbooks: Books structured as small paperboard folders (matchcovers) enclosing a quantity of small wooden sticks or stiff paper with a coarse striking surface on the exterior. Alternatively, matchbooks may be structured as a small box containing matches. This includes bookworks that do not contain matches but rather take on the form of a matchbook or matchbox container.

Miniature books: Books no larger than three inches in height, width, or thickness.

Mixed media: Works of art created using more than one medium.

Movable books: Books featuring internal elements that move, such as pop-ups, volvelles, or pull-tabs.

Musical books: Books including an element capable of producing music.

Back to the top


Non-adhesive bindings: Bindings employing neither paste nor glue in the attachment of the pages or covers. Methods of attachment often include sewing, stapling, and folding.

Back to the top


Offset prints: Prints made using a printing technique in which the inked image is transferred (or "offset") from a plate to a rubber blanket, then to the printing surface.

Back to the top


Palimpsets: Pages from which earlier content has been scraped, washed off, or otherwise removed, and over which new content has been added.

Pamphlet bindings: Bindings created by attaching the pages of a gathering through the fold, usually by sewing or stapling.

Pamphlets: Short publications that may consist of a single sheet of paper printed on both sides and folded in half, in thirds, or in fourths (called a leaflet); or of a few pages folded in half and bound to make a simple book.

Paper bindings: Bindings made with paper covering material.

Papier-mâché: Paper pulp or shreds of paper mixed with glue or paste and molded into various forms.

Paste papers: Patterned or textured papers made by applying brushes and hand tools to the surface of paper that has been coated with thin, colored paste and is still wet.

Performance art objects: Objects, books, and ephemera produced as part of performance art.

Periodicals: Related publications issued at regular intervals.

Photobooks: Books in which photographs make up a significant portion of the overall content.

Photocollages: Composite pictures produced by assembling pieces of photographs, often in combination with other types of graphic material.

Photocopy cart: Works employing photocopy elements.

Photograph albums: Books designed and used to contain photographs and other materials.

Photographs: Images made using a camera and/or other light-sensitive technologies and materials.

Piano hinge bindings: Bindings in which skewers are woven through and connect notched signatures.

Picture books: Books in which images comprise the majority of content.

Planographic prints: Prints made from a flat printing surface.

Playing cards: Cards marked with distinguishing motifs, typically issued as a set.

Poems: Compositions characterized by condensed language chosen for sound, typographic, and/or suggestive impact as well as meaning.

Pop-up books: Books in which one or more elements are folded so that a three-dimensional structure rises up when a spread is opened or a tab is pulled.

Portfolios: Unbound pages within a container.

Printed papers: Papers decorated by printmaking or stamping.

Back to the top


Quartos: Single sheets folded twice to make four leaves. Quartos are often combined into gatherings, which become signatures when sewn.

Back to the top


Relief prints: Prints in which an image is created from the protruding areas of a matrix.

Risographs: Digital prints produced by scanning an original image, burning voids corresponding to image areas in a master sheet, and forcing ink through voids in the master.

Back to the top


Sandragraphs: Relief prints made from a surface covered in cloth and acrylic polymer gel medium.

Scented books: Works with intentionally scented elements.

Scrapbooks: Blank books or albums designed so that a variety of items may be affixed to the pages, including but not limited to photographs, clippings, and memorabilia.

Screen prints: Prints in which an image is created by blocking out negative space on woven mesh with a stencil, liquid blocking medium, or light-sensitive emulsion

Screw posts: Fasteners inserted into punched holes. Consist of a post or screw and a matching receptacle used to secure cover and leaves. May be used as a permanent or non-permanent binding.

Scrolls: Long, continuous, rolled pages that are usually made of paper or parchment with writing and/or imagery.

Shape poetry: Poetry in which words are typographically arranged into deliberate, recognizable shapes.

Sheet music: Handwritten or printed musical notation.

Side sewing: Works whose text blocks do not consist of individual signatures, in which all individual pages are sewn through at once along the binding edge.

Sketchbooks: Books of hand-drawn sketches, that is, informal or rough drawings.

Slipcases: Four- or five-sided boxes, usually made of high-quality cardboard, into which binders, books, or book sets are placed for protection, leaving spines exposed.

Smyth sewing: Machine binding in which signatures are sewn through the fold using a Smyth sewing machine.

Spiral bindings: Bindings in which continuous wire or plastic coils are passed through punched holes to bind leaves.

Split pages: see Exquisite corpse

Spray paintings: Painted elements made with spray paint, aerosol paint, or air-brush paint.

Stab bindings: Bindings in which the entire thickness of a text block is sewn through stabbed holes.

Stamp prints: Relief prints made with a hand-held stamp.

Staple bindings: Bindings made by stapling leaves together.

Stenciling: Method of creating multiple copies of a design by cutting it out of a thin yet durable sheet, such as thin brass or plastic, and dabbing, pouncing, spraying, or rubbing a color substance through the openings.

Stickers: Adhesive-backed materials usually bearing messages or designs.

Supported sewing: Bindings in which the sewing is supported by cords or tapes wrapped around the spine of the text block. The ends of the cords or tapes extending beyond the text block's shoulders are attached to the book's boards.

Back to the top


Tête-bêche bindings: A style of binding in which two books have been bound together with two front covers. The books are oriented 180 degrees relative to one another.

Textured books: Books with textured elements on their covers or leaves.

Tight back bindings: Sewn bindings in which the covering material is fully affixed to the text block spine.

Tunnel books: Book structures in which leaves are hinged on both sides to create a three-dimensional scene when open.

Turkish map fold: Folding technique in which opposite edges of a rectangular sheet are folded together and the side edges folded in.

Back to the top


Unbound works: Gathered matter collated but not bound, such as items left in sheets, gatherings, or signatures.

Back to the top


Visual poetry: Poetry in which the visual arrangement of text, images, and symbols is important to convey the intended effect of the work.

Volvelles: Circular charts with rotating parts.

Back to the top


Wood engravings: Relief prints carved into hardwood blocks with engraving tools such as gravers and scorping tools.

Woodcuts: Relief prints carved into wood plank or plywood with knives, gouges and chisels.

Wordless books: Books without words or text which may include title and bibliographic information.

Wrappers: Outer covers of a paperbound book or pamphlet.

Back to the top


Zines: Small-circulation, self-published works of original or appropriated texts and images, usually reproduced using a photocopier.

Back to the top