Sunday 2 March 2014

Comb Binding: How to assemble your own rulebooks


The internet is awash these days with excellent rules for wargames.  In many cases these are sold by companies that are geographically remote from the purchaser.  Buying physical copies is awkward on 2 points.  Firstly, a parcel might take quite a while to arrive, especially if the publisher is a part-time effort by a one man band or if a package has to cross international boundaries.  Secondly, postage costs are increasingly expensive.  Again, this is especially so where international deliveries are concerned.

Fortunately, there is often an alternative.  Many publishers offer downloadable PDF versions of their works; these can be bought (and delivered) almost instantly at any time of day or night; distance isn't a factor either.  But what do you do with a PDF copy?  Well, some buyers are happy to view the documents on a tablet computer or similar device.  That's simple enough, but I prefer hard copy for myself.

Once upon a time, I would have printed out the document and stapled the top corner, or punched holes and put the paper in a ring binder.  While either of these methods will work, they are limited.  It's hard to staple more than a few sheets of paper (unless you have access to a seriously big office stapler!) and even if you manage, a stapled copy is awkward when turning pages and the paper quickly becomes tattered.  Ring binders are often much bigger than needed for the document, so unless you have a huge amount of storage space then they probably aren't the answer.

Comb Binding

For this example, I'm going to show you how I bind a copy of "Kooky Teenage Monster Hunters".  This is from Ganesha Games in Italy.  It's a supplement to the "Fear and Faith" ruleset, which in turn is based on the very popular "Song of Blades and Heroes".  That's not really important, though...

Here is everything that I'll need.  I've printed out the PDF rules (double-sided, because it uses less paper and will take less shelf space to store).  The front and back covers will be protected by acetate sheets.  These are optional, but add considerably to the durability of the rules, so I'd strongly recommend using them.  I buy my acetate sheets from a local office supplies company, where they only cost something like 10 pence each.

As well as the paper, I need a comb-binding machine and a plastic comb.  My machine is an old DocuBind model; I bought it through eBay some time ago.  It was sold with several large boxes of combs in various sizes and colours, so I have more combs than I could possibly use in a lifetime.  Total cost was a few 10s of pounds, though I cannot remember precisely how much.

So, here's how we do it.  For this (relatively thin) document, I've chosen a small diameter comb.  Note that the small combs are a lot harder to use than the larger ones, in my experience!

Firstly, the "rack" is extended and the comb is fitted on to it.  On my machine this needs to be done by hand, one hook at a time.  That's a little bit tedious, but not too bad.

Next, I start punching the pages.  The acetates are quite thick, so I'll punch them individually.

As each sheet or group of sheets is punched, it is slid directly onto the hooks of the comb.

With paper, this machine can punch 10 or 15 sheets at the same time.  That makes it very quick to assemble even quite a large document.

 Once the final page is in place, the back cover acetate is added and the rack can be retracted.

Final step: lift the document away from the binding machine.

And there we have it: the finished document.


Total time spent from downloading the PDF to finishing this article: 2h 20m.  Most of that was spent having coffee, talking to my family and other such mundane things.  Even slowing down to photograph each stage, I probably managed the binding itself in under 10 minutes, including time to get the machine out of storage and put it away again.

If this all sounds like too much work then you could probably find a local print shop or similar business who will do the job for you.  That'll cost, of course.

One last thing: if you're planning to print and bind a lot of booklets then you'll find that all the combs look identical when the documents are on a bookshelf.  Consider early how to label them so that you can find the one you want from a sea of identical bindings.  Believe me, it can be a problem!

Now I'm off to read "Kooky Teenage monster Hunters"...


  1. What a fantastic article, Hugh. It's not something I've ever considered doing. I agree with you for wanting a physical copy of a book (any book). Up until now I have kept many of my PDFs in files with clear plastic pockets, which work well for books with a relatively small page count but not so well for books containing 100+ pages.

    1. Thanks, Bryan. I used to just staple my PDFs, but they're so much better this way :-) .

  2. Using combs is a great way to keep your printed pdf's in a very good looking condition. There are also various coloured combs available too for ease of looking for the one you want.
    I have used comb binders in the past, but for the most part I've used ring binders with the rule pages in plastic wallets.
    I'm sure most people would be able to find someone with access to a modern comb binder rathe than having to buy one themselves.

    1. I've got no idea how common comb binders are in homes, rather than businesses and offices. Ring binders are easy to use and work well, but I find them to be very bulky.

  3. Very good. If your going to do many its a great investment. I don't know of anyone with one personally but then I've never asked! Generally I print them off at work and then keep them in a plastic wallet depending on size of document.

    Its a good way of doing it 10/10. Hmm perhaps a bit of string with a small label attached would be a good way to view what book is what.

    Been re-reading

    1. Sticky labels or permanent marker on the spines is probably the easiest way of labelling these.

      Hmm, I'd never even thought of using plastic wallets but several commenters have now mentioned this as their means of storing printed matter.

  4. Damit fat fingers!

    Been re-reading you ATZ event card article today. When you created them was there a size template you used? I want to make some for Across the Dead Earth and not sure how to go about it?

    1. That's this article, right? .

      I created a template specially for the cards I wanted. The PowerPoint file for those ATZ cards is available here: . You may use this in any way you see fit as a basis for your own cards, if it helps.

      I'd be happy to help you further, if needed. You can contact me directly at hcduggan at .

    2. Thanks Very much. I'll make a start at the moment I'm going to start collecting images and stuff in preparation for when the rules get officially released in October as once its locked in I'll have less to do change then and I can just get the cards made.

    3. Thanks Hugh that is Awesome :D

  5. That's a great article! Very basic in the outcome, but if I'd had a penny for every time I couldn't think of the most logical solution...

    I have to admit I dislike PDFs a lot myself. I have an awesome black and white printer that was great for all the assignments I had to do. With rules PDFs, I rarely find them black and white. I was so much into Strange Aeons I paid for colour prints and it still hurts me when I think about it :P.
    The second reason to get a printed book compared to PDF is the cost of some PDFs, as they come out quite expensive. I understand it costs time and effort to write great rules, but PDF that costs 2/3 of the printed book, should at least have some software know, like clickable index and such. But then again, I'm a bit of a technophob, so it would be no use to me :D

    1. Well, you do really need a good printer if you wish to make your own hard-copy of PDFs.

      Even if a download is priced at 2/3 of the pre-printed book, sometimes the postage adds a lot to the cost. It all depends...

  6. I have done comb binding in the past and will continue to do so in the future when it warrants it. A useful article none the less.

    1. Thanks, Clint. I never imagined that this was a revolutionary, new article :-) . Still, it's interesting to know what people think.