Bookbinding on a budget in Vancouver

Oct 1, 2015 | The Publishing Industry


I’m not sure if anyone is interested, but I thought I’d write this up for any other bookbinders or people who’d like to try their hand at this craft. Here’s where you can start learning bookbinding and where you can get your materials in Vancouver! Warning! WALL OF TEXT INCOMING!

Learning How to Bind

First up: tutorials! The Sea Lemon Youtube channel is the best place to start for an absolute beginner. (Fun fact: I still do all my text blocks for case binding the way Jennifer does it in this video.) Try the Coptic binding first, it’s nice and simple.

Then check out the Bookbinding subreddit for more links and tutorials, and for articles and whatnot. You’ll also want to check out the local chapter of the Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild for upcoming workshops. (These cost money, though.)

You’ll also see more tutorials and book arts on Pinterest, if you have an account there. Great place to get ideas.


So this is the big problem, in Vancouver anyway – there’s no single shop where you can get everything. Here’s where you can get each thing that you need to bind books, hopefully for not a huge amount of money:

Book board

Any good, thick cardboard will work, but if you need a cheap option, then head on over to Michaels and get some foam core board. It’s stupidly thick, and book board isn’t really supposed to be that thick, but if you’re just practicing, it’ll work fine.

For some reason, actual book board is hella tough to find in Vancouver at a reasonable price. I think Paper-Ya on Granville Island has some, because they stock a lot of Lineco products. Opus Art Supplies has mill board, which I have never used.

Personally, I go to Urban Source on Main St and clear them out of thick cardboard every once in a while. (Urban Source has a whole section where you just fill up a bag of stuff for a set price, kinda like all-you-can-eat art supplies.)

PVA Glue

Opus sells giant bottles of PVA glue, which I churn through like whoah. The only downside is that their version seems to dry faster than usual. They and Paper-Ya also have Lineco pH neutral PVA glue, which you should be using for archival stuff.

Paper for covers/endpapers

Paper-Ya has ALL the good stuff, especially marbled paper. It’s pricey as hell, so don’t use it for everyday binding. The papers there are $10 a sheet and up, usually.

DeSerres on Broadway is where it’s at if you need cheaper decorative paper. They’ll do some sheets for $3 to $5 if it’s on sale, and their selection is awesome!

For the exceptionally cheap option – wrapping paper. I am totally not kidding here. Nice wrapping paper can serve pretty well as cover paper. You just have to make sure you don’t get the really flimsy crap. I snagged a roll of recycled wrapping paper with a nice printed design on it for almost nothing, and it binds very well. The only thing you need to watch out for is how well it takes PVA glue, and bear in mind that it’ll tear in a heartbeat if you’re rough with it.

Urban Source also has some decorative paper, but they’re hit ‘n’ miss.

You don’t necessarily have to stick to actual decorative paper, though. I did some very nice binds using paper bags from a shop. Anything that’s big enough for the cover and can take PVA glue is fair game.

Glue Sticks

You wouldn’t think that these little things would be useful, and yet here we are. Glue sticks are great for all kinds of small fixes in bookbinding where PVA would be too messy, and they work great on cover paper that becomes too soggy or wrinkled with PVA. I use them on the book boards of covers that are destined for wrapping paper, and then switch to PVA for the edges that will be covered by the endpapers.

DeSerres has some chunky own-brand glue sticks for a couple of dollars, or you can check out any craft store for the usual Pritt-Stick variety.

Paper for the inside/the text block

So Urban Source doesn’t do that well on decorative paper, but oh man, it’s fantastic for stacks of paper in a variety of colours. Wander in there, pick up the $20 all-you-can-eat bag, and fill that sucker with ALL THE PAPER. I have, no lie, a pile of paper in six different colours that’s seven inches thick sitting on my shelf right now, courtesy of Urban Source.

If you need regular printer paper, and you can’t find what you need in Urban Source, then whatever paper that’s currently on sale in Staples will work.

Speaking of which, if you want something more fancy, like parchment paper, Staples should have reams of ivory and cream parchment paper in stock, but it’s like $30. Not for everyday binding.

For any other kind of paper, like watercolour or sketching or whatever, Opus has the biggest selection.

Card Stock

Urban Source! Once again, the cheap option is the best. Urban Source has SO MUCH CARD STOCK in the all-you-can-eat section. It’s also got quite a lot of gloss card stock and larger sheets, so that should be your first port of call if you need any kind of card and you’re not bothered about the colour.

Outside of their all-you-can-eat section, they also have lots of folded card stock in lots of different colours at very reasonable prices. (I’m sure Paper-Ya and Opus have card stock, but I never shop for it there so eh.)


Ribbons for binding and bookmarks, and cords for binding or anything else really – Dressew on Hastings St has the best selection, and the size of that selection is breathtaking. They also have cheap coils of ribbon.

Urban Source is another good place to find super cheap ribbon, though I can’t remember seeing any in their all-you-can-eat section.


Get yourself over to Dressew again, and the leather bin just downstairs is what you’re looking for. Their leather remainders are pretty good. Urban Source also has pieces of leather for sale at very reasonable prices, and their all-you-can-eat section has a leather remainders bin of pieces that are really very small, but will do if you need leather for a strap or something.

Word to the wise, though – I’d only use this leather for non-adhesive binding on a cover. Anything that involves gluing the leather to something, go online and buy proper bookbinding leather.

Fake Leather

Dressew also has fake leather, like vinyl. This is much, much cheaper than the actual thing, and – bonus! – you can bind the covers with it without worrying about warping! It’ll take PVA glue easily. All you need to do is use binder clips or something to hold the edges in place while it sets.


Dressew again – it has a giant selection of different clasps and closures, many of which will work nicely if you want to do something special. Many of them are SUPER cheap.

Which brings me on to…



I splurged on a proper Lineco medium-duty awl, but you can get very cheap ones in Canadian Tire. Opus and Paper-Ya also have Lineco awls. I use my awl for everything, so I don’t think you need to get different sizes.

Bone Folders

Again, Opus and Paper-Ya have Lineco bone folders. I don’t know where else you can get them, but honestly, any gently curved plastic implement will work fine – or even the back of a butter knife if you’re desperate. They’re pretty cheap anyway, and you only really need one.


Apparently there are special bookbinding needles out there, which I never really considered buying. I do all my sewing with curved quilting needles, or embroidery needles if I’m worried about putting extra holes in the paper, both of which I bought in Dressew for a couple of bucks. I also have some regular sewing needles, which work almost as well.


This is a bit of a bugbear for me. I have a giant industrial real of cotton thread, and I use a double-thickness of that for most of my binding. However! You’re supposed to use linen thread. The problem is that linen bookbinding thread is crazy-ass expensive and really only comes in white, whereas giant industrial reels of cotton thread can be acquired from Urban Source’s all-you-can-eat section. Michaels also carries bumper packs of embroidery thread in every possible colour for when I want to do any exposed spine stuff, like Coptic stitching.

The tradeoff is that cotton is weaker than linen, obviously enough. But there aren’t any hard and fast rules with this. Dig around in Dressew for cheap thread, practice, and if you want to do something that needs to last a hundred years, head over to Opus or Paper-Ya for the linen stuff.


You’re supposed to use beeswax on the thread before sewing. This stops the thread from getting too frayed and fluffy while you sew – all that friction against the paper does horrible stuff to the fibers, which can lead to the thread breaking. However… I don’t do this. One reason is that I keep the working length of the thread relatively short, like enough to do three or four signatures at a time, so I don’t need to worry about it fraying. I’m also using a thicker needle, going through holes in 20g paper, where the sides of each hole are wide enough to allow the cotton thread to move just enough that there’s less pressure and friction on it in the process.

My thread still snarls up some of the time, and I will still snap the thread about once every three books, but them’s the breaks. Binding with waxed thread just annoys me for whatever reason.

Anyway! Dressew has these little cheap doodads for waxing thread, though I don’t think they have beeswax in them. It’s some kind of flaky white wax. Opus has actual blocks of beeswax. Both should work fine if you want to wax your thread.


ARGH. Argh argh argh. This is SO GODDAMN ANNOYING. There is really nowhere you can get reasonably priced cutting blades. I have a bunch of X-acto knives, a Stanley knife that I keep blunting, and two rotary cutters, one of which I snagged in Urban Source for $3 in a moment of extreme luck.

Opus has the best selection of craft knives, and Canadian Tire just has a whole ton of knives of all kinds, but the best thing you can do is go anywhere and get a cheap Stanley knife with a snap-off blade, because it WILL get blunted to shit once you start cutting book board or foam core with it.

Rotary cutters are awesome, by the way, but any of them actually worth having are expensive.


Okay, there isn’t anything you can do with a guillotine that you can’t do with a Stanley knife, but if you have to have one, Staples has a selection that are pretty expensive. Oh and forget about cutting stacks of anything with them, most can only do like fifteen sheets at a time.

Cutting Boards

You want a self-healing one, and size isn’t too important. I get almost everything done on a 12 x 18 inch board, and I have a small crappy one I use for punching holes with the awl. Opus and Michaels have them.


These are for applying the PVA glue, and really any cheap paintbrush will do fine. I use foam brushes that I think we got in Michaels for less than a dollar, and they work okay.


You need a metal ruler. Opus has lots of them. I would not recommend skimping out on this, because the ruler is generally what you’ll be using to keep your hand safe while you’re cutting out book board. I have a 12 inch metal ruler, and I’m probably going to upgrade it soon to something with a guard on it.

Other Weird Stuff

So this isn’t really the end, because there’s lots of other stuff you can use for bookbinding. I’ve picked up all kinds of things, like thin pieces of wood, art prints, foil paper, stick-on plastic jewels, glitter, hemp cord, beads, and even pieces of maps. I personally like to try everything and anything to see what works in a bind and what doesn’t.

Sometimes I just go into Urban Source, pick up a bag, and start looking for inspiration! I’ve bound books using wallpaper samples and shoelace cord at this point. Nothing should be off-limits, and the more you do it, the more you learn about it.

Let me know in the comments if you’ve got any specific questions about where to find stuff. Happy binding!