How to Select The Right Custom Ring Binder

Before you start …

There are several questions you should answer before you start making ring binder specifications. The answers to these questions will help you make the necessary determinations regarding binder material, size, accessories and decoration. If you would like recommendations or suggestions as you start this process, just give us a call.

  • How will the binders be used?
  • Will the binder and the contents be handled frequently or only referenced occasionally?
  • Does the binder need to have a long shelf life or is it for a short-term program?
  • What will be put in the binder? How many total sheets?
  • How many binders are needed? Consider the quantity price breaks. 
  • How much do you want to spend per binder or what is your overall budget?
  • Are there any coordinating materials such as index tabs, content sheets or presentation folders that need to be considered? Will colors or materials need to be matched?
  • Do you need printed materials inserted, mailing labels or cartons?

Step 1:  Choose the Binder Material

Several factors help determine which material is best suited for your ring binder needs. The most important factors affecting your material decision are based on the planned usage for the binder and the decoration desired.

Turned Edge

Turned Edge Binders

For a Turned Edge Binder, offset printed sheets are laminated and then turned over solid chipboard offering high quality construction of turned edge with fine graphic reproduction.


  • Can be offset printed, foil stamped or debossed
  • Offset printing allows for fine detail and excellent graphic reproduction
  • Solid chipboard construction with routed hinges


Vinyl Ring Binder

Vinyl is a very popular, all purpose binder material. The binders are created by heat sealing vinyl around chipboard to create the binder case. Vinyl binders are great for seminars, sales meetings, price lists, or reference materials.


  • Good material for a temperate, indoor office environment
  • Comes in a variety of colors and textures
  • Can be silk-screened, foil stamped or debossed

Polyethylene (Poly)

Small Poly Binders

Poly is a durable plastic sheet made from a polyolefin blend. The one piece poly binder construction makes this a more durable and yet less expensive alternative. Poly binders are perfect for reference or training guides that will be frequently handled, for example, manuals in a workshop area.


  • Comes in a wide variety of bright colors
  • Available in different gauges or thicknesses
  • Indestructible, high density material that will not fade, crack or tear


Paper Ring Binders

A paper binder is made out of 18 point white stock with gloss laminate with a 3-ring metal mechanism. These binders are perfect for short term presentation materials such as media or promotion kits.


  • Can be offset printed, foil stamped or embossed
  • Offset printing allows for finer detail than foil stamping or silk-screening

Step 2:  Determining the Binder Size

The size of the binder depends on the size of the sheet of paper it needs to hold. The only difference is that paper sizes are described as width by height, and binder case sizes are described as just the opposite – height (the binding edge) by width.

For example, an 8 1⁄2″ x 11″ sheet with hole punching on the 11″ side is a standard size sheet. However, the binder to hold such sheets would be described as an 11″ x 8 1⁄2″ sheet size binder. The binding edge is always listed first.

One other item to consider is whether or not index tabs will be used in the binder. If so, you need to make sure the binder case incorporates an index tab allowance so the tabs will not stick out beyond the edge of the binder case. Many binder cases will have an allowance for a 1⁄2″ index tab extension.

Each binder case has a different outside dimension depending on the binder case material, ring size and style. Check with your representative for binder case dimensions (and templates) based on your specification.

Step 3:  Choose the Ring Size and Type

Ring Size

The ring size of a binder is determined by the capacity of the ring, not the width of the binder spine. To determine the ring size of an existing binder with a round ring, measure the inside diameter of the ring. For a D-ring or Angle-D ring measure the length of the straight or angled edge. The illustrations below indicate where to measure different rings.

If starting from scratch,  you can choose the ring size based on the number of sheets the binder will hold. Use the chart below to determine the ring size based on the sheet capacity.

Ring Type

For the metal or ring in your binder, you have several options. The most common metals have 3 rings and vary from 1⁄2″ to 3″ in  diameter. Special-order metals with varying number of rings and other sizes are available.

  • Round rings are circular and the most common ring used. They are all-purpose and work well for many applications. Round rings can be attached to the spine or back cover.
  • D rings are shaped like a backward “D”. The flat edge holds the binder contents. The D ring allows the sheets to lie flat along the straight edge for less wear on the hole punches. D rings are always attached to the back cover.
  • Angle D rings are the same as a D ring except the straight edge is angled so the ring is wider at the bottom of the ring than at the top. This ring is especially good for larger capacity binders. Angle D rings are always attached to the back cover.
  • Post binders use metal posts instead of rings. These are primarily used to hold extra large capacity materials such as a catalogs. Standard posts are 2 to 4 inches in length and can be fixed or expandable.


Boosters are the triggers that open and/or close the binder rings. They make the binder easier to use and decrease the likelihood of the rings getting out of alignment. You can get metals with no boosters, only opening boosters, opening and closing boosters, or locking boosters. Rings for standard binders have opening and closing boosters.

Step 4:  Choose the Decoration Process

Now that you know the binder material, the ring size and type, and the binder case size, it is time to decide how you will design your binder. Where will you place the artwork, what process will be used to apply the artwork, and how should the artwork be prepared?

Placement of Artwork

Your artwork can be placed on the outside front or back cover, the spine, or the inside front or back cover. The most common placement for artwork is on the front cover and spine.

Outside or Inside Cover

When submitting artwork for binder production, indicate the position the artwork should be placed. Some common placements are diagrammed at right. Keep art or copy at least 1⁄4″ away from edges, spine and rivets on vinyl and poly products.


The major concern for art or copy on the spine is that it fits between the rivets. Indicate whether it should be centered between the rivets and wether it should be placed lengthwise, stacked or in the horizontal position. If you need more area than the space between the rivets allows, the spine can be constructed with concealed rivets.

If you want a label holder, indicate where it should be placed on the spine.

Note: Each binder case has different outside dimensions depending on the binder case material, ring size and style. Check with your customer service representative (or request a template) for binder case dimensions based on your specifications.

Design Process

Binders are created by cutting a large piece of material that makes up the front cover, spine and back cover of the binder. Your artwork is then applied to the material. There are several processes you can used to apply the artwork to your binder cover.


The process of silk-screening is started by the creation of a screen which has the non-printing areas blocked by a stencil. Printing is done by applying ink to the screen, spreading and forcing it through the fine mesh opening onto the printing surface. Turned Edge, vinyl or poly can be silk-screened.

Things to consider when preparing artwork for silk-screening:

  • All lines must be at least 1 point in thickness.
  • All type should be at least 10 points in size. Very thin fonts are not recommended.
  • Reverse type should be bold. Fine reverse type has a tendency to fill in when screened.
  • Halftones or screens should not be more than 70% in value or less than 30%.
  • Silk-screening inks are not opaque. Light colors screened onto dark vinyl or poly can make color matching difficult. The dark base of the vinyl or poly will show through the silk-screened ink.

Foil Stamping (Hot Stamping)

Foil or hot stamping is the process of applying heat and pressure to a metal die to transfer foil onto the surface. Gold and silver foil are the most common, but colored foils are available. Turned edge, vinyl or paper can be foil stamped.

Things to consider when preparing artwork for foil-stamping:

  • All lines must be at least 1 point in thickness.
  • All type should be at least 10 points in size. Very thin fonts are not recommended.
  • Reverse type should be bold. Fine reverse type has a tendency to fill in when stamped.
  • Eliminate any halftones and screens.

Embossing and debossing both involve the process of using heat and pressure to press a metal die into the printing surface. The die smoothes out the grain of the  material and raises or lowers the surface. When embossing, the die is pressed into the underside of the surface to raise the artwork. Debossing is just the opposite – the die is pressed into the top of the surface so the artwork is lower than the surrounding surface.

Things to consider when preparing artwork for embossing and debossing:

  • All lines must be at least 2 point in thickness
  • All type should be at least 14 points in size. Very thin fonts are not recommended
  • Reverse type should be bold. Fine reverse type has a tendency to fill in when embossed/debossed.
  • Eliminate any halftones and screens.

Offset Printing

A printing process in which the ink is transferred from a plate to a blanket which in turn does the printing.

Things to consider when preparing artwork for offset printing:

  • Artwork should be set up using Pantone or Four Color Process inks, according to desired final output
  • All images should be high resolution (see artwork preparation)

Step 5:  Ring Binder Options and Accessories

There are several options and accessories you can add to your ring binder to make it more functional and attractive.

Easel Binders: Easel binders are a great choice for presentation and reference binders. A Snap-Back Easel Binder and the Platform Easel Binder are constructed so they can display material at an angle when set on a desktop.

Wraparound Binders: Wraparound binders are ideal for seminars and meetings. They have a wraparound flap with a Velcro® closure. This gives the binder a sleek, classy look while keeping all the contents in place and protected.

Backbone or Spine: The spine of a binder can be flat or rounded. Flat spines are the most common. A rounded spine is very attractive and creates a unique look.

Rivets: Rivets on the spine can be concealed on vinyl binders if you want additional area for artwork or want to create a cleaner look. You have a choice of chrome, white or black rivets.

Pockets: Add a pocket to the inside front and/or back cover to add more functionality to your binders. Loose sheets or brochures can be placed in the pockets. Pockets can be horizontal or vertical.

Entrapments: An entrapment is sealed-in printed material. A printed piece can be sealed into the covers and spine of your vinyl binder with a clear vinyl overlay. If your artwork is very detailed or of multiple colors, it may be better to offset print the art on paper and seal it into the binder.

Insertables: A clear overlay is placed over the binder covers with an opening at the top. This allows you to slip a printed piece into the cover and/or spine. This is perfect for covers that may need to be updated or for “reusable” binders.

Padding: Padding can be added to the front cover, spine or back cover. This gives the binder a richer, more expensive look and feel.

Business card holders: A clear vinyl pocket for a business card can be placed almost anywhere on the binder. The most common placement is on the inside front cover. The holder can be sealed on 2 or 3 sides.

Label holders: Label holders are clear vinyl pockets most commonly added to the spine of a vinyl binder.

Personalization: Names can be individually foil stamped onto your binder.

Media pockets: Clear pockets sized to hold CDs, DVDs or USB drives can be added.

Sheet lifters: A rigid plastic piece that is placed over the rings of a binder in the front and behind the sheet contents. These lifters help the sheets over the lower curve of the rings, keeping the sheets from binding and tearing when closing the binder. They also keep the sheet contents from sagging or tearing at the hole punches when the binder is in the upright standing position. Sheet lifters can be silk-screened with a logo or artwork.

Shipping boxes: If you are going to ship individual binders to different locations, you may want to consider binder shipping boxes.