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  • Debinding

    Debinding is the pocess of removing the spine of a magazine that has been perfect bound (see any current game magazine, or EGM for most of the ‘90s). Debinding a magazine offers you some pros and cons:


    • It's faster to scan.
    • It's easier to scan.
    • It allows you to scan more of the magazine.
    • It allows you to scan each page flat instead of having it rise up and become blurry and darker near the spine (also known as gutter shadow).


    • The magazine becomes worthless after debinding.
    • The pages can get out of order if you are not careful.

    So let's look at the Pros first. When you debind a magazine, you can generally scan it easier/faster because you do not have to push down on the spine to get the page as flat as possible, which produces a fuller scan. When a magazine is placed on a flatbed scanner, its pages rise up near the spine. This pulls the image away from the scanner and results in some blurring and darkening, known as gutter shadow. When you scan a magazine without debinding it, you will generally lose about 1/4 inch of the page or more, depending on the thickness of the magazine. While this doesn't sound like a lot, most video game magazines have artwork or screenshots that span across two or more pages. When these images are scanned, they won't match up as nicely when viewing the magazine in digital format. It is also easier to get a straight scan with a debound issue since you can line up an edge of the page to an edge of the scanning bed.

    Now let's look at the Cons of debinding. The most obvious one is that when you debind the magazine, that issue loses all of its value to those who collect them. The option of debinding is best exercised by someone who plans to get rid of his or her magazines anyway. Debinding is a perfect solution for someone who is tight on space and is looking to get rid of his or her collection: scan them into digital format and then send the physical copies to the recycling bin. The other Con of debinding a magazine is that many video game magazines do not print page numbers on all the pages. This doesn't seem like a big deal until you actually debind a magazine and the pages get out of order. Generally speaking, pages that have advertisements on them don't carry a page number. The best thing to do is keep the debound pages on your desk, away from any edges (perhaps between your keyboard and monitor), with something on top of it, like a DVD case or a book to prevent them from moving.

    There is something that will make a big difference in the quality of your scans when scanning magazines with a hard spine. Take the magazine and open it up at around the middle page, put it face down in front of you on a stable, flat surface so that the spine is facing you. Now push the spine as hard as you can downwards from top to bottom. This will not destroy the spine, but it will make it much more flexible and thus easier to scan. Repeat this process for every 20 pages or so until you can't press the spine any more downwards.

    Tools of the Trade

    The tools you will need to debind a magazine are as follows...

    • A desk or table
    • Box Cutter
    • Ruler (preferably metal)
    • Magazines
    • Something for under the magazine, such as a Plastic Cutting Board, or a piece of very thick card stock
    • Optional Binder Clips

    The first thing you will need is a sturdy surface to cut the magazines on. I cut all my magazines at my computer desk, near my scanner so that they are never moved more than a few inches. Now, you don't want to cut the magazine directly on your desk or table, so you need something between the magazine and your desk. Heavy card stock or a plastic cutting board for crafts works well.

    Do not use a plastic ruler as the box cutter blade can easily cut into it. A metal ruler or a ruler with a metal edge is best.

    Speaking of blade, a simple box cutter will do. Be sure to check the sharpness of the blade after debinding several magazines. Using a dull blade can cause the pages to tear instead of cut near the ends.

    You may also want to buy some binder clips; this helps if you are debinding multiple magazines and want to keep each issue held together until you get around to scanning them.


    So now you have the magazine, box cutter, ruler and a sturdy surface. You also remembered to flip through the magazine and write down the numbers of the pages with no printed numbers on either side. So now, armed with all that information…




    Before you cut into that cover there is one more thing you should do! Before cutting apart the magazine, scan the front cover. Remember, we are cutting away part of the magazine so that we can get a better scans of the inside pages. But in doing so we are cutting the covers short. Before debinding the magazine you should scan the cover. This will ensue that you get the entire cover since debinding often causes you to lose some of the text and graphics they squeeze onto the cover, often right up to the spine.

    If your cover has an address label stuck to it, you can easily remove it with a hair dryer. Set the hair dryer as hot as it goes, and hold it a couple inched from the label, moving back and forth over the label. After about 30 seconds, you can try to peel the corner of the label away. If you feel any resistance you should immediately stop and continue heating the label. After several more seconds, try again. The label should peel off rather easily. Once the label is removed, there may still be some glue residue left on the cover. This glue can re-adhere to other pages or leave marks on your scanner's bed. You can continue to use the hair dryer to try and rub off any left over glue. If it doesn't come off, don't worry about it too much. Just make sure you check the scanner bed after scanning the cover to make sure it doesn't have any marks or smudges.

    Now we are ready to debind! Place the magazine in front of you with the front cover facing up and the spine facing away from you. This will place the binding in a neutral spot, which can accommodate people who are left- or right- handed. It will also ensure that you are never cutting towards yourself. Take your ruler and lay it at about 1/8th of an inch or 4mm from the edge of the spine, making sure that the ruler is parallel to the spine so that pages are cut straight. 1/8th of an inch is generally a large enough amount that you aren't cutting through the glue used to bind the magazine. On occasion, you will come across pages that are still stuck together. It rarely happens, but it happens.  When it does, the only thing you can really do is carefully and slowly pull the pages apart and hope that the damage is minimal. On pages with no pattern, it's easy to fix the glue area in editing. If you want to avoid this altogether, you can either increase the amount of space you cut to ¼ of an inch, though you'll probably find this is too much. You can always pick something in between.

    Using your non-dominant hand, apply enough pressure on the ruler so that it doesn't move as you cut. With your dominant hand, take the box cutter and make a full length cut down the magazine. You should only be applying enough pressure to the knife so that you are cutting through a maximum of 3 pages to start. After you have made your first cut, remove the ruler from the magazine. Grab the cover and any other loose pages and flip them over next to the magazine with the cover facing dow. This pile will become your debound pile. You will continue to follow the original cut lines and work through 2-3 pages at a time. After each cut, you will move the separate bits, page by page, to the debound pile. After you have made several cuts, enough pages should be removed so that you can use the spine as your cut line instead of the ruler; just line your blade up with the raised spine and don't worry about having to hold a ruler steady.

    You can also start to use more pressure to cut through more than 2-3 pages at once. Be careful at the edge you are starting at, since your blade will start at the very edge and could tear the pages if it is not sharp enough. When you start cutting through more than 2-3 pages at a time, instead of picking the pages up and moving them to the debind pile, use your fingers and slide the pages towards you, like how a fancy dealer slides cards off the deck with their fingers. Any pages that don't move easily or completely away from the spine will need an extra cut at the spot holding it back. This is also when you'll find out if glue has seeped over and gotten the pages more stuck than normal.

    When you are done, the debound pile should have its back cover facing you right-side-up. Put it in a safe place until you are ready to scan them.

    Magazines bound with staples do not need to be taken apart. They are more work to scan, as you will have to hold them in place and turn them around manually, but in the end you'll still have the magazine fully intact. If you intend to throw it away anyhow, you can always dismantle it by opening it up to the middle of the magazine, using binder clips on each side of the magazine so the pages don't move as easily, remove the staples and then cut down the middle of the magazine with a ruler and box cutter a few pages at a time.

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