In the lifecycle of book design, there’s a moment when the files are safely off to the printer—corrections made, images retouched, fonts packaged and colors reviewed. This is when I breathe a sigh of relief and indulge in a small but satisfying part of my job—picking the head and tail bands.
Sure, head and tail bands (h/t bands) are overlooked by the vast majority of readers. But to me, they’re the finishing touch that makes the book complete. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, pick up a hardcover book and look at the top of the spine. Chances are there’s a colored silk band where the pages meet the spine. Turn it upside down and there’s another band on the bottom. These are the head and tail bands. Not all hardcover books have them these days, so you might have to pull a few books off the shelf before you find them.
From The Book: Its History and Development, by Cyril Davenport (1907).
Head and tail bands have been around at least since the fifteenth century. Originally they were sewn into the book and meant to reinforce the binding, though these days they’re glued in and purely decorative.
Well-chosen h/t bands coordinate with the book’s cover, spine, and endsheets to create a harmonious package. There’s a limited selection—each printer has a book of samples showing all the different colored h/t bands they offer.
Left: a page from a printer’s h/t bands sample book; Center: the backside of the sample page, showing the full bands including the plain cloth that gets glued to the book spine; Right: another page from the sample book, showing the mesh cloth (called “crash”) that gets glued between the book block and the spine.
Enough backstory, let’s look at some bands!
In the Kitchen with Alain Passard
For this graphic novel about French chef Alain Passard, designer Alice Chau chose black-and-white striped bands. She says, “The case colors hint at France, and the black & white of the bands hint at the checks that chefs wear.” Perfect for a book about a French chef!
Fall in Love for Life
Fall in Love for Life is the super-sweet story of Cutie and Harry Cooper’s 73-year marriage. Jennifer Tolo-Pierce matched the book’s message of love with candy-cane striped h/t bands, which provide a great contrast to the baby blue of the cover.
For Swell, a book of wave photography, Emily Dubin sourced blue-on-blue striped bands that matched the undulating colors of the sea.
Short & Sweet
A chunky book always has satisfyingly long head and tail bands. These aqua-and-yellow striped beauties, chosen by Vanessa Dina, are distinctive and fun.
Promise the Night
For this adventure story, Jennifer Tolo Pierce chose bright red h/t bands. Since nothing else on the book package is red, they’re unexpected and provide an effective jolt.
The Wonderful World of Fifi Lapin
A book about the world’s most fashionable bunny requires eye-catching h/t bands. Aya Akazawa’s choice of neon yellow is trendy and fun.
We Love Madeleines
Designer Vanessa Dina says, “It’s not often you get the opportunity to pick a glittery gold h/t. I had the chance with We Love Madeleines. I think it adds a certain je ne sais quoi a.k.a. French pizzazz to the sugary sweet package.” I agree and I’m still waiting for my own chance to pick gold!
The Fart Tootorial
Neil Egan had the opportunity to pick gold h/t bands for a very different book. There’s something hilarious about a fart book in a fancy package. Paired with the gold foil on the cover, the h/t bands push the bling level over the top.
I hope this gallery hints at the different ways h/t bands can enhance a book’s package. Next time you pick up a hardcover book, take a minute to appreciate its head and tail!