Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others?

John BosleyPaper 6 Comments

If you’ve ever wondered why some notebooks open and lay flat better than others, you’re not alone. I always found it frustrating that two notebooks that had roughly the same number of pages, the same binding and the same paper weight would open and lay flat completely differently. Then, one day I had my “Eureka” moment. Of course, anyone who has just a little bit of experience with bookbinding would know the answer, but to me it was an eye-opening realization. Today, I want to share it with you in the hopes that you’ll be able to make more informed notebook purchases from now on. Don’t miss my easy-open notebook recommendations at the end of this article.

How A Book Is Made

Before I get into a detailed explanation of why some notebooks easily lay flat while others don’t, it would help if we quickly cover how a book is made. If you’re not familiar with the different parts of a book, here’s a good reference. The two main parts that we’ll be concerned with are the signatures and the binding itself.

“Signatures are stacks of two or more pieces of paper which are folded and grouped together ready for sewing.”

In this case, sewing refers to the actual book binding, which is done with thread. Books can also be bound with glue, but if this is the case individual sheets of paper are used instead of signatures. For the rest of this article, I’ll be referring to stitch binding and not glue binding.

Once the signatures are folded and ready, they are stitched together. The stitching process holds the paper in each signature together, while at the same time connecting the individual signatures to each other. Once a book is completely stitched together, it is bound and ready for use.

Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others stitch binding

Here you can see a fully-stitched binding on the bottom notebook and a simple stitch binding on the top notebook.

It’s All About The Signature

As you might have already guessed, the size of the signatures plays a huge role in how well a notebook opens and lays flat. A large signature that’s made up of many folded pieces of paper will have a harder time laying flat (or even staying open) than a smaller signature that has fewer pieces of paper. Let’s take a look a few exampes:

Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others signature sizes

The notebooks on the bottom, which have small signatures, will open and lay flat much better than those on top.

You can see that a signatures with fewer pages have a lower profile and will open and lay flatter than ones with more pages. Once you’re aware of this, you can start to look at the notebooks you plan to purchase and figure out if they’re more likely to lay flat or not.

Take a look at these two notebooks. They both have stitch binding and approximately the same number of pages and paper weight. Guess which one is more likely to easily open and lay flat:

Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others large signatures

This notebook is made up of a few large signatures.

Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others small signatures

This notebook is made up of many small signatures.

If you guessed that the notebook with many small signatures would be more likely to open and lay flat than the one with just a few large signatures, you’re right!

Binding Matters

Even though I said that I’d only be discussing stitch binding, I do want to at least mention other types of binding and whether or not they are more or less likely to lay flat than stitch binding. In general, stitch binding is much more likely to lay flat than glue binding, but I have seen some glue bindings that open and lay flat very well.

There are also notebooks with staple bindings. In general, these are just one big signature that has been stapled to hold the pieces of paper together. These never open and lay flat without some major bending and flexing to loosen up the paper. The same can be said about any notebook with only one large signature, regardless of how it is bound.

Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others staple binding

This notebook has only one signature and is bound with a few staples.

Why Do Some Notebooks Lay Flat Better Than Others stitch

Even though this notebook has a stitched binding, it will still not open and lay flat very well.


Some people may not care about whether or not their notebooks open and lay flat, but others definitely do. If you’re one of those people who do, then you want a notebook that will easily lay flat on your desk or table, even if you move your hand away from it. After reading this article, you should now know how to choose a notebook that will do this! All you need to do is look at how many signatures are in a notebook and the size of them to get a good idea of how easily it will open and lay flat. The more signatures there are and the smaller they are, the more likely a notebook is to easily lay flat. Of course, the best test is to actually open it up, but if that’s not possible then a quick peek at the signatures should give you a very good idea.


I have a few recommendations for notebooks that are more likely to easily open and lay flat. There are many other high-end notebooks to choose from, but these are a little more widely available and have been previously reviewed on this site.

Comments 6

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  1. Are there any tables out there (that you know of) that give the balance point between bulk from more sheets per signature vs. bulk from additional threads required to bind thinner signatures?

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