The Heirloom Album vs. The Perfect Album


One of the questions we answer very often is what are the differences between the various albums we offer - our signature-bound Heirloom Album, our perfect-bound Heirloom Album, and our press-printed Perfect Album. Although all these albums come in similar sizes, with the same fabrics, cases and vellum interleaving options, they are made very differently in the binding process. Importantly, our Heirloom Albums are hand-printed on 100% cotton rag papers in the giclee process, while our new Perfect Albums are printed on 100% acid-free alpha-cellulose wood pulp papers using the best available digital press printers. 

Here is an overview of our current album types:

  • Heirloom Album - Signature Bound
    • 100% Fine Art Cotton Rag Paper
    • Vellum Interleaving
    • Sets of 8 pg Spreads
    • Sizes up to 14 inches x 16 inches
  • Heirloom Album - Perfect Bound
    • 100% Fine Art Cotton Rag Paper
    • Vellum Interleaving
    • Any page count up to 150 sides per book
    • Sizes up to 16 inches x 20 inches
  • Perfect Album - Perfect Bound
    • Fine Art Alpha-Cellulose Paper
    • No Vellum, No Design Limitations
    • Any page count up to 200 sides per book
    • Sizes up to 16 inches x 20 inches


Perfect-bound books (image above) are traditionally printed with the pages cut, blocked and then glued along the spine side. This is similar to most hard-cover museum style art books you can buy today. For our version of a perfect-binding, we add an additional step to the process where linen thread is 'oversewn' through the book along the side to ensure that the pages will not tear or come apart. This makes our perfect bindings stronger than the traditional perfect bound book.

Signature bound albums (image above) are made of full-spread prints that are folded in the middle. Two of these full sheets (8 printed sides) are folded together in a booklet or 'signature' and then combined with the rest of signatures and sewn together with linen thread to create the book block. The reason that signature albums are so coveted in the fine art world is this process of sewing linen thread through folded signatures. Signatures are incredible strong and also allow the album to open much flatter than a perfect-binding. Each page is easy to turn whether you are at the beginning or the end of the album. Although perfect-bound albums do not open as wide, we are not restricted as much by available papers, so our largest books (16x20, etc.) can only be made perfect-bound. The truth is that, in these extra-large sizes, the size of the middle 'gutter' is much less noticeable. 

Because signature bound albums are printed on giant sheets of paper, especially for our album sizes, there has to be a maximum spread size. For us, it is a 14x16 album, which is already very large. So if you are interested in an even larger album, perfect binding allows us to print on a sheet half the size of a signature and thus opens your options.

Our Perfect Albums are bound using the same perfect binding methods as our Heirloom albums, but the text block is printed on acid-free alpha cellulose fine art paper. Because of the printing method, we are able to bind books this way without including a protective vellum interleaving, and because the printing process is less time consuming we are able to offer Perfect Albums at a discount to our other offerings while keeping them best-in-class archival products.

Which is the best choice for you? It depends on what kind of book you are building. We typically recommend Signature Heirloom albums as our 'lay-flat' option, as the binding method allows for the spreads to open more fully, which can be helpful if you are making smaller parent albums where the gutter margin (the part of the book that disappears into the spine) would have a larger impact on your layout. The Perfect Album has the advantage of more flexible page-counts (Heirloom books are laid out in multiples of 8 pages), and there are no pages with visible stitching (the middle of each signature has a white linen stitch that runs down the middle). Our Perfect Albums make great parent albums as well, and are great for clients who prefer to forego the vellum interleaving.

No matter what type of album you choose, you can rest assured that your album will be made with the greatest care, by hand from beginning to end. For more information on how paper type affects album design, please see our blog post on Heirloom Fine Art Papers.

We'd be happy to share photos of any specific differences if you need to see some more detail - just contact us at studio@heirloombindery for more information.