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Index Tabs: Divide & Conquer
By: Greg Ortmann, President, Feiereisen, Inc.

Don’t let the simple appearance of index tabs fool you because they just might be the unsung heroes of document preparation. These ordinary looking, yet efficient organizational devices are invaluable.

User-Friendly Solution
Index tabs bound into books, manuals and other bound materials help readers quickly hunt for specific information easily lost in a sea of text. Loose-leaf index tabs help end-users organize their printed material for ready access. In short, index tabs offer some of the most enduringly practical ways to make directories, loose-leaf binders and reference books more accessible.

Index tabs frequently are coated with attractively colored or clear Mylar, a rigid polyester film that’s applied to tabs for long lasting strength. To ensure proper adhesion, Mylar should be applied only over wax-free inks and coatings. For short-lived products such as seminar books, you can save a few pennies and use non-Mylar coated tabs if the lowest possible production cost is critical.

Index tabs offer an ideal solution for labeling and segmenting files, folders, forms, instruction manuals, cookbooks and a host of other materials to make them more user-friendly. Tabs can be created in a variety of configurations including single or multiple bank, and standard, reverse, double reverse and non-collated sequences. High-speed Mylar and tab-cutting equipment cuts tabs and applies Mylar in one pass.

Equally Spaced, Well-Centered, Right Height
Efficient and accurate production results depend on properly laid out tabs. For best appearance, your set of tabs should be evenly spaced and of uniform length. Make sure your copy is centered properly and that the spacing between tabs is correct. Overlapping tabs are either impossible to produce or amateurish looking, if a workaround solution is even possible. 

The length of each tab is determined by the size of the book, the type of binding and the number of tabs in each row. A common problem in planning index tab projects occurs when customers try to include too much information in the small printable area. As in printing anything else, copy shouldn’t butt up against the edge of the tab.  If your tab bank runs left to right, your copy on the first tab needs to start a half-inch in from the page edge. Ask your tab services provider for a complimentary Mylar copy planning guide; most will happily provide one.

Tab height is another decision that needs to be made. Standard tab heights are 1/4”, 3/8” and 1/2”, and are suitable for most projects.

Production Tips
Conferring with your binding partner will go a long way towards ensuring the success of your next index tab project. This includes proper estimating, scheduling and determining what size and format should be used. Binderies should have as much advance notice as possible, especially if you plan on ordering less common Mylar colors.

Choose your paper stock wisely. Text weight stock is too flimsy to properly function as an effective tab divider. If unsure, get a hold of a cover weight or index stock sample before placing your paper order.

Use heat resistant inks when printing tab copy, because these won’t melt when Mylar is applied. Make sure your bindery partner employs operators experienced in tab conversion because roller temperature and pressure are critical.  Enough pressure and heat is needed to adhere the Mylar to the sheet but too much will damage the ink, paper or both. Non-heat resistant ink will distort and smear.

Custom tab heights and shapes are also available but these must be die-cut, which is more expensive. A lot of variability from the standard S-style tab shape is both possible and practical.  Over the years, we’ve die-cut square, rounded, pyramid-angled and other tab shapes for clients.

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The next time you’re in the kitchen pouring through a new cookbook and trying to find a specific recipe section in a hurry, thank the person who long ago bothered to spec index tabs. Tabs are handy, easy-to-read and will take end-users directly to where they want to be. We would be lost without them.

Greg Ortmann is president of Feiereisen, Inc., a leading provider of post press and finishing services including die cutting, scoring and perforation, book binding and restoration, folding, gluing, board and litho mounting, film lamination and UV coating, foil stamping, embossing and more. Founded in 1933, Feiereisen has locations in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Des Moines, Iowa and Kansas City.