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Folding Your Job

Folding Styles and Dimensions

Getting your job's fold dimensions correct the first time is easier said than done. You cannot just make each panel the same width and hope for the best when it gets folded. One of the most common errors that designers make is to get the panel sizes wrong when designing a piece such as a rack brochure that is intended to fold to a smaller size or for mailing purposes.

Sometimes the adjustments required to correct a file are easy to make, but in some cases they are not at all simple. If the art requires major revisions then delivery of the job could be delayed. To prevent delays or to prevent problems in the bindery, designers should prepare their files accurately and with the proper panel sizes for the chosen folding style.

Because every printer has their own way of working, there may also be small but significant differences between panel sizes from supplier to supplier. It is a good idea to check with your print provider in advance of starting the final artwork. It is always safer to ask before creating your artwork if you are unsure.

Here are some examples of the most popular folding styles. Simply pick the folding style that matches your job.

Planning Ahead for Folding Your Job

Each folding style has slightly different characteristics which will dictate specific differences in the horizontal dimension of each panel. Typically the front and back panels are the same width. Depending upon the stock chosen, the remaining panels may then be reduced to accommodate the folds, usually by at least either .0625" (1/16") or .125" (1/8"). In cases multiple folds this reduction can be cumulative.

In other words, each panel may be smaller than the adjacent by that increment. To make things even more complex, certain standard paper sizes may require back-trimming when combined with specific fold styles such as Gate-fold designs. Back-trimming is simply cutting off a small amount of the final trim paper width to accommodate the particular fold style.

Your Final Folded Piece Determines the Paper Size

Rather than starting out with a standard paper sheet size, you should always start planning your design with the desired folded dimension. For example you might want to create a standard 4" x 9" rack brochure. The overall width of the flat sheet before folding will be determined by the number of panels and by the folding style.

Depending upon the folding style, one or more panels of your design will be very likely be different than the final folded width. With five basic folding styles there is no simple equation to get the final size for each panel that works for all styles. For our 4" x 9" rack brochure example there are any number of fold dimensions and flat sheet widths that are correct, it just depends upon the number of panels and the folding style.

For bindery purposes, individual panels may be reduced by (usually) a minimum of .0625" (1/16") for text weight stock and as much as .125" (1/8") for heavy cover stock. In some cases these adjustments accumulate (add up) as panels are added. As a result, these panel adjustments are not insignificant numbers. You simply cannot determine your panel size correctly without knowing the stock weight and the folding style before beginning your design.

To make matters even more complex, some standard flat sheet sizes are commonly divided up into standardized dimensions while some sizes are actually back-trimmed (cut down) from their nominal flat size to accommodate the reduced width panels. This can vary from printer to printer and even from project to project. If this seems to be somewhat arbitrary, it is. Because there is no standardized approach in the industry to making these adjustments, it is important to check with your printer early in the design process.

That being said, here are some basic rules and guidelines to follow when creating art for folded pieces such as rack brochures and similar items. The specific panel sizes of the examples below are as viewed from the outside of the piece and all are figured for the lighter stock weights, adjustments for heavier weight stocks may be required.

How Does This Actually Affect My Design?

What this means is that you need to work out the folding style and the folds in advance, allowing for any back-trim which might be required.

A good example of this is a typical 12" x 9" (landscape) brochure which folds down for a 4" x 9" rack brochure. Depending upon the intent of the designer there are two ways to fold this piece. An Accordian fold brochure is made up of three equal 4" wide panels while a Roll fold design is made up of two 4" panels and the third panels is back-trimmed either .0625" (1/16") or .125" (1/8").

The final flat trim size for this piece could end up being either  12" x 9", 11.9375" x 9" or even 11.875" x 9" depending upon folding style and the stock chosen. If this extra material were not removed, folds on the piece would either not match critical panel widths or it would simply not lie flat. Maybe both.

What's more, not every paper size requires back-trimming. This is because a particular might size lend itself to a reasonable regular measurement. We'll always try to keep things simple in the sense that our measurements will match a typical ruler increment (std. inches) in almost all cases. You will find that our template panel dimensions will usually include some reasonable fraction of an inch in increments of 1/16" ths or 1/8" ths.

As you can see then, it is a good idea to plan out your job by placing the folds first, before you start designing the art. That way, you will place important items exactly where they need to be to have the correct relationship to the actual folds. Take it from me, it is easier to start this way than to redesign a complex piece after the fact to fit the folds.

Below, you will also find more detail about each different style, its characteristics, and how they may affect your final document dimensions.

Basic Common Folding Styles

Let's take a more in-depth look at some brochure folding styles and examine how each style affects their panels. These are the basic fold types that every designer should be familiar with. Each of these have different panel widths depending upon the fold type and the stock weight, even on the same size (before folding) flat piece.

Design Tip: It is a good idea to keep critical color breaks limited to the panels which make up the front and back covers of a folded single sheet design. To make these easier to recognize they are tinted yellow in each of our examples below. The other folding panels are likely to require some small width adjustments in the bindery and thus are not recommended for placement of critical color breaks.

4 Page Standard Folds

The simplest folded piece is the 4 Page Standard fold. It is just a piece of paper folded in half.

Both halves are equal, dimensions will differ based upon paper size and orientation.

Broadside Folds

A Broadside fold is a variation on the 4 Page Standard fold in that it is folded in half again at a 90 degree angle to the original fold.

The Broadside is especially useful for any piece that would benefit from a large image or possible an area map which can occupy as many of the four panels as the designer and client wish.

Accordian Folds

This design could not be simpler. On an Accordion fold piece all panels are exactly the same width. That's all there is to it. To determine your panel sizes simply divide the overall flat width by the number of panels per side to determine the actual panel width. On a three panel 12" x 9" brochure each panel would be 4" wide while on an 11" x 8.5" each panel would be 3.666".

Typical Accordian Fold Panel Measurements

11" x 8.5" (3 panels): 3.666" - 3.666" - 3.666"

12" x 9" (3 panels): 4" - 4" - 4"

Letter Folds

The Letter fold is a 3 panel fold often used for documents inteded to be placed inside a #10 envelope. It is also has uses, most notably when the document is landscape as the standard fold used on many brochures.

When the piece is portrait layout (vertical) the to panel at the top and in the middle are usually the same size and the bottom panel is reduced slightly. When it is used in a landscape layout (horizontal as might be used for a brochure layout), moving from right to left as viewed from the outside, the center and right panels are the same size and the remaining left panel is then be reduced in zie. This reduction is usually a minimum of .0625" (1/16") for text weight stock and as much as .125" (1/8") for heavy cover stock.

Thus, on a Letter fold the leftmost panel (as viewed from the outside) is between .0625" and .125" narrower (depending upon the stock weight) than the center and far right panel (the back and front covers respectively). Typically, on an 11" x 8.5" three panel Letter fold two panels at the right side are 3.6875" while the remaining left panel is 3.625" (or .0625" smaller).

On the other hand, three panel 12" x 9" brochures are often back-trimmed to allow the front and back covers to measure exactly 4" wide to fit in a standard brochure rack. The leftmost panel is generally back-trimmed between .0625" and .125" (depending upon the stock weight) and the resulting brochure may measure between .0625" and .125" less in overall width than the original 12".

Typical Letter Fold Panel Measurements

8.5" x 11" (Portrait, top to bottom): 3.6875" - 3.6875" - 3.625"

11" x 8.5" (Landscape, left to right): 3.625" - 3.6875" - 3.6875"

12" x 9" (Landscape, left to right): 3.9375" - 4" - 4"

Roll Folds

Determining the panel widths on the Roll fold is a bit trickier since it has a variable that is based upon the stock weight. On any Roll fold piece the panels that are to be the front and back cover are exactly the same width. In most designs these are the two far right panels (see diagrams below).

Moving from right to left as viewed from the outside, each remaining panel must then be reduced by a minimum of .0625" (1/16") for text weight stock and as much as .125" (1/8") for heavy cover stock. What is more, each of these panels must accumulate this reduction in width dimension. The result is that each panel that is added (to the left side of the front and back cover) is smaller than the one to its immediate right.

Thus, on a three panel Letter fold the leftmost panel (as viewed from the outside) is between .0625" and .125" narrower (depending upon the stock weight) than the center and far right panel (the back and front covers respectively). On a four panel Roll fold the far left panel is then between .125" and .25" narrower than the two far right panels because the reduction dimension accumulates as panels are added at the left side.

It is the nature of Roll fold designs that after the front and back covers, each panel added is slightly smaller than the one before it. No matter how many panels there are, they just keep getting smaller. 

Typically, on an 11" x 8.5" three panel roll fold two panels at the right side are 3.6875" while the remaining left panel is 3.625" (or .0625" smaller). There is essentially no real difference between a landscape Letter fold brochure and a 3 panel Roll fold.

On the other hand, three panel 12" x 9" brochures are often back-trimmed to allow the front and back covers to measure exactly 4" wide to fit in a standard brochure rack. The leftmost panel is generally back-trimmed between .0625" and .125" (depending upon the stock weight) and the resulting brochure may measure between .0625" and .125" less in overall width than the original 12".'

 

Typical 3 Panel Roll Fold Panel Measurements

11" x 8.5" (3 panels): 3.625" - 3.6875" - 3.6875"

12" x 9" (3 panels): 3.9375" - 4" - 4"

 

Typical 4 Panel RoFold Panel Measurements

14" x 8.5" (4 panels): 3.375" - 3.4375" - 3.5" - 3.5"

 16" x 9" (4 panels): 3.875" - 3.9375" - 4" - 4"

Double Parallel Folds

The Double-Parallel fold is generally a single sheet that is folded in half and then that is folded in half again. It is similar to the Roll fold in that the panels that are to be the front and back cover are exactly the same width. In most designs these are the two far right panels (see diagram below).

The difference is in the two panels that end up inside the front and back covers when the piece is folded. In most cases the second panel from the left (as seen in the diagram below) is just a bit narrower than the front and back covers and the leftmost panel is smaller still. The problem lies in determining just how much smaller those panels actually need to be.



Our standard templates have this second panel .03125" (1/32") narrower than the front and back panels but this is really an approximate value. The actual panel dimension will change with different stock weights. The leftmost panel is then custom back-trimmed by whatever amount is  required to keep the edge from peeking out from behind the front cover when the piece is folded. This back-trimming is handled by the bindery operators in final finishing.

Design Tip: It is not advisable to place critical color breaks on the first fold (at the left side of the diagram above). Also, nothing critical should be placed too close to the left trim edge because the leftmost panel will be back-trimmed. We recommend that critical items be kept approximately .25" (1/4") from the left trim edge to be safe.

Gate Folds

The gate fold piece usually has two shortened end panels which can be then folded toward the center. These panels when opened reveal the hidden interior. These two outer panels are typically back-trimmed just slightly (.0625") so they don't interfere with each other when folded. This will inevitably leave a narrow opening at the center of the gate fold. This is unavoidable. It isn't physically possible to have these two panels meet exactly at the center without causing problems.

The folded piece is then opened and the shortened end panels which had been the front cover on the gate fold piece open again to reveal the hidden center of the gate fold. As you can see from the diagram above, the gate fold design is especially useful when creating rack brochures. The progressive reveal is often used for increased dramatic effect.

Typical 4 Panel Gate-Fold Panel Measurements

14" x 8.5" (4 panels): 3.4375" - 3.5" - 3.5" - 3.4375"

16" x 9" (4 panels): 3.9375" - 4" - 4" - 3.9375"

Use Our PDF Templates

Please use our templates, or at least call us before you get too far along. We have created PDF templates for most common document types and fold styles to help you with the design process. We will continue to add to and refine these templates to ensure their accuracy and usefulness. Please don't hesitate to call us if you need a custom template for your project. We'll be happy to help you at any point in the design process.

Remember, the more complex your project is, the sooner you should consult us. We can help you with folding dimensions and with any other technical issues that may come up. This will increase the quality of your final piece and may even lower the final cost.