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Folding Your Design Piece

There is more to a printing job than putting ink on paper. Prepress and press work are followed by post-press, which includes folding, saddle-stitching, perfect binding, and a host of other processes.

Folding is one of the less precise components of printing, so it helps to understand its limitations while you design a creative piece. Most folding equipment can hold 1/32” of tolerance for each fold. While that doesn't seem like a lot of variance, keep in mind that most jobs include a number of folds, and if the first one is 1/32” off, each successive fold may get worse. Thirty-seconds of an inch add up, just like pennies.

What does this really mean? If you create a barrel-fold brochure (also called a wrap-fold brochure), and you position copy and panels of color exactly at the folds, at some point the copy may no longer be centered, and the color solids may extend beyond the folds of the brochure panels.

Also keep in mind that for barrel-fold brochures to lie flat, you need to design them with 1/16” successively shorter panels. The panels need to grow in size from the center-most panels to the outermost panel to compensate for the bulk of the paper as it is folded. Your printer can give you a diagram showing the exact width you need to make each panel of such a wrap-fold brochure.

A good rule of thumb is to assume that the folding equipment will be “off” by up to 1/8” in either direction. Since this can wreck the positioning of crossover type (type than extends from one page to the adjacent page), you may want to choose pages that are next to each other on the press sheet, rather than just those that appear as “reader spreads,” when you position a crossover. Ask your printer for the press imposition to determine where the “center spreads” in each signature will fall.

Or redesign your piece to avoid crossovers entirely. For instance, rule lines at the top of book pages don't need to continue across the gutter margin to be effective. Consider placing them above the text only, ending the rule at the margins of the text, and placing a corresponding rule at the top of the facing page.

Closely related to folding is scoring, which is a “pre-fold,” of sorts. Using a rule, a wheel, or a string attached to an offset press or a letterpress, the scoring process “starts” a fold in the paper. This allows the subsequent folding operations to be more precisely positioned and less likely to crack the paper, the paper coating, or the ink on the paper.

Scoring is an important step in the production process when the paper exceeds 80# text weight, when you're folding against the grain, or when you're folding through a heavy-coverage color solid or a cover coating. Cover weight paper always needs scoring.

Thinner paper, such as 50# text weight, poses the opposite problem, since it can wrinkle in the folding equipment. It is too light and not rigid enough to withstand the rough treatment of the folding process. To be safe, discuss scoring with your print provider, since it will add to the cost but will keep your printed product looking crisp and professional.

Everything You Print is an Ad for Your Company

A marketing expert's speech once made an indelible impression on me. He said, “Everything your company sends out is an ad for your company.” Prior to that, I had thought of books and brochures as products, with content. I had completely missed the concept that every quality of a printed piece, from the texture of the paper to the ink colors, to what the product feels like in the client's hands, says something about the company that made the brochure, book, etc. Many of these design and print production attributes operate on the reader unconsciously, motivating her or him to buy or not buy a product or service, or even to avoid the company altogether.

Here are some thoughts about what a printed piece can say to a prospective client:

  1. Thin, cheap paper suggests that the company producing the brochure will also produce cheap products or take an uncaring approach to providing a service.
  2. Imprecise printing and finishing (such as improperly placed folds, as noted above) can also leave a bad taste in a prospective client's mouth.
  3. In contrast, a business card printed on thicker than usual paper (say 130# cover stock instead of the usual 80# cover stock), or a business card with a fold-over flap, may suggest opulence, luxury, and attention to detail, all qualities that bolster a company's brand equity.
  4. High quality printing on an uncoated sheet may suggest to some readers that the company values ecological sensitivity and focuses on sustainability (even if coated paper can be equally sustainable).
To go back to the business card example, placing a beautiful and well-produced business card in the hands of a prospect can make as much of an impression as a huge poster on a wall.

So think about the intangibles. Go beyond the content, and consider how a potential client will view each and every piece of printed material you design.


[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.]

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