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Know your folding lingo

Aug 1, 2005 12:00 AM


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The language of folding often has been miscommunicated, misinterpreted and misconstrued. The problem lies in the fact that folding largely is tactile, visual and dimensional. Folding terminology, like any terminology passed along verbally for years and years, will evolve and change—sometimes it gets better, and sometimes it just gets confusing.

So we’re going to set the language straight once and for all. Here’s a handy guide you can share with your customers and their designers. (See also "Be a bolder folder," January 2005.)

Flat vs. finished size
The flat size is the exact, trimmed dimension of the piece when laid flat. This measurement should include all folding compensations, but never includes bleed allowances because bleed is pulled past the edge of the page in the digital document. Digital document page dimensions and flat size always should be the same measurement.

Finished size is the exact dimension of the piece when folded and trimmed to final size. Your vendor will need to know both flat and finished size. When giving dimensions to a vendor, be sure to mention width first, then height—this often gets reversed and can cause problems for estimators.

Panels vs. pages
The most common mix-up in folding terminology is the question of panels vs. pages. Panels are two-sided sections of the final folded piece, defined by the crease of the fold. A page is one side of a panel.

For example: The accordion fold above is three panels, each of the three panels is two-sided, and each side is considered a page—so the three-panel accordion has six pages. If that same fold is made a broadside accordion instead, it then changes to six panels (although it’s finished in a three-panel accordion format) and the page count rises to 12.

Panels vs. flaps
Flaps are shortened versions of panels, and also can be called short panels. There is no official guideline as to when a panel becomes a flap—it’s more of a subjective judgment based on just how much shorter the panel is—but flaps usually are less than half the dimension of the finished width or height, depending upon the direction of the fold.

To the left is a letter fold. Next to that is a letter with hidden flap (there also is an exposed flap version of this fold). They’re really the same folding style—the only difference is the width of the fold-in.

Pages vs. spreads
A page is one side of a panel. Spreads are two or more pages meant to be viewed as one. For example, in the letter fold, the cover and back cover are both pages, but two or three of the inside pages are viewed at the same time when the piece is opened up. Therefore, those pages together are considered a spread.

Parallel vs. right-angle folds
The first fold of any folding style always is a parallel fold. The next fold can be a parallel fold or a right-angle fold, depending upon the folding style. Parallel folds are parallel to each other. Right-angle folds combine with parallel folds to make right angles. So, a right-angle fold cannot happen without a parallel fold. The folding style below is a perfect example.

Broadside vs. short fold
A broadside-style fold doubles its area by folding in half on itself before any characteristic folding style is created. For example, a broadside letter fold is 12 pages, whereas the letter fold is six. The broadside fold often is mistakenly called a French fold, but a French fold is the name for a printing technique used in the broadside folding style. True French folds are in the broadside format, but they are printed on the outside (side 1) and blank on the inside (side 2). French folds are commonly used for invitations.

A short fold is a broadside fold, too. The only difference is that the broadside fold is a little less than twice the area. In a short fold, the fold-over panels are shorter than the finished height, depending on design preference, and the short fold can fall to the inside or outside of the brochure.

Mechanical vs. hand fold
A mechanical fold is a machine-made fold for high speed and other production factors. Most of the folds we see in print production today are mechanical folds. Hand folds are folding styles that must be done partially or completely by hand. Often, due to limitations of equipment, a fold is taken as far as it can go by machine, then bindery workers finish the last folds by hand.

Some folding styles that are considered hand folds can be done by machine at specialty binderies. Hand folding is very expensive and quite impractical for extremely long runs, and requires a die-score and extra time built into the finishing schedule.



Hello, my name is…
Can we all agree on a naming convention for at least the most common folding styles? I feel compelled to identify the most commonly used folding styles while acknowledging and then shooting down their common nicknames:

A—Accordion fold (commonly nicknamed zig-zag, z-fold, back-and-forth).
D—Double parallel (indecision/ignorance often renders this fold nameless).
R—Roll fold (commonly called a wrap, barrel fold, over-and-over).
G—Gate fold. (This is not a double gate! It passes through the gate attachment once, and for that reason is called a gate fold.)
L—Letter fold or six-page standard. (This is not a single gate! No gate fold attachment is required to make this folding style, thus it is not a gate fold. Other common nicknames are C-fold, tri-fold, leaflet.)
E—Eight-page broadside or eight-page signature (often incorrectly called French fold).
F—Four-page standard. (Single fold is the most common nickname for this one.)
Old habits are hard to break, but if we can agree on the proper folding terminology, communication will improve greatly across the industry.

Bindery vs. specialty bindery
For convenience and ease of production, most print shops have some basic in-house binding capabilities. Binderies handle just about any finishing requirement. Binderies can be very large or moderate in size, but they generally have more finishing equipment than the average print shop, which gives them more capacity, speed and flexibility to manage longer run jobs and some specialized projects. Capabilities might include folding; binding books, brochures and periodicals; and often die-cutting, gluing, foil stamping, shrink-wrapping, wafer-sealing, auto-inserting and other related operations.

Certain specialty binderies can mechanize difficult folding styles—often rigging machinery to do critical work that normally might have been considered hand work. Some can handle miniature folding, large map folds, stringing tags, folding specialty papers, pop-ups and more.



Trish Witkowski is the president of Finishing Experts Group, Inc., and is the creative director for a marketing and communications firm in Baltimore. She is the creator of the FOLDRite system, a 2004 GATF InterTech Technology award winner, and is the author of “FOLD: The Professional’s Guide to Folding,” available at www.foldfactory.com and through GATF and NAPL. Contact her at trish@foldfactory.com.