Join Trish Witkowski for an in-depth discussion in this video What is folding compensation?, part of Print Production Essentials: Folding.
- Now that we've looked at folding families and gotten a taste for just how many options there are, let's talk folding lingo. There's one principle of folding that is critical to understand. It may be something you've never really heard of before. It's a term called 'folding compensation' and it serves as the backbone of successful folded print materials. When you look at a folded brochure or a piece of folded manual, what you see is a sheet of paper folded very neatly that lays nearly flat until it's opened. What you may not realize is that often, there's quite a bit of math involved in the production of that perfectly folded piece. I know, it might be shocking and I'm sorry to be the one to have to tell you that, but it's true.
In folding, math makes all the difference. The reason for the math is that paper, as thin as it is, has dimension and we must compensate for that dimension, and that's why it's called folding compensation. So if one panel of a brochure is to fold into another like you'd see with this trifold, for example, that fold-in panel must be slightly smaller to compensate for the dimensionality of the paper and also for the subtle process variation in machine folding. If you were to keep all of the panels at the same width, there would be what's called telescoping. Telescoping is the inability of the folded sheet to lay flat.
The brochure will have a roundish profile because the panels are too long and push against each other for lack of anywhere else to go. Now, it's very unlikely that you would ever see or receive a printed piece that actually has a telescoping problem because the bindery will adjust the fold placements so there's no telescoping. But margins and color breaks will shift noticeably. For best results, you need to adjust for folding compensation in your digital file. It's one thing to know that you need to shorten the panel, but by how much? Well, lucky for you, that's my specialty. The general rule for one single sheet thickness folding into another is to shorten the fold-in panel by 3/32 to 1/8 of an inch.
I'm in the States, so I use the Imperial System, but you'll notice that I've also included the translation to metrics here. If the fold-in panel is broadside or basically a double-sheet thickness or if it's in heavy cover stock, subtract 1/8 to 3/16 of an inch from the panel width to compensate for push-out from the underlying piece of paper or the weight of the cover stock. Anything above two sheets of thickness can start at anywhere from 3/16 of an inch and go up from there. These are basic guidelines, and without getting too far into the weeds, this can vary based on which folding style you're using and how it folds, so ask your printer if you're unsure of which value to use.
Now, I do wanna mention one thing. Some designers set up their files without compensation and send the final file to the printer, relying on them to make all of the adjustments to the file. In my opinion, there are three problems with this approach. The first one, I already mentioned, and that was telescoping and the potential for margins and color breaks to shift in the adjustment of the fold placement. Two, the printer may need to charge you for the time spent making the adjustments to your file and those adjustments could also involve late stage changes and photo crops, line breaks, and color breaks. And three, you're giving up control of the outcome.
If you've ever designed a close-gate fold like this one and felt that the gap between the two fold-in panels was way too generous, you'll understand what I'm talking about. If you choose to give up control, just know that you need to be clear about what you want or you could be disappointed. There's a special technique to setting up the file correctly and I'll demonstrate how to do it in Chapter 5 of this course. If you decide you'd rather not build the document manually, you can always ask your printer for help in advance or you can download a professional folding template from foldfactory.com or another folding related resource.
- Understanding folding families and folding lingo
- Choosing the right folding style for your project
- The importance of paper selection and scoring
- Inspired real-world ideas for events, mail, marketing, and more
- How folding happens and how to get the best results
- Placing fold marks and fold guides and building templates
- Folding tips and strategies to suit any budget