Paper Insights

Cheap Folding Tricks

By Trish Witkowski

Recessions sure are a downer, aren’t they? Everyone is cutting back on spending, hiring, bonuses, company picnics and travel. There must be something fun you can do on your newly slashed marketing budget, right?

papertipTo start, please set the tri-fold down and slowly walk away from it. There are other choices to consider – and these choices will give you a lot of bang for your buck.

One of my favorite tricks is trimming. The great thing about trimming is that you get the effect of a diecut, without the cost. It’s amazing what a simple short trim on a cover can do to make a brochure more exciting. If you’re dead-set on a tri-fold, try trimming the cover short by an inch or so for a graphic reveal. It looks really nice if you do this for a brochure series and change the colors along the right side.


Another fun thing to do is to angle trim the corner for a sneak peek at the contents underneath. This works nicely for broadside folds that open out to larger poster formats. You can angle trim the corner and reveal a little of the interior poster spread, creating a graphic “violator.” Again, this is just a simple angled cut on the guillotine cutter – very budget-friendly.


Still along the lines of trimming tricks, short folds are another eye-catching solution. Short folds are broadside folds that do not meet at a flush edge. They’re shortened by whatever length you want, and you get a nice “banner” effect along the bottom of the piece.


Usually, short folds are designed to lift up, but a fun trick is to design the short fold to pull down instead. Take it a step further and turn the short fold into a “pocket” to hold a sell sheet or smaller brochure.


The “pocket” technique creates a nice little package without the extra cost of a die or glue. One note of caution: this concept gives the effect of a pocket, without the security of a real, glued pocket folder. It’s great for light marketing pieces, but if you really need the strength and durability of a folder, you should get a folder.

The key to getting attention is to do something unexpected. Asymmetry is a fun way to get a viewer’s interest. I have a really cool sample of a double-parallel fold that is folded in such a way that it creates a stepped effect along one side. The manner in which it was folded (two parallel folds) doesn’t change, just the size of the sheet and placement of the folds. What is most exciting about this idea is that “stepped” folding styles are normally very expensive specialty folds, but this folding trick achieves the look of a stepped folding style without the price tag.


Speaking of specialty folds, I have a very interesting solution for a “mock” iron cross fold. Iron cross folds are those awesome folds you see where you fold it out in all directions and it makes the shape of a cross or plus sign. These are notoriously very expensive because they require a die and score and handwork, and they waste a lot of paper due to their inability to nest together on a press sheet. However, if you don’t mind doing your own hand assembly, I have a solution for a “mock” iron cross fold that might be right up your alley.

This is kind of difficult to explain, but follow me closely on this. If you create two letter folds (tri-folds) and place them one on top of the other and perpendicular to each other, you can fold them into an iron cross fold.

If you plan to do this, know that the one on the bottom will have to be slightly larger than the one on top so that the one on the bottom can wrap around the one on top, so work closely with your printer for the proper file setup. It will also likely need a wafer seal to keep it all together.


Since we’re talking about cheap solutions, you’ll be doing your own hand assembly, so get some food and friends and have a folding party (but keep the food far away from the folding!).

My final tip for everyone is actually not a folding style, it’s a format suggestion. A lot of us are designing for direct mail, and the easiest way to blow your budget is to make a costly mistake with the U.S. Postal Service. Stay within the letter size format of 11-1/2” wide by 6-1/8” high at a maximum, and a minimum of 5” wide by 3-1/2” high AT ALL COSTS.

Forget how much cooler the design would look if it were just an inch taller or wider. Be aware of the required aspect ratio for machinability to maximize your savings. Also, make sure that your address is always parallel to the long dimension of the piece, not the short dimension. Aesthetics must be secondary here – if your piece is letter sized, but the address is placed parallel to the short dimension, they have to rotate the piece so that the address can be read by the automated equipment. The rotation means the piece no longer qualifies as letter format mail, and the price difference is substantial. Visit for downloadable guidelines or contact your local USPS Mailpiece Design Analyst (MDA) for help.

I hope these cheap and chic ideas have inspired you to try some new things!


Join Trish Witkowski at the next PaperSpecs Webinar “Beyond the Tri-fold” on September 24. It’s free thanks to the generous support of Neenah Paper. Click here for more details and registration info.

Trish Witkowski is Chief Folding Fanatic at the online folding community You can contact Trish at

Copyright 2009 PaperSpecs. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced or stored by any means for any purpose without express written consent of the copyright holder.

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12 Responses to Cheap Folding Tricks

  1. Good tricks…
    I like a trifold with a Z fold. A straight diagonal trim at the top of the piece creates triangular “tabs.” With different colored backgrounds you get instant bang for little bucks :-)

  2. Stay within the letter size format of 11-1/2” wide by 6-1/8” high at a maximum, and a minimum of 5” wide by 3-1/2” high AT ALL COSTS.

    As of Sept. 8th, this size max is 10.5 not 11.5.

  3. I stumbled upon the Fold Factory tip just this week and was really jazzed when I followed up exploring the web site! This is an invaluable resource for those of us looking for something different to do for our clients simply by paying attention to an aspect of design that’s many times relegated to an afterthought. I do a lot of work for National Envelope and have come across the same kind of thinking when it comes to incorporating envelopes into a project. It’s a reminder to start thinking about the details like folding and envelopes right at the beginning of planning. Thanks to Paper Specs and all contributors for being such great resources!

  4. Karen says:

    Thanks Trish!

    As a designer who is perpetually cheap – oops, I meant budget conscious – you brought up some of my favorite folding and trimming tricks, but realized that I often forget to bring them to the attention of clients during a portfolio review. Thanks for the reminder.

    I am looking forward to the webinar on the 24th.


  5. Carol Payne says:

    What a “fantastic” idea. I love the concept of “trimming,” and will definitely forward it to my staff.

  6. Hi, Trish. I am going to pass along your folding article to our design staff with one update. USPS has changed the maximum letter-size to 6” x 10.5”, effective 9/8/09.

  7. Hi guys! Very nice indeed, but I always also check, at least, the «super cool fold of the week» in Trish’s newsletter from… I am not payed to advertise no one, but it is a very nice site and I guess you will all feel the same!
    Congrats on the tips!

    Márcio Guerra

  8. paperguest says:

    Many thanks for your tips and webinar!

  9. Joe Rigo says:

    LOVED the Webinar! Didn’t visit live, but watched the posted version. Great stuff and I have visited and I am delighted – So, thanks Sabine and thanks Trish. As Marcio Guerra posted above – I am not being paid in any way, shape or form to say this. But I do think both the Webinar and Site would benefit almost all of the designers I have ever worked with. And, naturally, I feel the same way about PaperSpecs. The short version of this should have been a simple, ‘Thanks’.

  10. Alison Ashe says:

    Re: Nick and Michele, does anyone know why the change from 11.5 to 10.5 in letter-size maximum did not take place in September? Our Mailpiece Design Analyst just said that “At this point none of the letter sizes has been changed. If there is any change in the future, it will probably be for automation (barcoded) mailpieces.”

  11. I personally seem to agree with every thing that was in fact authored inside
    “Cheap Folding Tricks | Paperspecs”. Thank you for all of the details.
    Thank you,Dong

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