[Rewind] Debunking the Gate Fold Myth


By Trish Witkowski

There’s a nasty old rumor running around that gate folds are the most difficult and expensive folds to produce, generating lots of spoilage and requiring manual labor. The rumor has scared scores of designers into avoiding gate folds like the plague.

As a lover of all things folded, and as someone who has dedicated her career to the topic, I decided it was time to stop gate fold discrimination in its tracks.

Now, being the research-junkie that I am, I called out to some of my industry buddies to confirm what I was quite certain was true – gate folds are actually not that big of a deal if you have the right equipment.

What is a gate fold anyway?
Before we get into debunking the myth, the first order of business is to clarify the terminology. There is a lot of confusion as to what constitutes a gate fold.

“Nomenclature changes as geographic area changes,” says Marty Anson, CEO of Bindagraphics, one of the largest trade binderies in the world. You’ve probably heard a variety of terms – gate, single gate, double gate, closed gate, and on and on. I’ve found over the years that even though people tend to call it what they want based on their environment and background, when presented with the real terminology, they will consider changing. So I’m challenging all of you to start using the proper terminology for gate folds so that we can speak with one clear, consistent voice.

A gate fold involves two panels folding in toward the center to create the appearance of a gate.


Many like to call this a double gate. It’s important to note that one panel folding in is not a single gate – there is no such thing as a single gate – and therefore two panels folding in is not a double gate. Sorry to disappoint. It’s just a gate.

Add another fold and you can call it a closed gate.

closed gate

Gate fold in and then gate fold in again and there’s your double gate. The illustration below adds a fifth fold to create a closed double gate.

double gate

Feeling frisky? Try an open gate.

open gate

Tip: Printers speak in parallel and right angle folds. Alternate acceptable terminology is to count the number of parallel folds. For example: gate is a two-parallel gate, closed gate is a three-parallel gate, double gate is a five-parallel gate, and open gate is a four-parallel open gate.

Back to the gate myth
Now that we know what a gate fold is, let’s talk about where the myth came from and why it’s no longer valid today.

You see, there was a time when finding a vendor with the right equipment to produce gate folds by machine was challenging. To get around this, the final fold had to be done by hand, which added a lot of cost. So, years ago, the gate fold myth was true, but times have changed.

My good friend Joe Wagner from Whitmore Group puts it bluntly, “We live in 2010, not 1980. Gate folds are not new, and neither is the folding equipment. It is standard to charge for setup of each additional piece of equipment and the labor associated with it, but you are not talking about a lot of money, or excessive spoilage.”

Printers now have more in-house equipment than they used to, and there is more than one way to mechanically fold a gate. How is it done, you ask? For the production nerds (like me), you can create two buckle folds and make the third (closed) fold with a knife folder. The printer can add the gate plate to the folder that has an electric eye and timer, or less commonly you can plow fold a gate. Fun! There are also high-tech programmable folding machines on the market that offer automated gate folds in their repertoire.

When gates get pricey
We’ve determined that standard gate folds have some additional production cost due to set up, and that gate folds are not costly specialty folds – until they are. What???

To explain, just about any folding style can cross the line into specialty territory if it becomes non-standard in some way. If that’s the case, when does a gate fold become non-standard? I spoke to Jack Rickard of the legendary Rickard Bindery in Chicago for some guidelines:

– Gate folds with a gap greater than two inches
– Gate folds where the fold-in panels must touch or overlap less than 1/4 inch (the panels can nick each other, which creates a production challenge)
– Gate folds on very light or very heavy paper
– Gate folds with unusual panel shapes

You get what you pay for

There’s one more thing to talk about, and that’s value for the money. When designing for folded materials, yes, cost is usually part of the equation, but one must also consider value, impact and overall success of the piece.

If you chose a tri-fold because it was cheap, but no one noticed or responded to it, didn’t you waste your money? If a gate fold, at a slightly higher cost, provides a better way to present your content, isn’t that worth something?

“Choosing the cheapest solution on the cheapest paper can backfire,” states Rickard. “Trying too aggressively to drive costs down can sacrifice quality – and your audience will notice.”

So, the moral of this story is to consider your folding options carefully, and consult with your printer before ruling out a solution. “Proper engineering of the project in the beginning stages is the most important aspect of any project.” says Wagner. Case closed.


Special thanks to Marty Anson of Bindagraphics, Todd Anson of Colad, Mark Hunt of Standard Horizon, Jack and Kevin Rickard of Rickard Bindery, and Joe Wagner of Whitmore Group for their valuable input.

Trish Witkowski is chief folding fanatic at the online community foldfactory.com. She holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in graphic design and a Master of Science degree in Graphic Arts Publishing from Rochester Institute of Technology’s School of Printing Management and Sciences (now the School of Print Media). An award-winning designer, she held the position of creative director for Baltimore-based agency BMWW for six years, and has taught design and desktop publishing at the college level. Trish has a specialized expertise in the area of folding and is the creator of the FOLDRite system, a 2004 GATF InterTech Technology Award winner.

Copyright 2010 PaperSpecs. All Rights Reserved. No portion of this article may be reproduced by any means for any purpose without express written permission of the copyright holder.

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