There are many ways a printed piece of paper can be folded. Below is a list of the most common ways in which brochures, leaflets, pamphlets or folders that are printed on a single page can be folded. Once folded, each side or section of the printed piece is called a panel. The names of the folding schemes are not standardized, the list below shows the most common naming convention.
- One fold – 4 panels
- Two folds – 6 panels
- Three folds – 8 panels
The recommendations on this page are fairly general: if you are a designer it is best to consult with your printer before designing a folded document. Many printers have downloadable templates on their web site.
As the name implies, simply fold the page in half. Sometimes this is also called a gatefold, for example in the music industry where vinyl LP albums were often packaged in a gatefold cover.
The front cover (1) is the right panel of the first page and the back cover (2) is the left panel of the first page. Both panels have the same width.
Trifolds are commonly used for marketing events, services or products. The panels fold in on each other to form the finished size. The three panels do not have the same width since you need to compensate for the thickness of the paper in the fold and tolerances of the folding machine. For a 8.5″ x 11″ tri‑fold brochure or pamphlet, one approach is to make part 3 which folds to the inside 3.625″ wide while the 2 other panels are 3.688″ wide. Some printers recommend to make panel 2 a bit less wide than panel 1. For users of the metric system, for example, an A4 page which is 297mm wide is often folded like this: panel 3 is 98 mm wide, panel 2 measures 99 mm and the front panel 1 is 100 mm wide.
You can use the guides in an application like InDesign to visualize this during the design of the document. Keep in mind that panel 2 is the back cover. The user first sees the front cover (panel 1) and then upon opening panel 3 so these two panel should have a matching or consistent style.
This is a 6 panel accordion fold. Each fold opens in the opposite direction to its neighbor, giving a pleated or concertina effect. All the panels have the same width.
With a gatefold the two outside panels 1 and 3 each fold towards the middle. They are slightly smaller than half of the sheet. For a 17” x 11” sheet, for example, panels 1 and 3 are 4.21875” wide while panel 2 is 8.5625” wide. For an A5 open size (210 x 148 mm) folded to an A6, panels 1 and 3 are 52 mm wide and panel 2 is 105 mm wide.
This is a gatefold that is folded in two. Consult with the printer if you want to line up images that must go over the inside panels (1 and 4 in the example below).
Paper is folded in half and then half again. The inside panels are slightly smaller than the outside panels.
This is a combination of two half folds – The page is first folded in half horizontally and then again vertically. This folding scheme is commonly used for cards and typically has printing on only one side.
The paper is folded so that the panels roll in on each other, like a spiral. Panel 1 and 2 have the same size but then each subsequent panel gets a little smaller so that they can fit inside each other. For example: for an open 11” x 17” document panel 1 and 2 are 4.3125” wide, panel 3 is 4,21875” wide and panel 4 4.15625”.
Each fold opens in the opposite direction to its neighbor, giving a pleated or concertina effect. Usually the panels have the same width although there are printers that recommend to make the front cover panel slightly wider. This folding style cannot be machine inserted into envelopes.
Other sources of information
Other pages with folding guidelines can be found here.