The real value of fold compensation

01 Oct 2012

What looks like a folding mistake by the bindery is often a designer error. If a panel is to fold into another, it must be slightly smaller or there will be what’s called “telescoping”, or the inability for the folded sheet to lie flat. What looks like a folding mistake by the bindery is often a designer error.

If a panel is to fold into another, it must be slightly smaller or there will be what’s called “telescoping”, or the inability for the folded sheet to lie flat. It will have a roundish profile because the panels are too long and push against each other for lack of anywhere else to go. No reputable printer will deliver a brochure that doesn’t lay flat. The bindery will be forced to make adjustments to the fold placement so there is no telescoping, but margins and colour breaks will shift noticeably. The ongoing industry problem is that printers quietly make this adjustment, and designers assume the printer folded the job incorrectly, causing bad feelings and often loss of business.

So don’t let it get that far—compensate for folding at the initiation of the job, or ask the printer if they have a template. Also, pay close attention to the folded blueline. Even though these are hand-folded, they should still be a pretty good indication of what your end result will be. If it’s wrong on the blueline, it’ll be wrong in the bindery. And if you sign off on that proof, it’s yours.

Compensating for folding in the file at job initiation, for me, is also about control. Early in my career, I left it up to the printer to compensate for me. When I got my brochure back, my fold in panel was almost 1/4 inch (6.35mm) short, when it could have been 3/32" (2.4mm). This is not to say that printers are careless, it’s just that there is a fairly wide range of what is considered acceptable, so if you’re looking for a tight gap on a gate fold or fold-in panel, do it yourself, or clearly communicate it to your printer.

As far as how to compensate, there are a few ways to compensate the digital document, and if you don’t know how to, ask your printer to put you in touch with a pre-press operator who can walk you through digital file compensation techniques. It’s not as hard as it sounds. You can also visit for downloadable custom folding templates or ask your printer to provide a folding template.

Lastly, if you’ve already completed a job and you’re unsure about your fold placement, tell your printing salesperson when they pick up the job so they will alert pre-press to the potential problem. Although it’s much better to be proactive and set up the file correctly yourself, if you don’t think you’ve done it right, don’t keep your mouth shut. Tell someone, or ask more questions. You’ll save money, and potentially your reputation.

Folding compensation guideline

How do you know how much to compensate, and where to compensate?

  1. Make a rough folding dummy and lay it out flat. Look closely at which panels fold in or down. Any panel folding into another will require compensation. Compensation goes up with thickness of sheet, and number of sheets folding in. Also, more than one fold in the same direction, such as a roll fold, means compounding the compensation measurement in consecutive panels—each panel must get progressively smaller.

  2. The general rule for any single sheet thickness panel folding into another is to shorten the fold-in panel by 3⁄32 – 1⁄8  inch.

  3. If the fold-in panel is broadside (two sheet thickness) or in heavy cover stock, subtract 1⁄8  – 3⁄16  inch (3.2–4.8 mm) from the panel width to compensate for pushout from the extra sheet of paper (or the weight of the cover stock).

  4. If you don’t know where to start, consult the printer or bindery to make sure the fold is possible to mechanise, and to ask for a compensation diagram or template. In asking them for help, you may find that the bindery or printer can help you come up with unique solutions to enhance the result.

Trish Witkowski is Chief Folding Fanatic at the online community She holds a BFA in graphic design and a MS in graphic arts publishing from RIT. An award-winning designer and educator, Trish has a specialised expertise in folding and is the creator of the FOLDRite™ system, and host of the popular weekly e-video, “60-second Super-cool FOLD of the WEEK.” Publications include: A Field Guide to Folding, Folding for the Graphic Arts: A Teacher’s Handbook, and FOLD: The Professional’s Guide to Folding. Contact Trish at:

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