Folding families

Another informative article by Trish Witkowski, of
There are so many ways to fold printed pieces, and so many odd terms to describe the folds: accordion, gate, exotic, map, parallel… If you’re even a little confused, read this primer. The easy-to-understand descriptions, helpful drawings, and tips for what folds are best for particular situations will make you a master of the medium.

Folding has always been an elusive beast — an area of the printing industry seldom documented, with a language that varied as much as the subject it described.

It bothered me. It really bothered me. Every other area of the industry has been well documented, but folding was a mystery. So I set out to change everything.

I wanted answers to questions I’d had throughout my career, such as “How many folding styles are there, and what should I call them?” and “What size should I make the panels of the brochure?” It was a journey longer and more challenging than I had ever imagined, but in the end, I had something. A system — a standard.

In my research I discovered, among many other interesting things, that there were distinct characteristics that allowed every folding style to be classified into one of eight folding families: Accordions, Basics, Exotics, Gates, Maps, Parallels, Posters and Rolls. To be able to properly identify brochure folds, it’s important to understand what to look for. To aid in this process, the following is a brief overview of the eight folding families.


The Accordion family is one of the largest folding families, boasting almost fifty varieties. Accordions are also some of the most common folding styles used in brochure folding. The key characteristic of accordion folds is the “zigzag” back-and-forth nature of the panels.



Accordions are an excellent choice for a variety of applications, but are notoriously problematic during auto-insertion into envelopes. This style of folding offers flexibility, with the potential to add as many panels as the limitations of press and folding equipment can bear.


The Basic folding family consists of some of the easiest and most common folding styles. Great for low budget or simple projects, these styles are perfect for invitations, newsletters and brochures, and virtually guarantee stress-free production at almost any printer or bindery. The key characteristic of a basic fold is its overall simplicity. This almost lack of character is what disqualifies these folding styles from the other folding families.


The Exotic family is the most exciting of the bunch. Filled with unrelated specialty folds that challenge even the most creative mind, many of these styles require either the services of a specialty bindery, or hand-folding. The key characteristic of the exotics is the inability to identify strong ties to any one of the other folding families (or to other exotic folds), and a uniqueness of form.
And, yes, unique usually means expensive, although there are some specialty binderies that can automate what would normally be done by hand. For best results with exotics, talk to your printer at the earliest concept stages.[/two_third_last]


Gate folds are generally symmetrical, with two or more panels folding into the center from opposing sides. The key characteristic of a gate fold is the necessity of a gate fold attachment on the folding machine to execute the folding style. Not every printer has a gate fold attachment in their shop, which may require that they outsource the folding or hand-fold the final fold.


A cousin to the Accordion family, map folds characteristically have several accordion folds and are built in a tall format that opens into a large continuous layout, rather than spreads. This tall layout generally requires that it is folded in half, thirds, or even quarters.

Because of this, a map fold is described in “stories.” A map folded in half is a two-story map (two stories high), the map folded in thirds is a three-story map, and in quarters is a four-story map. Maps are limited to lighter weight stocks and may require special machinery configurations.



The Parallel folding family consists of styles with panels that stay parallel to each other. Parallel folds run the gamut from simple to complicated and offer a variety of options suitable for almost any application.[/two_third_last]


Poster folds are combination folds that are built to open out into a large poster format. The key characteristic of posters is that they consist of at least two folds, with one serving as the base fold, and one as the finished fold. The base fold is the first folding style applied, the finished fold is the folding style it adapts for the finished format. Posters are limited to lighter weight stocks.


Roll folds consist of four or more panels that roll in on each other. The roll-in panels must get incrementally smaller to be able to tuck into the respective panels. One of the benefits of a roll fold is that it can have multiple panels, but rolls into a compact package.


Trish Witkowski is the President of Finishing Experts Group, Inc., and is the creative director for a marketing and communications firm in Baltimore, Maryland. 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. She is the creator of the FOLDRiteT system, a 2004 GATF InterTech Technology Award winner, and is the author of “FOLD: The Professional’s Guide to Folding”.

Check out some of the fascinating and obscure aspects of folding on Trish’s website, at

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