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We all think of the same thing when someone mentions folds.

Sheepfolds, obviously.

But thankfully in the printing world we can venture out of the barnyard when it comes to styling paper in an appealing way.

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Of course there are your standard folds: half-fold, tri-fold, half-then-half . . . and unless you are into origami, we begin to run out of ideas for creative folds. If we dig deeper we realize there is more to the art of folding than first meets the eye.

Self-proclaimed ‘Folding Fanatic’ Trish Witkowski has yet to run out of ideas. Over a span of seven years, she compiled an 850-page book of folds and created the FOLDRite system to aid in folding compensation mathematics (how much space to leave in the margins in order for the paper to fall flat when folded).

Witkowski’s website foldfactory.com has endless ideas for every style and focus: accordion folds, roll folds, gate folds (perhaps for sheep?) and even an entire section devoted to ‘exotic folds,’ which includes the divided ‘barn door,’ the popular ‘iron cross’ and ‘snake’ folds, and even a ‘twist fold,’ where a small square expands into a larger square when you pull on opposing corners.

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Folding allows the product to interact with the customer by attracting attention and then engaging the mind more significantly than flat paper. Like embossing and other special printing techniques, interesting folds also invite a tactile connection, but often offer a more budget-friendly option.

You have the information on the piece; but how do you want people to perceive that information? And in what order? Many of Witkowski’s folds include ‘hidden panels’ that allow the customer to ‘explore’ as they work their way through the material, encouraging them to hold onto it longer. The type of paper used is essential to the tactile experience of the piece, for weight, stiffness and texture.

Other ideas can be found in Cut and Fold Techniques for Promotional Materials and Folding Techniques for Designers: from Sheet to Form by Paul Jackson. These books give step-by-step instructions on how to create three-dimensional eye-catching products, although they tend to be more complicated than most of Witkowski’s folds.

The versatility of folding allows designers in many areas to exercise more freedom when adapting to specific needs. Although Jackson’s folds are mostly used to teach design students, he claims his ‘practical concepts of folding . . . can be adapted infinitely by any designer from any design discipline, using any sheet material.’

Most people do not give folding enough credit. The physical design of a printed piece is often the first thing people notice, long before their eyes scan the words or images, and sometimes before they even pick it up.

Perhaps the fold’s greatest asset is its affordability: when compared to Pantone and metallic ink, die cutting, embossing, etc., adding a creative fold to a piece can be one of the most cost-effective ways to enhance tactile response.

PrintingForLess.com offers standard folds on most items for only one cent more than the base price, and complex folds which have to be folded by hand begin at six cents over the base price, depending on the intricacies of the fold and the weight of the paper.

Ideas from Witkowski and Jackson are only the beginning in the vast realm of folding techniques. The versatility of the fold allows every designer to fit his or her needs and incite greater interest for viewers in a cost-effective manner.