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A Dozen Tips For Folding Excellence

You can imagine the awards now.  Your ink holdout is great.  Your colors jump off the page.  Then, you get the call from your bindery.  The panels are sized incorrectly.  The fun is gone and now you’re in crisis mode.  Has this ever happened to you?

It’s difficult to have contingency plans for every frightening scenario.  In our detail-oriented industry, it’s more important than ever to do the job right the first time.  There’s only one problem.  Many printing professionals don’t have the time to develop top-flight expertise in the three main graphic arts disciplines:

Chemistry.       The process of putting ink on paper.
Bits & Bytes.    Rapidly changing prepress.
Physics.           The process of converting printed matter in the bindery.

As technology in prepress and the pressroom change, it’s becoming harder for printers to stay up-to-date in the bindery.  Rely on your postpress partners because they can help you plan for success.  Our company has been folding paper for a century.  Here’s a list of our top dozen tips for folding paper right.

  1. Communication.  When calling a bindery for a quote, include product and end-use information.  Provide marked and sequenced folding samples (1st fold A to A, 2nd fold B to B, etc.), blue-lines, rule-up sheets and bulking dummies.  As in printing, the best bindery solution usually changes as run length, end use and design requirements change.  Perfect layouts for jobs may not work at all if one dimension changes by even a fraction of an inch.  A general rule of thumb is to plan for 1/8” margin between copy and intended trim position, and another 1/8” for take-off trim.  This reduces the risk of final sizing problems and allows for natural variation in both printing and binding processes.  Smaller margins are possible, but check first.
  2. Paper.  Variations in bulk, excessive waviness and brittle or static-charged stock all contribute to poor performance on folding machines.  Paper bulk is incredibly variable.  For example, 80# uncoated cover stock can caliper anywhere from 8- to 13-points.  This is significant because 10-point stock usually folds easily while stocks thicker than 12-points require different folding techniques and machines (i.e., plow folders instead of buckle folders).  If a job is printed on a heat-set web press, consistent drying time is crucial because oven temperature and web speed variation affect paper pliability and brittleness.  Recycled paper has a tendency to have less strength than pre-consumer paper because of shorter paper fibers.  Recycled paper is less pliable and is subject to more jams, increased tearing, a poorer quality fold and more wrinkles.
  3. Grain direction.  Folding with the grain reduces unsightly cracking problems and may even eliminate the need for channel scoring or inline wet scoring, both of which decrease productivity and increase costs.  If you must fold against the grain, consider specifying a stock with short fibers and “off machine” coating for better moisture control.  Remember that inks tend to be brittle and may crack when bent, exposing paper fibers underneath.
  4. Ink.  No matter the time pressure, resist converting jobs with wet ink.  To help prevent this problem when using slow drying inks such as reflex blue, apply varnish to avoid smudging and marking.  When metallic inks are used, varnish will help reduce scratching.  Soy inks tend to scuff more than regular petroleum based inks.
  5. Panel Sizing.  For barrel folds (a.k.a. over&over or roll folds), the outer two panels should be sized to final finished size; each succeeding interior panel should decrease at least 3/32”; and the last panel should be 1/16” smaller than the preceding one.  Failure to do this will lead to a lot of problems including bend-overs, bad color breaks, jams and spoilage.
  6. Washout.  Remember that paper has three dimensions.  When folding right angle pieces, or when one sheet is nestled inside another, allow for washout (creep).  Paper’s third dimension, thickness, will build up on multiple right-angle folded projects and peek out of the final folded product as washout.  Heavily contrasted colors will make washout appear worse, whereas carefully planned colors can make it barely noticeable.
  7. Thick Stock.  Generally, the thicker your stock, the more variables you will face.  Pre-score stock 100# text weight or heavier.  Some thicker stocks without critical color breaks can be inline wet scored or folder scored, but always ask for an opinion before skipping channel scoring.  In some cases a scoring machine attached inline to a folder will work nicely.  When folding stock thicker than 10 points, watch for ripple cracking on buckle folders.  A knife folder generally will not ripple crack unless the stock is extremely thick, causing the sheet to fracture as it bends around the rollers.
  8. Varnish.  Although varnish seals ink and prevents marking and smudging, its surface is slippery and fold rollers have difficulty getting a good grip.  Furthermore, varnish dries to an uneven surface of peaks and valleys.  When sheets run through folder rollers, the peaks are knocked off and ground into powder that gets on the rollers and alters their gripping ability.  The position of a fold is determined when the rollers get a solid grip on the buckling sheet.  If there is any change in the gripping characteristics of the rollers, the fold moves.  Changing the backstop position in the plate is a temporary solution at best because the piece will quickly go out of folding registration.  Instead, it’s best to keep rollers clean during production.
  9. Die Cuts.  If your project is die-cut, provide a sample, or at minimum, a thumbnail sketch so your bindery expert can advise you about any hidden traps before the project is printed.  When folding die-cut pieces, sometimes it is possible to get away with uneven or non-right angle side guides.
  10. Specialty Folding.  Printers that tackle jobs with specialty folding techniques are very valuable in the marketplace.  Don’t give up on jobs with specialty folds because there are binding specialists that can help you make money on them.  Many of our customers have won terrific printing jobs simply by knowing where to get specialty folding done.  If a print buyer sends out a quote to three printers, and only one knows how to finish the job, guess which printer gets it?  Iron cross folds, swinger folds, pop-up folds, miniature gatefolds, projects with 18 accordion folds, etc., are all possible and practical.  When planning a gatefolded piece, ask your bindery what their standard gap distance will be between gates.  Don’t accept a gap greater than ¼”.  On many jobs a 1/16” gap or even less is possible.  On the other hand, wide-gap gatefolds are also possible.
  11. Miniature Folding.  Before embarking on miniature folded projects, check downstream production requirements.  Some automatic inserting machinery requires that pieces lie flat.  If glue is objectionable, ask your miniature folding company whether or not they can get the product to lie flat without it.  There are methods of overcoming this common miniature folding problem.  Also, discuss paper options with your bindery because miniature folding machines handle less stock variation than regular sized folders.
  12. Oversized Folding.  A common problem in oversized folding occurs on products with more than 40 panels, such as very thick maps.  If final product bulk is not accounted for when designing the cover and back panel, the piece may look terrible if there are color break problems.  Consulting with a map-folding expert on projects of this nature.

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Increase your profits with good folding.  As you plan for folding excellence, remember that the first step is good communication.

Kevin Rickard is Vice President of Operations for Rickard Bindery and an Officer of the Binding Industries of America.  Rickard Bindery specializes in discovering solutions to challenging folding, saddle stitching, gluing and other bindery jobs.  Kevin can be reached at (800) 747-1389.