The Zen of Trifold

February 16, 2007

“Send me pricing on this brochure,” read the e-mail. “I want 200 and if the pricing is real good I might do more.”

Feeling only slightly motivated by the prospect of such a massive order, I took a look at the file. The file extension was .psd. “A Photoshop file,” I thought, “at least it’s not put together in KidPix, like the last one of these I received.”

I opened the file. A trifold, Black and white, with photography, at least one strange font, all at 72 dpi. The size was nearly 9″ by nearly 12″. The columns were off, so there was no possibility of ever folding it. The file had been flattened, so editing in Photoshop was out of the question (even if the fonts had been included). Alarms began to sound and the blue screen of death popped up on my monitor.

WARNING: This file has failed Preflight. Your computer will meltdown in 30 seconds unless you CLOSE THIS FILE!

Grasshopper, DIY trifold brochures really shouldn’t be all that tough. Assume the lotus position, take four cleansing breaths and follow Poor Richard’s guidelines.

Step One: Measure

A standard piece of U.S. letter-sized paper measures 8.5″ x 11″. You can certainly use paper of a different size, but be conscious that it must be cut from a larger sheet. This is OK, but it will increase the price of the project slightly, perhaps too much for the opulent budget of our email correspondent.

Allow for margins on the outside of the sheet and gutters between the columns. A minimal margin for any press printed job is 3/8″. The margins are necessary to allow the grippers, which essentially are little clamps in a printing press, to grab the paper and carry it through the press. You can’t put ink in the area underneath the grippers, hence the need for a margin. For digital printing, you can probably get by with .25″, but you might lose a page number or two.

The gutters are the spaces between the columns. The basic rule of thumb for gutters is 2x the width of the margin. This will allow the text and graphics to center in the panels when the piece is folded. An amateur designer who forgets this rule and makes the gutters too small or large is termed a gutter snipe.

Step 2: Measure Some More

Now take a few more measurements into consideration, beginning with the front panel of the brochure.

As you begin your layout, you must decide whether you want the image to bleed. A bleed is when ink is actually printed beyond the finished edge of the paper. If you choose this feature, oversized paper will be required. The bleed is achieved by cutting into the printed area. Your printer will require that the images that bleed extend 1/8″ past the finished page size. If you are working with a good page layout program, like Adobe Indesign, you can define the bleed in your document settings.

Remember that you must send the oversized image to your printer. If you send a native page layout file, the information will be there. On the other hand, if you save to a .pdf file, you must specify the final size of the piece including the bleeds. In this case, the final size would be 8.75 x 11.25.

Poor Richard’s Tips:

  • As you begin the layout, you may also want to make one slight modification to the panels that will help your printer greatly and make the finished product look more professional. In the image above, the leftmost panel folds in to make the trifold. Because of very small variations in both paper size throughout a print run and the tolerances of mechanical folders, it is necessary to shorten the fold-in panel by a very small amount. Usually 1/16″ is plenty. The two rightmost panels should be slightly longer and the leftmost panel slightly shorter.
  • If colors change from one panel to the next, it’s also good to determine where the overlap will occur. Remember that the fold line falls in the middle of the gutter lines. The blue screen behind Ben in the layout above actually laps over to the back panel by just a small amount. It will look better to have a small stripe of blue on the back panel than to have a stripe of white on the front of the brochure. If you are concerned about the folds, ask your printer for a blueline or a folding dummy before proof approval.

Step 3: Consider the Reader

It’s a common mistake to design a folding brochure on a flat sheet with the assumption that the reader will treat it like a letter. Remember that a trifold is folded. It won’t be read left to right and top to bottom. Rather, it will be unfolded and read panel by panel. Follow Ben’s glasses below:



Panel one, the front panel, will of course be the first one that the reader sees. He may actually turn the brochure and look at the back panel next, but it is more likely that he will open the brochure next. The second panel he will see is the inside left panel, followed by (Surprise!) the outside left panel, which is folded in next to the inside left. If your brochure is text heavy, your message should carry from the inside left panel to the outside left then to the remaining inside panels. If your brochure is heavy on art or photos, make sure that colors or photos on the inside left panel doesn’t conflict with the outside fold-in. And remember that if you use a photo or text that bridges the left two panels on the inside, part of it will be covered up by the fold-in.

Poor Richard’s Tip:

  • You can use the center and right hand panels on the inside as a single layout area. In the illustration above, Ben’s printing press falls in the gutter between the two panels. This is a great place for diagrams, illustrations or a large photo.

Step Four: Finishing Up

In the illustration above, panel #6 is the outside center panel. This is the back panel of the folded brochure. This is the place for contact information, directions, a map, or a final photo. This panel will probably get the least attention from your reader, so put the most important information somewhere else.

Poor Richard’s Tip:

  • You can design your trifold as a self mailer. If so, the back panel should be your address panel. Remember that the USPS will require a gummed tab to seal the brochure to receive automation rates. If the tab can be placed at the top of the panel, only one is required. If you orient the address so that the return address is at the open end (bottom left of the panel), you’ll save a little money and time when tabs are applied.

Last Words:

We missed the massive order for 200 trifolds. Not wanting to make too many assumptions about the art I’d received, I called the customer to ask the right questions. It was her cell phone. Her voice mail said, “Leave a message and I might call you back.” I did. She didn’t.


Why We Need Small Business – Part Two

February 12, 2007

Georgia's High Tech Corridor

(Or Why do you Figure that Georgia’s High Tech Corridor is in A Pecan Grove?)

Georgia’s “High Tech Corridor” was established by the Georgia Legislature during the 2001 – 02 session. It extends from Athens to Augusta and also from Dublin to Perry to St Simons Island. It’s not really so much a corridor as a very long collection of roads with not a whole lot on them besides pecan groves, cattle farms, cotton fields and the occasional welding shop or sawmill. The photo of the pecan grove, by the way, was taken last week. It’s not going to be a manufacturing site any time soon.

To paraphrase Robert Burns, “the best laid plans of mice, men, and politicians oft go awry.” Perhaps even this epithet gives our great legislators a bit too much credit. My impression is that the high tech corridor falls more in the category of “Field of Dreams” than best laid plans. In other words, “if we put up a sign, maybe they’ll come.”

To pickup where we left off in Part One , this is exactly the kind of foolishness that politicians and chambers of commerce cannot resist. And Joe Consumer plays right along, even encouraging them when they proclaim the great accomplishments that have never taken place. What the politicians, the chambers of commerce and Joe Consumer fail to do is acknowledge and support the most powerful engines for growth and innovation that already exist in every local economy – small businesses.

In fairness to Macon’s Chamber of Commerce, they have done a good job in the last year. One year ago, Brown and Williamson Tobacco finally closed. B&W was once Middle Georgia’s largest non-governmental employer. High paying jobs were lost when the plant shut down and small businesses that supported the plant closed or laid off workers, too. Since B&W’s demise, the Macon Chamber has recruited several sizable employers to the area (Nichiha, a manufacturing plant and Kohl’s, Bass Pro Shop and Sara Lee Distribution Centers).

The Chamber has done well under pressure with the addition of big companies. But aside from a few networking opportunities, ribbon cuttings and a couple of seminars, the Chamber has not done much for small businesses. Nor have politicians at the state level. As an example, Georgia badly needs legislation that would enable and facilitate small business pools for the purpose of purchasing health insurance for their employees. Cowed by the insurance companies and confused by the inanities of the current system, the legislators have only just begun to acknowledge that there is a problem with health insurance. And the “solutions” under consideration appear to add layers of complication rather than reduce them.

And what about Joe Consumer? Joe could support local business with his billfold, but he’d rather go to Home Depot than the local Ace Hardware franchise. Never mind that Ace Hardware provides jobs for Joe’s teenage son and all of his friends and sponsors half of the events in his town. His perception is that Home Depot is less expensive. Even small businesses, who should support one another, tend to forget the impact of local purchases. How many small restauranteurs have you seen shopping at Sam’s Club?

Here’s where America, The Beautiful starts playing and the tirade ends. If you’ve made it this far, take out your billfold or your purse, head to the local butcher shop, florist, or printshop and buy something. Tell them thanks for hiring your neighbor and sponsoring your daughter’s soccer team. And enjoy what you buy, ’cause you’re keeping a lot of folks like me in the small communities we love.

Why we need small business – Part One

February 8, 2007

In a past life, I sold lumber. I worked for a great company. We had excellent people. Our company was locally owned, with three production facilities in neighboring states. We were innovative. We took very good care of our customers. We produced and distributed quality products. We were not the cheapest provider in most of the product categories we sold.

You might conclude (correctly) that it is difficult to differentiate one 2 x 4 from another. Yet our company did. We packaged in small bundles to allow our customers to maximize their product mix and inventory turns. We were obsessive about product appearance and labeling. We marketed the finished product; not sticks of lumber, but decks and outdoor structures.

We sold a package of value that our customers needed and appreciated. Our customers were, for the most part, independent lumber retailers. Small businesses themselves, they understood the value that we offered.

Then things changed. A decision was made that the focus of our business must be altered. The smaller companies who were such loyal customers didn’t provide enough volume. We had to sell to a new generation of retailers, big companies that sold big volumes.

The sale to the “big boxes” actually wasn’t nearly as difficult as you might expect. Our company had a great reputation. The buyers at the boxes had heard of us and wanted everything we offered, but with a catch. They didn’t want to pay for it. “No problem,” said the decision maker, “the added volume will carry us through.”

That’s when we lost our soul. The volume didn’t carry us through. We worked harder for less. And our good, loyal customers didn’t like us so much anymore. If the monster box across town had our products, how could they be different? And as our products and others migrated to the big retailers, some of the smaller ones went out of business. The good jobs they offered to long-term employees disappeared. The money they made was now exported out of town.

I left that company and started a little printshop. Burned out, I wanted to be as far from commodities and big retailers as I could get. One year later, our great little lumber company was sold to a monster wood products company. Three years later all of the plants were closed. Our great people lost their good jobs. All of the money that the company had generated went out of town.

What is the point? Small businesses are the backbone of every local economy and deserving of support. While the popular credo may be “think globally,” it is local business that allows those of us who do not want to live in the megalopolis to stay in our friendly towns and little cities. When we, as consumers, succumb to the low price temptation of the monster retailer, we export good jobs and money from our communities.

As a small businessperson, I don’t like the trends. Call me reactionary. I have little confidence that techology will save our small towns and cities. Telecommuting will not drive people to communities like Macon or Perry, GA, nor will it enable our working population to stay as the jobs disappear. Conversely, an innovative, thriving small business community is an engine for growth.

Think about it. The announcement of a new plant or industrial project makes the local Chamber of Commerce look great. But the impact of 500 small businesses, each of whom adds one job per year, is arguably much greater than that of a new plant or industry. Beyond the benefit of a broad, solid job base and the aggregate payroll is the multiplier effect of keeping purchases, payroll and profits in the community.

Time to get off the soapbox. Part Two coming soon . . .

Let the Pageant Commence

February 2, 2007

It was a spectacle worthy of P.T. Barnum, but without the trained tigers. I’m not referring to Miss America, though that antiquated sham of a beauty contest did occur last week. Rather, I’m speaking of the first ever annual Miss Perry Middle School Pageant. Despite the unfortunate billing of the event as “Miss PMS” on the large lighted sign out front, the contest managed to draw in 22 beautiful contestants!

The Perry Middle Jazz band, including musical son Wil, were the featured performers, so Poor Richard went to the beauty contest. It was great. I took notes.

First, no local pageant should lack a poised and lovely emcee with the ability to totally massacre the English language. The mistress of ceremonies for the evening applauded the quality of the “corography” of the first dance number and complimented the “ex-corts” on their demeanor and attire.

Second, every contestant should have a complete biographical sketch. The ambitious goals of these 11 – 13 year olds are simply amazing. Several aspire to be pediatricians after Middle School. Contestant #3 intends to read 150 books that contain 100 pages or more. Contestant #11, aptly named Savannah, intends to go to Savannah College of Art and Design in (where else?) Savannah, Georgia.

Contestant #18 wanted to learn 50 words in Japanese and win in a Junior Rodeo. Also inspiring were the career goals of Contestant #20, who is heading directly to law school after PMS. She would like to be a “divorce attorney for the rich and famous.”

Third, it is fitting that each contestant be judged on their ability to provide a thoughtful answer to a carefully crafted question. When asked, “What would you do if you were elected President?” contestant #2 became slightly flustered.

“I’d feed the homeless, because they need, because they need . . .” Losing her train of thought entirely, she looked to the audience for support.

“Food!” the audience responded in unison!

Fourth, every local pageant should have an evening gown processional with at least one contestant dressed as Queen Elizabeth II.

Finally, no good pageant should be without professional entertainers. I am biased, but son Wil and the Jazz band played wonderfully. Accompanied by a 9th grader, who decided to go to high school rather than law school, they performed a version of “Don’t Know Why” that even Norah Jones would have loved. The chorus was slightly less amazing, but they did feature a striking young alto dressed in neo-chorus biker attire. She commanded my attention, but also that of the 5 year old behind me who exclaimed to his mom, “She really kindof scary, ain’t she?”

The pageant drew to a close with awards of all sorts in the interest of the preservation of contestant self-esteem. Tension mounted as the judges tabulated their ballots. And the right girl won. The cutest girl in the pageant became the first “Miss PMS” ever, a title that will probably haunt her until her 55th high school reunion.

Poor Richard does not wish to offend with his blatant sarcasm. He does find it fitting and proper to question the wisdom of such an extravaganza given the tender sensitivities of the contestants. He does not, however, disparage the entertainment value of the event. It was hilarious! I loved it!