Tri-fold brochure

One of the most common brochure formats is the tri-fold format.

A tri-fold brochure is formed from one sheet, in most cases a letter or A4 paper size is used and it is folded twice (in different lines between them, vertical and parallel) to form three pages, this is why it is called tri-fold format. These three pages have two sides, which mean that the total pages that are available are six.

The closed tri-fold brochure's standard size is approximately 3.7" wide by 8.5" if you are using a letter size sheet or a 100mm x 210mm if you start from an A3 sheet.

The choice of the sheet's size will depend on the market. In the United States, Canada and Mexico it is a lot more common to use a letter size or A4 sheet, while in the rest of the world, it a lot more common to use an A4 size.

Sizes can vary slightly, as one of the pages will make itself shorter, so that it can fit between the front page and the back page. The difference in size is only a few millimeters, but it is there and it should be consulted with your printing house, which will usually provide the pages' design for these cases. Unfortunately, the templates designed for a tri-fold brochure are not universal and the design might require to be adapted slightly if you change printing houses. The thickness of the paper plays a determining factor here. In conclusion, you must be aware that the pages are not exactly the same – two of the six sides will be a little smaller than 1/3 of your main page and that the remaining four will be larger.

Other sizes that are commonly found, but still on less frequency than the standard tri-fold brochure are:

  • The legal tri-fold brochure: it starts from a legal landscape sheet, which has, 14" wide by 8.5" high and it is folded to create a closed brochure that measures about 4.7" wide by 8.5" high. It is a good option when the standard tri-fold brochure is too small for the content that you want to promote.
  • Tri-fold triple letter: it is a lot larger and it has other uses, which is why we will analyze it in the corporative brochures section. It does not have the same advantages and disadvantages than the standard tri-fold brochures or the legal ones (or any similar size). It starts from a sheet that measures about 25.4" wide by 11" high and it is folded to form a tri-fold brochure that measures exactly a letter size sheet of 8.5" by 11" high. Naturally, for markets that use norms DIN-A, the main sheet is different and the closed brochure measures exactly the same as an A4-210 mm wide by 297 mm high sheet.

Apart from the three brochures described here, you must take into account that you can create a tri-fold brochure by folding any sized sheet. The tri-folds brochures that are based on other sheet sizes are harder to find.

You must remember that the content of the tri-fold brochure must be adapted to four pages, as the front page of the brochure will be used for the title/catcher of attention and the back page usually contains the contact information. If the tri-fold brochure is going to be sent through postal mail, let say, if it is not going to be inside an envelope (we call it "mailer"), the back page will contain the sender's information and the blank space can be used for the postal office to add the corresponding tags and/or stamps. Each postal office has its own requirements, which you must consult before starting your design. In general, if the brochure is a "mailer", designers will only add a logo and your address in one of the corners and will leave the rest blank.

Tri-fold brochures generate curiosity on the reader, as it requires them to open it up. They are easy to carry, as they have a convenient size. They are fast to create and fairly economic to print.

In case they are based in letter sized sheets or A4 (when open), there is the option to make a digital print or an offset. A digital print will be a lot cheaper (each print has a fixed cost) and it is faster (each print takes a few seconds) for small orders (less than 500 pieces generally, but this varies with each printing house). An offset print has a slightly superior quality and they will be more economic for larger orders (generally more than 1000 pieces). A comparison between both printing methods can be found in the "printing" section.

The letter sized tri-fold or A4 is probably the most popular format in the world – you can see these in almost every hotel's stand in the world.

On the other hand, the letter sized tri-fold or A4 or the legal one, do not adapt very well for horizontal content (tables, diagrams or photographs that are very wide) as the pages have a vertical proportion. Yet in the inside pages that are side by side, it is possible to dispose of them and all of the width of the page. The marks of the folds tend to interfere with reading the content. With time, paper tends to tear and the content that is located within those lines will not be legible.

The tri-fold brochures (all of them) are not too friendly with an electronic format. Converting a PDF brochure to another involves two paths - or emphasizes reading flow or continuity graph. The solution to the problems posed by a path will lead us to another path, and vice versa.

The option that seems the best is usually prioritize in the reading order. This order would consist of cover, the second cover, the three inner panels and the back. Thus, we proceed to separate the panels and make a PDF with these six pages following the reading order. If we consider each panel as a separate page in the PDF file, the problems are:

  1. Lose the continuity that the brochure was graphic.
  2. If the content was "wide" and stretched for more than one panel, will be cut, so this option becomes completely unworkable.
  3. The proportion of the panel of a triptych standard is very vertical. This means that the display on the monitors will be very small since the monitors are horizontal.

As a solution to these problems, especially the one described in point two, the three inner panels can be placed together as a single sheet in the PDF file. The PDF file will pass from having six pages to having only four. This will solve point two, but it will create another problem:

  1. Graphic continuity is solved for the inner pages, but not for the external ones, although these are usually not a big problem. The external page elements, unless the reader looks at the open brochure from the other side (which usually never happens), does not show continuity.
  2. Solved
  3. Proportion will be much better in the third page of the file (the one composed by the three internal pages). The rest of the pages will have the same problem as before.
  4. The size of the pages varies (the third page, is three times wider than the rest). This does not look well when reading it in a PDF file.

The only solution for the described problems is to create a two page PDF showing the brochure completely open on both sides, as the design would be disposed for printing. The first page would be from left to right: the second page, the back page and the front page. The second page would contain the three internal pages. This generates another problem:

  1. The order of the pages is not natural

So the only option (unless it is an exceptional case where the design allows to alter the order of the pages in the first page of the PDF without losing continuity) it will be to split the two pages, so that the reading order is correct… which takes us to the start of this problem again.

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