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Printing Industry Exchange ( is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Printing Custom Pocket Folders

Custom pocket folders are both functional and a good marketing tool. If you’ve ever received a pocket folder containing a stack of printed samples from a custom printing vendor, you appreciate the way everything stays together in the folder, allowing you to file it for future reference. Conversely, custom pocket folders present an image of the commercial printing provider as aesthetically savvy and technologically astute.

For your own design work, what do you need to consider when creating customized pocket folders for a client?

Choose an Appropriate Paper Stock

Your first consideration should be the kind of paper. A gloss coated sheet might be more appropriate to showcase photographs, whereas a matte, dull, or even satin press sheet might create a more subdued appearance that would facilitate reading large amounts of text. A third option would be an uncoated sheet. This might give a more environmentally-friendly tone to the design. You might even consider a textured paper such as linen or felt, with patterns embossed into the press sheet. After all, custom pocket folders engage not only your visual and aesthetic sensibility but also your sense of touch.

After you have chosen the paper coating, surface texture, color, etc., you need to consider the paper weight or thickness. I wouldn’t suggest going below 110# cover stock, but I have seen heavier stocks used successfully for custom pocket folders (up to 14 pt., or approximately 120# cover). This provides substantial heft to the piece. A heavy stock can lend an air of stability and seriousness to a pocket folder (and, by association, to the business, service, or company it represents).

Choose the Ink Colors for Printing the Custom Pocket Folders

As with any job of this sort, it’s important to consider whether you will print a simple one- or two-color piece or a more intricate 4-color job. Of particular importance will be where you place the color. When you dismantle a pocket folder (pull apart the glued edges), you will see that the pockets are actually on the same side of the press sheet as the front and back panels of the folder, whereas the interior of the pocket folder is printed on the opposite side of the press sheet.

If you print a 4-color process job and you create a process color build for the interior and exterior, the colors might not exactly match. After all, when you assemble the pocket folder, you will place the pockets (one side of the press sheet) next to the interior (the other side of the press sheet). Any color variance will be obvious. One way to avoid this is to either keep the interior of the pocket folder white (the color of the press sheet) or create two distinct process color builds (one for the interior and one for the exterior of the pocket folder).

When choosing a color scheme for the pocket folder and creating the design, consider any cover coating you may want to add, such as a varnish, aqueous coating, or UV coating. Your commercial printing supplier will knock out (i.e., not print) any cover coating where glue strips will hold together sections of the converted pocket folder. That said, you need to ask your printer to also omit the cover coating from any portion of the pocket folder on which you will want to write with ball-point pen.

The Physical Dimensions of the Pocket Folders

Physical dimensions start with the size of the folder. (The standard size is 9” x 12” for 8.5” x 11” inserts; however, other sizes can be produced as well.) Your printer will want to know the finished size (the final size once the pockets have been folded in and glued, and once the pocket folder has been closed).

Next you should consider the size and shape of the interior pockets. Some pockets are flat, or horizontal. Some are scalloped (curving inward; that is, high on the exterior left and right and sloping downward toward the center of the pocket folder).

You may also want to add business card slits on either the right or left interior pocket. This will help you personalize the pocket folder.

Finally, consider just how much material your pocket folder must hold. In fact, it’s wise to make a physical mock-up at this point and insert papers or brochures into the folder pockets. This will give you a sense of what the completed package will look like and how it will feel in your hands.

If your flat pockets won’t hold enough, you may need to add a “build” to the spine and pockets. For the spine, this just means that there will be two parallel folds (creating a thick spine) instead of one (creating a flat spine). A slightly thicker spine will allow the pocket folder to hold more enclosures. A build in the pocket is similar, with extra paper glued along the side and bottom of the pocket to give it depth (and thus more capacity).

Digital Printing as an Option for Custom Pocket Folders

Digital presses are now accepting larger press sheets. A flat pocket folder is rather large, before the press sheet has been die cut and the pockets folded in and glued. If your final size is 9” x 12” and you have 4” pockets, then the flat press sheet would be at least 18” wide (for the front and back panels) and 16” deep (the interior height plus the 4” pockets). It would actually be larger than this if you account for bleeds and for any glue tabs needed to assemble the finished pocket folder.

An HP Indigo 10000 digital press will accept a 29.5” x 20.9″ sheet size with an image size of 29.1” x 20.1”. This is good news if you’re producing either a short press run of custom pocket folders or pocket folders containing variable data printing. Not long ago, the largest press sheet a digital press would accept was closer to 12” x 18”. This made it nearly impossible to print a flat (unconverted) folder with pockets and bleeds on a digital press. (However, some printers were able to circumvent the size limitations by printing the pockets separately and then gluing them to the front and back panels.)

But since digital presses now accept larger press sheets, you have printing options that didn’t exist a few years ago. You can digitally print the complete layout for the folder, the pockets, and the glue tabs at one time prior to die cutting and assembling the finished product.

An Interesting Note About Paper Grain in Custom Pocket Folders

Usually you would fold a paper cover of a perfect-bound book with the grain of the paper (that is, with the majority of paper fibers running parallel to the spine). However, for a pocket folder, you would score and fold the press sheet “against the grain,” or perpendicular to the paper grain, to create the spine of the folder. This will ensure the durability of the pocket folder spine (with or without a build), since the folder will be opened and closed numerous times and since paper tears more easily with the grain and is stronger against the grain.

6 Responses to “Printing Custom Pocket Folders”

  1. Thanks a lot for sharing this helpful and useful blog with us. It has great tips.

  2. Jarrod says:

    This is a great post about the many facets involved with folders. It can get very daunting from the customer’s perspective when you start talking about stock finishes such as laid, linen, and smooth. Going a little deeper we can look at extra options such as embossing, foils, and special inks. I guess the bottom line is helping to guide the customer in the direction they would like to go with their project…and you are definitely giving great insight here. Thanks.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your response to the blog post. There is a lot of information to discuss with the customer and many choices the customer must make to create a successful pocket folder. I think an effective print supplier is a partner, a consultant, and an educator as well as a technician who puts ink or toner on paper.

  3. Pocket folders are really very useful for storing the information and keeping the documents safe and secure.

    • admin says:

      Agreed. They are also good marketing tools, since they will keep the brand identity in front of the user every time he or she opens the pocket folder. Thank you for your comment.


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