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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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The Pocket Folder Brochure: Challenges of Being a Custom Printing Vendor

I mentioned in a recent blog post that a long-standing commercial printing client (a designer) had come to me wanting to produce a brochure with a pocket on the inside back cover for sell sheets. We discussed this over the phone today since she had just met with her client (the end-user).

Interestingly enough, my client wants the brochure to be oblong (landscape rather than portrait orientation) since much of the other collateral she has designed for this company has been produced in this format. What this means is a 24” x 9” flat brochure (12” x 9” folded) with either a horizontal or vertical pocket on the inside back cover, and four or eight interior pages.

I had initially directed my client to a pocket folder manufacturer’s website, where she had reviewed page after page of dielines for pocket folders (drawings showing the trim size, folds, and pocket size/placement but with no design: no type and no images). My client had found this useful in collecting her thoughts, and I could look at the drawing she provided and instantly understand what she wanted. It was an ideal way for us to communicate about format.

What About the Pocket?

My client floated the idea of a vertical pocket. She wanted to know what I thought. I said that I liked the idea because it was more unique than a horizontal pocket. However, the sample dieline she showed me had a 4” horizontal pocket, and a same-sized vertical pocket might not adequately cover the 8.5” x 11” inserts (only 4” of the 11”). My concern was that the inserts would then flop around, particularly since my client’s client (the end-user) planned to produce the inserts on the fly using their laser copier (i.e., probably on 50# or 60# uncoated text stock).

Thoughts on the Paper for the Job

At this point my client and I began to discuss paper thickness for the job.

As you can see, our first concern had nothing to do with the graphic design of the pocket folder brochure. Rather we were approaching the job as a physical item to be held in the hand, opened, and closed. We were looking at size, paper thickness, pocket dimensions, all in an attempt to visualize a finished product. The graphic design would come later.

My client noted that she would only want about four to eight pages in the brochure, saddle stitched, with each page in a stepped-down format (i.e., with each page being slightly shorter than the following page).

With all the information she had shared so far, I asked my client if she would consider a thick paper stock for the interior pages (perhaps 100# text if the brochure covers would be 130# cover). I wanted to make sure the brochure didn’t look skimpy. Four to eight pages is a short booklet. Thicker pages would make the brochure look opulent.

Or, as another option she might consider, I proposed making the brochure a self-cover piece. Perhaps the front and back covers plus all stepped-down interior pages could be 120# or 130# cover. My client said she would consider it.

Die Cutting and Embossing

My client asked whether a vertical pocket would require a die. If the pocket was essentially an extension of the back cover, would a die maker need to fabricate a custom die? I said he would, since the glue flaps used to secure the back pocket would be an irregular shape (i.e., would need to be diecut). My client understood this.

She also asked about die cutting a window on the front cover and perhaps even embossing or debossing the company’s logo on the front cover as well. I said all of this could be done. Some printers would create dies for the cutting and other dies for the embossing and and lock them all up in a chase (a frame to keep all the cutting rules together and in position), while others would do the die cutting and embossing steps separately.

The Press Run—Oops!

But here’s the real challenge. My client’s client only wants 100 to 250 copies of the brochure.

This actually opens up a whole new set of options. Let’s assume that the dies will cost about $500 to $1,000, or possibly even more considering the embossing (depending on its complexity, i.e., whether it is “sculptural” or “multi-level”). In a job this small, a huge percentage of the entire cost will be for make-ready for expensive processes, not for the equipment run time, since there will be so few copies.

Granted, this is early in the process. My client and I are just discussing options, requirements and limitations, and general costs. However, I have mentioned the possibility of digitally custom printing and digitally finishing the pocket folder brochure. The technology for digital printing, coating, embossing, and die cutting exists now, so I have started putting out feelers among the printers I work with. Fortunately we have time.

What You Can Learn from This Case Study

If you’re printing anything like this (a short-run, high profile piece), consider approaching the job in the following way:

    1. Start very early, and involve your commercial printing vendor from the beginning.


    1. Play with different ideas, considering all options. Don’t limit yourself during the initial brainstorming phase.


    1. Do extensive research. If you have a short run, consider digital custom printing. Digital finishing (laser cutting and such) is now available.


    1. Review samples (check dielines at online pocket folder maufacturers). Also ask your commercial printing supplier for unprinted paper dummies, as well as printed samples, so you can see and feel what the finished job will be like.


  1. Expect to pay a lot. Choose your custom printing vendor for the job based on the quality of his printed samples, his references, any working history you may have with the printing company, and your level of trust for the supplier–not on price alone. In cases like this, you usually get what you pay for.

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