Design Domination Podcast Episode #12: Fold Some Fun Into Your Direct Mail Projects With Trish Witkowski, Foldfactory

Print designers, do you find yourself using the same folds for projects over and over again because you think other types of folds might cost too much or they seem too complicated to set up properly? In this episode, Trish Witkowski of Foldfactory will educate and inspire you—and tell you how to get some free templates for your next project.

Trish Witkowski Trish Witkowski specializes in creative solutions and engagement strategies for direct mail and marketing. She frequently travels and speaks to print organizations and their clients to illustrate the power of print. She is also the curator of the the world’s most exciting collection of folded print and direct mail samples, sharing the best of her collection in her popular e-video series “60-second Super-cool Fold of the Week.” Trish is the president of Foldfactory and the creator of the award-winning FOLDRite™ folding template system. She has authored many resources, including Direct Mail Simplified, and Paper Folding Templates for Print Design. Trish is an instructor for LinkedIn Learning, and holds an MS in Printing and a BFA in Graphic Design from RIT.

Colleen Gratzer: Welcome to the podcast, Trish!

Trish Witkowski: Hi, Colleen. How are you?

Colleen: Good. How are you?

Trish: Good. Thanks for having me.

Colleen: For years, people have been saying that print is this dying medium, and I personally prefer it. I’d much rather have a printed book that I can take anywhere and highlight it and dog ear the pages. I can’t help it, but I love the smell of paper and varnish.

Trish: Me too. I don’t think you’re alone in that, actually.

Colleen: Okay, great. Otherwise, that might make me a little bit of a freak. What would you say to those people that think print is a dying medium?

Trish: Here’s the thing. Today, we’re all consuming more than eight hours of media every day and most of that media is digital. What’s happening is the time that we don’t spend digitally actually has more value to us. Have you ever had an entire day at your computer and then you get at home and you realize your favorite magazine arrived, and you’re like, “Everybody, leave me alone. My magazine is here.” I just want to sit down and read my magazine, and there is now so much value, and that value is actually a huge opportunity.

Not everyone is seeing that as an opportunity. They see it as, “Wow, there’s less mail in the mailbox,” so that means no one is mailing, and that means print is dying. It’s not dying. It’s changing, and the technology has changed dramatically over the past even five to 10 years, even in particular, with all of the different things that can be done in shorter runs, special effects, all sorts of things that you couldn’t do before in smaller quantities. That’s given people tremendous power in their ability to target their audience.

One of the best ways to do it is through print, and print also is not a singular strategy, and shouldn’t be. It’s just the port, the rest of your marketing strategy as well, but it becomes this tangible thing that people realize, “This is real.” Anybody can throw something up on a web page, on a website and start running a business, but print is a commitment.

Colleen: Wow, that’s a great point. Well, and I feel like a lot of designers really neglect paper choice when they’re designing something, and I feel like they also neglect folds, or they just consider the typical letterfold/trifold brochure. What are your thoughts on that?

Trish: Yeah. It’s actually a great question. I’m glad you actually positioned it that way because it’s funny, that’s really how Foldfactory began. My background is in design and I was working as a designer for RIT’s university publications department while I was going for my master’s degree over there. We used the same few folded formats for everything, and part of it was a time crunch, and part of it was, well, it was easy and it was there, and it was what we knew.

I would then be up and about somewhere or I’d get a special invitation, or get something and I go, “Whoa, I didn’t know we could do that. I didn’t know that could be done.” My pursuit of figuring out—for myself actually, it end up being for my thesis, for my degree—but I decided I wanted to figure out the different ways you could … How many different brochures are there? Then, my early 20s as I was doing this, I’m thinking, “How many could there be?”

I’ve seen thousands of creative formats at this point in my career, and I’m almost to 500 episodes on Fold of the Week, and still seeing new exciting things that I haven’t seen before. The variety is amazing but a big part of them, I think the issue for designers is that everybody’s short on time. Nobody wants to make a mistake. A lot of these formats that are created require some technical knowledge in trying to figure out how to make the dieline correctly, and you go, “Okay, if my likelihood of getting this approved is slim, do I want to put the time and effort into trying to make this thing so that I can comp it up and have it shutdown anyway? I’ll just give him the trifold and get on with my day.” You know what I mean?

It’s interesting. I think some of the formats are ultimately aspirational. We show a lot of really, really, really cool things, and at the end of the day, I think most of the time, people use some fairly straightforward formats, but there are lots of great little tweaks and strategies, and things that you can do to really add impact and change them up and everything. Then I think knowing that you could do something really exciting and special, when you have the opportunity.

That’s why we started doing dielines and samples, and things like that at Foldfactory, is because some of those dielines can take even a pro hours to build, and they’re so specific in where the compensation is, and paper’s dimensional, and you got to make this panel a little shorter, and this one a little, you know. That was part of our strategy, to decrease that amount of time that it takes to start working on something that is different and more fun, and whatever, what you’re looking to do, and to make it more within your budget or within your workflow.

It really started as more of a challenge to myself and turned into … I didn’t start out with the intent of creating a business around this. It just happened.

Colleen: Wow, that’s interesting. Like you’re saying with the budget, I think that a lot of designers sometimes assume that anything that is a little different from what they normally do that it might be too expensive. I think it’s always really good to have a relationship with a few printers, an ongoing relationship with a few printers, so that you can actually consult with them beforehand and not wait until the project is done. Then, you find out when you’re going to get estimates for the client that, “We can’t spend that. That’s too much money.”

Trish: Right, right, and I think too, so much of the equipment and the processes, and things have changed dramatically as well, and you do. You have to talk to the printer early and think of them as an extension of your team because you’re going to say, “All right. Look, if you make it an inch shorter, you can get one more up on a sheet, and we can save here. Then, you can get that special coating or UV spot that you want, or we can get you your specialty paper that you’re looking for, or whatever it is.”

I think that it’s all about that communication where you’re not up at the end, and I do. I think that that is what keeps people from doing new things as well, is they just feel like, “Wow, I don’t have time. I don’t know who to ask. I don’t know who to talk to. I don’t want to make the wrong thing. I don’t want to sell the client on something they can’t afford. I’ll just go back to what I know the customer is going to be okay with.”

I think because everything has changed… There are so many things now that can be done, automated, or even super low quantity where… For example, if you’re familiar with some of like the laser cutting and creasing machines that can do dynamic laser cutting and creasing without a metal die, and all sorts of just fascinating things going on where you can get real high-quality results in shorter runs. There are so many things that were just so cost-prohibitive and I think we were trained, “Don’t even think about a die cut. Don’t even think about …”

It’s like, okay, but if your printer has a laser cutter, I always tell people to even think about, I call them like “pre-enjoyed dies,” metal dies that already exists, you know what I mean?

Colleen: Yeah.

Trish: Like your printer is making all of these dies for all of these everybody else’s projects. They probably have hundreds of them and they store them, like ask about it. “Do you have an iron cross that … Have you guys done one?” “We did a 6×6.” “All right, well, I can work with it.” “Okay, well then at least you don’t have the $250 cost for the metal die to be created or something.” I find that there’s so many times there are ways around some of these things, and you just have to be open-minded and creative, and I do think that it all begins with talking to the printer and keeping them involved as part of the team.

Colleen: I tell clients that might be considering not doing print because of cost. I tell them, “Don’t neglect print” because there’s actually less competition in the mailbox and you can actually stand out more, and that might get you a better return in your investment than spending a little bit less with something electronic, but everybody is doing that. You have to wonder if they even got it, so what are your thoughts on that?

Trish: Here’s the thing. There have been some really fascinating case studies and stories, and lessons from even recent past where companies have for example stopped sending their catalogs or something. “Well, you know what? Online sales are so strong that we don’t need a catalog. Why are we spending all of these money on a catalog?” Then they get rid of their catalog, and then they realized that their sales dropped off dramatically, Land’s End famously had this happened.

They realized that the catalog is what drives—reminds—people, they look through it, and it drives them to the website. It becomes that catalyst and there have been all studies about how consumers actually prefer to shop online with a catalog on hand, and I even think of my own habits. A lot of times I’ll get something. I’ll grab the catalog. I’ll bring it with me to my computer and I’ll take a look. I’ll type in the key code or whatever, and I’m shopping.

I always tend to find more stuff while I’m there. There was also studies about… I think there was a Nordstrom study about how their customers who receive the catalog versus the ones that don’t, have a higher average purchase than the ones who don’t receive the catalog. There are all sorts of different studies and data around how that print piece can drive those other sales, but the problem is attribution sometimes, like people see them as separate things. Well, no. Everybody is buying online but they’re not realizing that the reason they’re buying online is because they received the printed piece. They’re looking at these as separate things.

The one supports the other and drives the other, so there are some really some neat things I think going on with that, and those become real drivers.

Colleen: That’s interesting. What are some ways that you can really get good response rates when you’re doing something for the mail? Do you want to choose like a special size, special fold, certain coating? What are some ways that you can do that?

Trish: Here’s the thing with mail, so many of the key factors of mail have absolutely nothing to do with the aesthetics of the piece. Your most, most, most important, and the biggest mistake, most expensive mistake you can make in mail, is to send it to the wrong list. Your list is your absolutely most important thing. You’ve got to make sure that you’re sending stuff to the right people. Then, you need to make sure that you’re sending them a compelling offer that they’re willing to go for. Is it compelling enough?

Also, timing has a lot to do with it. The timing of when it arrives and also do you, for example, a lot of people send mail with no call to action, or if they have a call to action, they don’t have an expiration on that offer, so there’s no urgency. You need a call to action and the sense of urgency, and if you don’t have those things, then you really got an open-ended offer. It’s like, “Okay, well, is it over?” Maybe not. Did it work? Did it not work? I don’t know because we don’t know when it really ends, ever.

A lot of things have to do with those simpler things and then beyond that, aesthetics are very powerful once you get through those fundamentals—your list and your offer and your timing. Once you get through that stuff, my gosh. Scale is a huge one. No pun intended there. Scale, the larger envelopes tend to have higher opening rates.

You can do some really simple things. Texture is a big one. Just even creating texture, whether it’s a self-mail or whether it’s on an envelope, or it’s just distinctive textures. If you subscribe to Fast Company magazine, they have a sandpaper UV coating on the outside of the cover.

Colleen: Wow.

Trish: You know that you’re holding Fast Company before you even look down, like you don’t even have to look at it. You know that’s Fast Company. Just the texture stands out. I have a friend who’s an incredible direct mail strategist. His name is Ted Grigg. He’s out of Dallas, and he said to me, he said, “Trish, everybody thinks that they have to be really, really different, but sometimes you just have to be a little different.”

He said, “People spend an awful a lot of time trying to figure out why. They want a formula.” If I do this, this, and this, am I guaranteed a result? That’s I think one of the biggest challenges for people when they’re trying to sell the concept of sending mail, is everybody wants a formula and a guarantee.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: Human behavior plays into this, and he said, “Sometimes people spend so much time trying to figure out the why, but by the time they figure out the why, people’s taste have changed. People’s taste have changed.”

He said, “You need to test …” He always tells me, he says, “Don’t test whispers.” If you’re testing different things, don’t test these tiny little, “I moved the text from one side to the other. Let’s see if the response goes up. I changed the color from green to blue. Let’s see if the response goes up.” Test larger strokes, scale and texture, and message, and a different offer, or things like that, so yeah. It’s interesting and he said, “There are a lot of times when things that you just are really sure will be the thing that wins or test out really well sometimes. Sometimes the plain white envelope wins.” He said, “I don’t always know why but sometimes it’s because it’s different,” but the point is changing, watching, testing, and sending stuff.

I think one of the biggest mistakes with mail is people say, “Well, I’ll give it a shot.” They’ll send one thing and they’ll go, “Well, mail doesn’t work, told you so.” Mail is a conversation. It’s a relationship. It’s an ongoing thing.

If you’re just going to pop up once every six months to say hello and then disappear, don’t expect to get huge results out of it, but that’s I think with anything. Look, I think if I only did Fold of the Week whenever I felt like it, I may not have that many subscribers, you know what I mean? I think because part of what people I think like is that bit of that familiarity and predictability of your presence. What I think keeps people watching my show is that every time it’s different, and it’s unpredictable with regard to what I’m going to show.

The format stays the same and the timing stays the same, and people know that on Thursdays, I’m going to send them something cool, and they don’t know what it’s going to be, and there’s going to be something funny on my shirt. Like every time there’s going to be a couple little surprises like that but the format is the same. You got the intro music. You got the this. I’ve always got a certain process to it.

There’s got to be a plan with mail and that people need to see it and they need to … That relationship has to stay there.

Colleen: Those are great points. Yeah, I could just see like if the white envelope wins to the dismay of the designer, right? It would be like, “Oh, why?” Just like when you send the client a couple designs and they always choose the one that you don’t want.

Trish: Right, they always pick the one that you just threw in there as like the third one to kind of get… They’re like, “My God, we love this.” You’re like, “Stop, no. I didn’t mean that. Can I take that one back?” Yeah, and that’s a funny thing. I was telling you about my friend Ted. He was saying, you know what a snap pack is? It’s like those mail pieces with the edges you tear off. You tear the sides and tear the top off. It’s called a “snap pack” technically in the direct mail world, and he said, he goes, “Snap packs are the least sexy form of mail on the planet and they tend to do well in the mail.”

Colleen: Huh.

Trish: There are designers’ like nightmare because they’re so plain and probably hate them, but he said, “People take them very seriously. They’re the sealed thing with the edges and they look official, and people are like, “I’ve got to open this.” He said, “Sometimes the things that perform are the things that we don’t think are going to perform.”

Colleen: Right. The “official looking” comment… That reminds me of 20 years ago. I was working at a publishing company doing some direct mail and everything had to be done in Courier, like as a letter. I’m like, “Who do you think you’re fooling?” People know that this is done on a computer, not a typewriter. I always thought it was so funny but they’re like, “We’ve tested this package and it works really well.” I just thought it was like the worst-looking thing ever.

Trish: Right, right, and isn’t the funny thing about it? Sometimes it’s just human behavior and what people like, and what they respond to or whatever.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: It’s funny stuff.

Colleen: If somebody wants to do a direct mail package, they could do something more in the form of like a self-mailer, where it’s just like one piece, or they could do like a package, it has like maybe a letter, like a carrier envelope, which is an outer envelope, a response, also known as a reply card, and then of course the reply envelope. I’ve heard that like adding a lift note, which if any of you don’t know what it is, that is like a small piece… It could be like a 3×5 little piece. Sometimes you put it on a glossy stock so it’s different from the letter paper. I’ve heard that that can—

Trish: Like a little endorsement, like a little expert endorsement or a celebrity endorsement. It’s kind of that third party that says, “No, really, this is cool.”

Colleen: Right.

Trish: Yeah.

Colleen: Do you have any recommendations for taking either route the self-mailer versus a direct mail package? Are there any statistics that support doing one or the other, or?

Trish: Okay, so statistics on which one I would say, not necessarily, because this is very situational. It so depends on what you’re selling and what you’re doing. I would say that direct mail packages tend to be for bigger decisions—products, subscription things, anything where you want to either get recurring money or a bigger purchase. That’s a multi-piece thing where you’re going to spend a fair amount of money to make all those pieces and put it all together in whatever.

You want to make sure that you’re not going to use that, for example, to sell something low budget, you know what I mean, little items and stuff like that. However, with that said, like your direct mail package is bigger types of things, but a letter, like a direct mail letter, is a very effective form of mail. Those can be great as relationship builders. They can drive people to a sale. They’re simple.

Even things like a handwritten address has a 98% to 99% open rate, depending on of course what you’re doing. Obviously, you can handwrite if you’re sending 10,000 pieces, you’re not going to handwrite everything by hand. It’s this idea that can you increase that open rate somehow, make it look important? Sometimes, one of the things that was really neat—to me at least—one of my favorite discoveries when I was studying mail very closely is that the concept of postage and address strategy. The idea that even the postage you choose or the way that place an address can be strategic, and can provoke someone to open the piece.

Even thinking about little things like that can make a big difference, and then with regard to self-mailers, and even like large card or billboard formats, those can be great as just these like, almost like the drip campaign things, or special offers where you just want to get someone’s attention, tell him, “Hey, this is on sale. Buy it now,” type of thing, all visuals, color, whatever. Those large card or billboard formats are great also for drip campaigns to send people a tip.

People I think sometimes think with mail, “Well I can’t have a sale all the time and I can’t …” It’s like it’s not necessarily how it has to work. You can send a helpful tip, I don’t know, depending on what business you’re in or whatever it is, send a helpful tip once a month or every quarter or something. It’s just a top of mind … Say you’re a legal firm and it’s some a nice, “Don’t forget to such and such,” but people go, “Oh, yeah, these guys.” When they have the need, that’s who they think of, and then yeah.

If you’re selling other types of products or whatever, maybe you’ve got a little mini booklet catalog that shows up, okay, that’s fun. Maybe there’s the large card format for a flash sale or a VIP. Maybe there’s a more of an invitation looking one for a VIP event at a brick and mortar location, come see a sneak peek trunk show thing… Makes them feel special. There’s lots of nice ways to vary your mail and have different reasons for sending it. I think too so much if it just comes down to planning and timing.

I think the harder part about mail versus digital media, I think, is that mail does take some time and planning, and it does take the upfront investment. I think it’s, “Okay, we ran out of time. By the time we design it and print it, and get it, and put in the mail, and this and that, and it’s going to take a couple days to get to everybody, you know what? Eh. Just send an email blast.”

Colleen: Right.

Trish: That’s the lost opportunity I think, is when people let it … They leave it off their plan or they don’t have a plan, and then time slips by, and we just skip it altogether, and we’ll just do something digital instead and save some money, and whatever. They think, “We saved everybody money and let’s just do it this way.” The print can really drive that loyalty, can really get people’s interest and focus.

Colleen: Yeah, that reminds me, my realtor always sends a postcard out twice a year and he puts in a reminder about change of batteries in your smoke alarms. He does that so you see his face at least two times a year, and it’s a friendly reminder. That’s worked really well for him.

Trish: Right, and it’s nice too because it’s like, he’s not asking you for anything. He’s just being helpful and you go, “That was nice of him.” Then you think, if anybody, “Geez, we’re going to be selling some…” “You know what? We got a nice guy and he was great for us and blah, blah, blah.” That was very easy to just forget. We’re just inundated with marketing messages and everything else in our day, and it just keeps that relationship in that top of mind, but I’m sure too for him, he knows that that’s more of an investment in relationships. It’s less of a driver of sales right away.

He may see that he gets a bump here and there of people. It jogs their memory, “Hey, I’ve got a friend who wants to sell blah, blah, blah,” and all of a sudden he gets a lead.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: It can be worth it. It can more than pay for that one little mailing.

Colleen: About paper choice, like what are some things to consider with direct mail whether it’s a direct mail package or it’s a self-mailing piece?

Trish: On paper choice, I would say that if we’re talking about … Are we talking about folded self-mailers and stuff like that or—

Colleen: What situation would you choose, maybe coated versus uncoated, and then like how thick, what are some things you have to take any consideration with that?

Trish: No matter what paper you choose, I would always try to have a mockup made or get a sample sheet, and physically make one myself or something.

Colleen: A paper dummy. Yeah.

Trish: Yeah. I think it’s very, very easy to feel a little swatch book or to go from like your gut and your memory of, well last time we did … or we did it on 80# before. Let’s just go with 80# text, and then you realize, “Rats. I wish I’d gone a little thicker, and now it’s kind of wimpy.” Then, you’re stuck with it at that point.

I think it’s always worth it to have some account mockup folding dummy, something made or at least have a sheet sent, a couple sheets of the paper sent so that you can play with it, or a couple of weights to choose from.

With regard to coated versus uncoated, I love both. I’m a paper lover either way and I think there’s some real benefits to both. However, I think coated tends to perform, with ink holdout and all other things. A coated sheet can take so many different finishes where you can give it the texture you want it to have, yet you get all that richness of color and everything. I love an uncoated—like if your printer has a UV press, a lot of times that UV press can get the ink holdout and get a lot of pop in an uncoated sheet. That’s just something to think about.

I love that toothy quality of an uncoated sheet. I also like colored papers.

Colleen: Me too.

Trish: I love that full, total saturation all the way through the sheet, but you can also fake that so many ways with the coated as well and make it look like it’s a colored sheet, and I think there’s benefits to either way. It’s hard for me. I like so many papers. It sounds very wishy-washy but I really do love to say, I love one over the other. I definitely like coated for its flexibility and I love like matte and satin. I like the different opportunities there. I’m not a huge gloss person.

Colleen: Me neither.

Trish: Yeah. I like them more natural look and feel, like I love a classic McCoy silk or something that beautiful white, I don’t know. I love that, but then I also really, really love like a Mohawk Superfine or the eggshell one, where it’s like a little bit creamy, so I don’t know.

I struggle to pick a favorite, and it’s the same if somebody asked me, “What’s your favorite fold?” There’s like all my babies. I love them all.

In each one I see value in, so it’s funny. I like the low-budget ones because of their… I call them “low-budget wonders.” Then I also love the really elaborate stuff for its wow factor, so it’s very hard for me to choose on some of this stuff, because I also feel like so much in what we do as designers is really subjective. We make decisions based on what we’re doing, what we’re presenting, who the client is, what their brand is saying, what the feel is.

Sometimes, if I’m not doing something for myself personally, then I don’t really feel like it’s my right to personally choose it. I don’t know if that sounds weird but do you know what I’m saying?

Colleen: Yeah.

Trish: It’s like I have to really know who they are and then I have to communicate that. Of course, I have my little preferences on brands and things like that but then I also have to look at it as, what is best for them? What is best for the project and what communicates the image or brand or message that we’re trying to communicate?

I think that the substrate is such a wonderful way to do it. We can’t touch that digital thing. We’re under glass and the beautiful thing about print is its tangibility, and I think that’s one of the things we have to leverage.

There’s actually been some really interesting… on the neuroscience side of things. There’s all these studies around how people start to feel a sense of ownership when they touch real, tangible things.

That’s why printers and brands, and things are trying to mimic the look and feel of their products because people start to get a sense of ownership or loyalty, because something feels real.

There are printers out there right now who are developing textures that actually feel like real rubber and leather and wood grain.

Colleen: Oh, cool.

Trish: Even not just wood grain but different types of wood grain to different types of wood. Actually the neuroscientific term is the “endowment effect,” and it’s all about how we take tangibility as real. We accept it as real when we start to feel like it’s ours, so yeah. There’s a lot, a lot of power in sending something physical to people.

Colleen: One of my old faves was the Fox River confetti.

Trish: Ah, I love that. I love confetti paper.

Colleen: Yeah.

Trish: I still love it, yeah. I loved Fox River’s line.

Colleen: My God. I had the little, the paper promo that they would send out. Like something you would stick on a bookshelf and it had like their paper books in it. I loved it, yeah. I still have it.

Trish: Cool. That’s vintage at this point.

Colleen: Yes, it is vintage.

Trish: You and I could probably nerd out over this. I have like really cool vintage stuff that.

Colleen: That’s hilarious, yeah. I’ll have to send you a pic.

Trish: Yeah, do like a vintage showdown, like, “I’ve got this.” “Yeah?”

Colleen: Great. What are some folds that a lot of designers may never have heard of?

Trish: All right, so I’m going to give you guys an assignment to look up a few of these because they’re very hard to explain.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: But they’re super, super fun. One of my favorites, and actually we have some formats that get out of 60,000, 80,000 pins a month on Pinterest.

Colleen: Wow!

Trish: They are, like… the twist fold is one of them.

Colleen: Twist? I haven’t even heard of that one. I didn’t even see that in your book, okay.

Trish: Yeah, that’s definitely… like if you go to Foldfactory’s Pinterest, we have a lot… Like if you look at that original book… so you have my original book from like my research was—it’s hard to admit this, but it was in back in 2002, my original research—I’ve got like hundreds more since then.

Colleen: Oh geez!

Trish: Yeah, yeah. That book had a couple, almost 200, yeah. I have hundreds more now, so twist fold and tulip fold are also big ones. Let me see.

Colleen: Now, are you giving them these names?

Trish: Interestingly. In some cases, yes, and in some cases, no. Some of the formats have been either ones that I’ve discovered through—I have a network of printers and binderies, and things like that where I will … They just send me great things over the years and I’ve hunted them down. Some of that stuff has been through discovery and they’ll say, “Well, we call this a such and such.” I’d ask a few… Some of my research was where I would go, “What would you call this?“

“I would call that a this.” “Okay.” Once I made sure I got consensus on it, I go, “Okay, well then that’s what this is.”

Then, there are a lot of the specialty formats that I’ve unearthed along the way that have not really had names, or have names that are derivatives of others. There are some formats that are, I would call them cousins or relatives of other formats. For example, an iron cross is that plus shape that a lot of people have seen, but there’s another form at it.

If you look at our super cool folds on Foldfactory, you’ll see this, but there’s the iron cross fold, and then there’s what’s called the nine-panel reveal fold, which has an iron cross base, and it has four additional panels that are reveal panels. That one is a nine-panel reveal and it is … That one I think, I have to think back on this one. That one came from, I think, my friends up in Canada at Specialties, but they called it a reveal folder.

We have a few other types of reveal folders. Sometimes the name becomes part of what is developing over time or is based on … There’s iron cross. There’s T cross, which is a T shape. There’s L cross, which is an L shape, and those are all different, I guess, versions of iron cross, or the relatives of iron cross. Sometimes, it’s just what makes sense or what people would likely accept as the name. Because a lot of the work that I’ve done, to be honest, is just new territory. Nobody had ever defined these formats, had never curated, classified, documented any of these.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: My original work back in the early days was the first that anyone had ever documented of folded formats, which is hard to believe. I mean, I kept thinking that I was going to find a resource, and I never did. That was my fear actually as I was doing my thesis research. I was like, “There is no way that somebody hasn’t done this,” and I kept looking and looking. I thought, “God, I could do all these work and then I’m going to find a book somewhere.” It never happened.

Really, so much of this work is original first-time documentation of these. In some cases, I’ve set the terminology based on what I felt made sense within the research and within the framework of how it all works, and then some of it has been through asking and interviewing along the way.

What’s been funny is over the years… I call it the “Fold of The Week effect,” but I don’t know. Now that I’ve been on for almost 10 years on Fold of The Week, people have—

Colleen: Wow.

Trish: Yeah. People have seen the formats and then they’ve started to create a new category that I call “hybrid formats” where they’re taking characteristics of one format, the characteristics of another format they’ve seen, and they’re combining them into a new hybrid format that has never been done before.

Colleen: Wow.

Trish: That’s what has really helped the entire, I guess, collection expand is that people are starting to do more … No, now that … I’m not trying to take credit for all this, but you know what I mean. Now, the information is out there, I think that you take very, very creative people out in our audience here and you give them really creative formats and ideas, and they make even more creative formats and ideas. It’s stuff that just blows my mind sometimes.

I’ll get things sometimes and I’ll just say, “I just never thought I’d see it where I’d see something like this.” That’s been I guess the most rewarding part about my career up to this point because it wasn’t always. I enjoyed it and everything but there are times when it was hard to get five people in a room who were willing to listen to somebody talk about folding. It took a long time to build momentum and to really, I think, I guess what I would say, prove the value of the subject, and of using format as a way of communicating information.

That’s really what it is. It’s the opening order. It’s how we want people to experience the information, how we want to walk them through it, as well as it can be a creative expression. It’s practical and creative at the same time.

Colleen: Some of the existing types of folds which you have in your [Fold] books too, and I think you have some of these on YouTube as well, is like accordions and then gates, maps, parallels and then rolls?

Trish: Yup, and those are what I called bread and butter, foundation folds, the good old hardworking day-to-day folds that we tend to go to. Then, those can all modify in a multitude of ways.

Colleen: The big thing, like with your research and with your books, is addressing the file setup issue, and like the order of the folds. It’s always like some designers don’t realize that when they first do this that they have to account for like a short fold where there’s a panel folding in and depending on the thickness of the paper, they might have to make that even a little bit shorter.

Trish: Yes, yes. It’s all folding compensation and the dimensionality of the sheet is one issue. Then, the other issue with the folded piece that really complicates things is when we’re doing page layout, we’re doing things flat.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: If you even just think about a basic gatefold, if a gatefold is flat, the right fold-in panel is actually on the left if it’s flat, and the left is on the right. It’s like a brain strain when you’re trying to, “Okay, the one that’s on the left is actually going to be on the right and what’s on the right is going to be on the left.” A lot of times, designers will design it as if it’s closed and then break it up, and then pull it apart and try to … It could be difficult to even just spatially figure out how to break up a layout so that when it’s folded up, it’s all going to make sense.

I think that’s also one of the drivers sometimes of the simpler formats… it’s not just budget and production. Sometimes it’s just, look, I can’t visualize this in upside down and backwards. It’s a combination of things, I think, sometimes that contribute to that. You really do have to think about it.

I will say one of the greater disappointments to me is that the schools, college programs, don’t do a lot of folded material.

Colleen: Right.

Trish: All of the portfolios are flat. Every portfolio I see or have ever seen, in most cases, it’s poster design, stationery, business card, logo, maybe a postcard. But everything’s always flat. It’s such a, I think, step up in advanced thought for a student to say, “Okay, here’s the content. You’ve got to turn this into a way to communicate through a folded material.” I actually taught for a while. In my earlier days, I taught design at RIT and I also taught at University of Maryland Baltimore County for a while as well. That was one of my favorite things to do, was to give the kids these folding projects.

Colleen: Oh, cool.

Trish: They would have to learn how to work with content and within a folded piece, and it’s also really where our template builder came from as well. We have a template building software. It’s totally free to use, by the way. It’s at if you just create a free account. It takes two seconds. You can use our template builder, and we make dynamically your file in InDesign and place the fold marks, and measure all the panels. It happens in like a split second.

Colleen: Wow.

Trish: Yeah, and you just start designing. We have it for trifolds, roll folds, accordions, closed gate, and basic four-pager, and I don’t know. It’s like five or six base folds at least. Then you enter in your special size. You can do it by sheet size or by finished folded size. Then, we reverse engineer it based on that requirement.

We dynamically make that for you in the software, so we’re calculating based on if you say, “I want a four-panel roll fold that measures 4 1/8 by 6 1/4 folded, go,” then our system goes, “Okay, measure, measure, measure. Fold mark, fold mark, fold mark. Here’s your link to download.”

It’s a two-page InDesign file and it tells you where the cover is and where the back cover is. Our goal is to just say, “Start designing.” Don’t worry about placing your folds and don’t worry about all of that. That’s also why we sell dielines—to help people understand that, okay, well forget about the math at least. Focus on the part that you do really well and we’ll focus on the part that we do really well, and it all works.

Colleen: That’s awesome. The template builder is taking everything—it sounds like almost everything, if not everything—from your two-volume Fold books, and then putting that online, and having it automated?

Trish: Yep.

Colleen: That’s awesome.

Trish: The only thing it doesn’t do… We took out a few things and it also can’t do anything that’s a specialty format. Anything that has too many variables.

Colleen: Like with paper weight?

Trish: We actually have the ability to increase the … Yep. We have a standard setting and then you can increase the compensation if you’re using a thicker sheet, but most of the time, the standard is what works, yeah. That’s been around. We’ve had that. It actually started out online then it was … Actually, I think we originally built templates for QuarkXPress and then we stopped that and—

Colleen: I loved Quark!

Trish: Yeah, me too, me too. Then somehow, I switched over and I’ve never gone back.

Then, we became a plugin for InDesign, and then it’s too hard to manage a plugin and deal with all the updates and stuff like that, so then we went and backup into the cloud. Now, it’s just free. It’s part of… we used to sell it and we used to do subscriptions and all this other stuff. We said, “You know what? It’s essential for designers. Let’s just make it free and offer it to everybody.” It’s fun.

Colleen: Are there any other resources that you offer that can help designers?

Trish: Yeah.

Colleen: Those are plenty but…

Trish: Yeah, yeah, no, thanks. I appreciate you asking. There are several things. I’ve done three courses on LinkedIn Learning, which also was I think is going away and LinkedIn bought, and I think they’re starting to take over and make it just LinkedIn Learning, but we’ll see on that. If you have a account, you can get to my courses. I have one on direct mail strategy.

I have one on designing for direct mail and then I have another one on folding in creative format. I have three courses. You can find them on LinkedIn Learning or on

Of course, I have a lot of stuff on the YouTube channel for Foldfactory, probably 600 or 700 videos on the channel, almost 500 for Fold of the Week.

Colleen: Wow.

Trish: Yeah. If you have a little time and want to binge watch, spend a little time over there. Then, we also have a lot of stuff on Pinterest as well. We do have Instagram, Pinterest, all of that, all the different channels.

Then, I also have a couple of books, paper folding templates for print design.

I’ve done some really nice work with Sappi Fine Paper. I’ve worked with them on some of their publications, so I did the Act Now! direct mail piece with them.

I worked with them, so if you have a Sappi rep or someone that might be able to get you one of those, those are cool. I did do The Standard. They do that series called The Standard, and I do The Standard [volume] 4, Scoring and Folding (12.6 MB PDF), but I believe that one’s out of print. That one just went like hotcakes.

There’s definitely a lot of content out there.

Colleen: Well, this has been great. I’ve been designing direct mail on and off for like 20-some years, but I learned so much from this. I know the audience will also have learned a lot from this.

Trish: Awesome. It has been so much fun. I love to chat this stuff, so I really appreciate the opportunity to spend some time with you today.

Colleen: Yeah. It was a lot of fun. I could totally sit here and talk about Quark and paper, and all those things from the olden days.

Trish: Right!

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