Design & Layout Tips

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Creating Professional Tri-fold Brochures

Brochures are inexpensive and super-effective marketing tools that can be used to communicate information as leave-behinds or direct mailers and in a host of other applications. Each panel can be used to separate a unique message; or, a single design can be spread across two or all three panels. More businesses use tri-fold brochures than any other kind; so how can you make yours stand out from the crowd?

Here’s your guide to creating tri-fold brochures that make a lasting impression on clients:

Planning your brochure

Before you even put pencil to paper, consider who the target audience is, what your message is, and what you want your audience to do when they view your tri-fold brochure. Your design should create a flow from a controlling idea (e.g., headline) through benefits, an offer and a call to action. Think about what supporting material you can use to back up your statements such as testimonials, charts, graphs and other visuals. Now, put your pencil to paper and sketch out some general layout ideas.

Don’t feel constrained by the three panels – as stated, your design can cross each panel, and you can actually use the folding mechanism of a tri-fold brochure to reveal your message, turn by turn. One device is to pose a question on the left back panel (which, when the tri-fold’s front flap is opened, will be the first inside right panel); then answer it when the brochure is completely opened.

Developing the theme

Develop a singular theme for your brochure and stick to it. If you’re promoting a product’s ease of use, a clever approach might be to call a reader’s attention with arrows: “Read this → Now look here → And you’ll want to know this → See how easy it is?” If you’re espousing the benefits of your support staff, have your tri-fold brochure printed on a sturdy paper stock such as 100-pound gloss cover (available from the online brochure printing company PsPrint). Use graphic and textual devices to highlight key information and support your theme throughout.

You should also consider printing an oversized brochure – an 11-inch by 17-inch or 8.5-inch by 14-inch brochure will always have more of an impression than a traditional 8.5-inch by 11-inch brochure.

Tips for designing your tri-fold brochure

Front panel: Lead off with a killer headline that grabs attention and intrigues the mind. You can accompany your headline with an image or pattern if you’d like, as long as you’re careful that your graphics don’t overshadow your message. You want your readers to open your brochure to see what’s inside. Appeal to your audience’s wants, needs or fears with your headline; and when possible combine that with an offer. For example: “How long until hackers steal your customers’ personal information? How about a quarter past never? Save 20 percent when you protect your website with NoHacker Security today!”

Back panel: Most businesses simply put contact information on the back panel of their tri-folds. Why waste the space? While you should include contact information, you can also use the back panel to reinforce your message: “Remember, the hackers are on their way … Stop the hacks in their tracks with NoHack Security. Look inside to save 20 percent!” Notice how we reinforced the message, and we also tell prospects what to do next?

The back panel adjacent to the center back panel can be a continuation of the back, or it can be used as a device to be viewed when the tri-fold brochure is first opened. Remember that your prospects have to first open the cover panel, then the inside back panel, before they see the full interior three-panel spread; so make use of this valuable real estate in a creative way. This can be a great place for big benefit bullet points, elaborating on your offer or including a perforated coupon, event ticket, VIP pass or other incentive.

Interior panels: The sky’s the limit here. Instead of splitting everything into three regular panels, try spreading your design across two panels, and listing features, benefits, testimonials or other important information on the last panel. Too many tri-folds are split in three even splices; if you want to stand out, take advantage of the entire layout space to craft truly creative and compelling designs that funnel readers’ eyes to your call to action.

Probably the best single piece of advice to consider when you want to make a tri-fold brochure stand out is to be innovative. Don’t be afraid to try something new! You could split your open spread in two horizontal panels, with the top panel being a flowchart layout and the bottom panel separated into three distinct areas: features/benefits, testimonials, and offer and call to action.

Finally, understand that it is the message of your brochure that will motivate response; the design is a facilitator. Work your design to that end, and you’ll be well on your way to a successful direct-marketing tri-fold brochure that gets great results.

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What is Bleed?

Bleeds allow you to run artwork to the edge of a page. On a press, the artwork is printed on a large sheet of paper and then trimmed down to size. If you do not allow for a 1/8 of an inch bleed, any misalignment while cutting will result with the artwork not running to the edge of the paper. Bleeds ensure you get the results you need.

For example, if you have designed a standard 3.5" x 2" business card with a red background covering the whole area, you will need to enlarge that red background to 3.75" x 2.25". This will make the red background extend 1/8" on every side of the page.

Why is adding a Bleed necessary?

Small mechanical variations can end up leaving a hairline white edge where there should be no white edge at all, if the image is not extended beyond the final trim size. Extending images 1/8" beyond the final trim size guarantees that images truly will go all the way to the edge of the printed paper.

How do I add bleed to my design?

Adobe Photoshop

  1.  Open Photoshop and click File > New...
  2.  Enter the FULL BLEED dimensions. That is, 1/4" extra both vertically and horizontally.
  3.  Set the Resolution at 300 pixels/inch
  4.  Set the Color Mode to CMYK

Adobe Illustrator

  1.  Open Illustrator and click File > New...
  2.  Enter the TRIM dimensions in the Width and Height boxes (for example, the trim dimension on a standard business card would be 3.5" x 2")
  3.  Enter 0.125 for the top, bottom, left and right bleed
  4.  Set the the Color Mode to CMYK
  5.  Set the Raster Effects at High (300ppi)

Adobe InDesign

  1.  Open InDesign and click File > New > Document...
  2.  Enter the TRIM dimensions under Page Size (for example, a standard business card would have trim dimensions of 3.5" x 2")
  3.  If you do not see "Bleed and Slug" at the bottom of the window, click the "More Options" button.
  4.  Enter 0.125 for the top, bottom, left and right bleed