What Is a C-Fold Document?

Learn to size panels and place guides for a tri-fold brochure

What to Know

  • Divide sheet length by 3 (starting panel), round up to closest 1/32" (first two panels), subtract 1/16" from large panel (last panel).
  • For 8.5" x 11" sheet, measure 3.6667 inches for starting panel, 3.6875 inches for first two panels, 3.625 inches for last panel.
  • Set margins and gutter space for each panel to provide space for the document's text and images. 

When folding paper into three parts (a tri-fold), c-folds have 6 panels (counting both sides of the paper) with two parallel folds in a spiral fold configuration. The c-fold is a common type of fold for brochures, letters, self-mailers (such as newsletters), and even paper hand towels.

Sizing and Folding C-Folds

To allow the panels to nest inside each other properly, the folded-in end panel (c, in second sidebar image) is usually 1/32" to 1/8" narrower than the other panels. This difference in panel sizes, though slight, needs to be taken into account when setting up guides in page layout software and when composing text and images for a brochure or other document. Otherwise, margins will appear uneven or text and images may fall into the creases. 1/32" is adequate for most paper, but if you are using especially thick paper, you may need to reduce the end panel by 1/8" to accommodate the added thickness.

 How to Find a C-Fold Panel Size

Follow these steps to find your panel size. A typical letter size is 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper with a 1/32" adjustment for folding. Adjust for other sizes.

  1. Divide the length of the sheet by 3 (the number of inside panels): 11 / 3 = 3.6667 inches. This is your starting panel size.

  2. Round that measurement up to the closest 1/32": 3.6875 inches. This is the size of your first two panels.

  3. Subtract 1/16" (.0625) from your large panel size: 3.6875 - .0625 = 3.625 inches. This is the size of your last (smaller) panel c.

Because we're working with thirds and rounding, the numbers aren't precise but it gets you close enough. Remember, this gives you the size of the panels. You would then need to set margins and gutter space for each panel to give you the space that actually contains your text and images. For example, using the measurements in this example with 1/4 inch side margins and 1/4 inch gutters, you would set guides as follows:

  • Inside of brochure (a/b/c): 0.25 (left margin) | 3.5625 | 3.8125 | 7.25 | 7.5 | 10.75 (right margin)
  • Outside of brochure (c/b/a): 0.25 (left margin) | 3.5 | 3.75 | 7.1875 | 7.4375 | 10.75 (right margin)

The slight difference in panel sizes shouldn't be too noticeable with most layouts but if needed you can slightly adjust margins or gutters to even out the text area of the panels.

When purchasing a pre-scored brochure paper for desktop printing it is important to feed the paper into your printer in the correct position so that the correct parts of the layout are printed on the ever-so-slightly smaller folded-in panel.

Variations and Other 6 Panel Folds

For a different look to your layout, make the first panel an inch or so smaller than split that inch, giving each of the remaining two panels about half an inch (approx. 2.6875 | 4.1875 | 4.125) When folded, about one inch of the folded-in panel will show as part of the front of your brochure. This creates a wider brochure when folded than your usual tri-fold. Design your layout accordingly.

Note that a 6-panel fold may be described as a 3-panel while an 8-panel may be described as being a 4-panel layout. 6 and 8 refer to both sides of the sheet of paper while 3 and 4 are counting 1 panel as being both sides of the sheet. Sometimes "page" is used to mean a panel.

  • Accordion or Zig Zag Folds with two parallel folds create 6 panels.
  • Gatefold (not a Double Gatefold) has a large center panel with two evenly-sized end panels that fold in creating 6 panels front and back.
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Your Citation
Bear, Jacci Howard. "What Is a C-Fold Document?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/c-folds-in-printing-1078671. Bear, Jacci Howard. (2023, April 5). What Is a C-Fold Document? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/c-folds-in-printing-1078671 Bear, Jacci Howard. "What Is a C-Fold Document?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/c-folds-in-printing-1078671 (accessed June 10, 2023).