How to design a presentation folder

Presentation folders – the most recognized and often most produced piece of print outside of flyers and business cards.  Their task is just as their name implies: they are tools to present information to your client or prospect.  They can be as simple as the standard 9×12″ folder with a 4″ pocket with business card slits, or as complex as something with complex die cutting, or other finishing techniques.  But the goal is simple: a leave-behind that will compel the prospect to contact you back, or motivate a client to give you more business.

hero-bannerHowever, you can do MORE than just present some spec sheets, or your business card with a well-designed presentation folder. The presentation folder should be seen as one of your biggest brand awareness tools.  It should tie into your online marketing.  It should have not just your logo, but social media bugs on there.  The presentation folder should be, in essence, your website in print.  Or, at least it should drive people to your website or social media to learn more.  It can be simple, but if printed with various ink and coating techniques, can be unique and memorable.  And as much as you may wish to pack it with all your company’s data sheets, it should be leave the prospect wanting more.  So, let’s look at some design tips for getting the most out of your presentation folders.


Before you even start, determine what is your presentation folder going to do?  Is it just to hold your rep’s business cards with a few select sheets?  Will it have to hold some multiple-page document like a stitched or wire-O bound book?  Determine the use for the folder first, seeing if you need to have capacity added, or if you want the pockets to be different than standard pockets.  The goal is to decide what’s gong to go in the folder, determine how you’re going to cross-brand all the materials, and then proceed to designing the folder.  TIP: Most printers or print finishers have a standard 9×12″ die with two 4″ pockets and business card slits as a “standing die”, so you don’t need to pay for a die to be manufactured.  They may charge a small fee to modify it, in case you don’t wish to have slits on both pockets, etc.


for_dad 001The best way to start your design on a presentation folder is to design it flat, and design it from the outside.  Maybe do a quick 3-D hand-sketch of how it’s going to look all glued and assembled, and then interpret that into a two-dimensional drawing, indicating where the slits go, any capacity pockets, cross-overs, etc.  When I say “outside”, you have to remember that the folder prints flat, so the “inside” pockets actually print on the same side of the sheet as the outside front and back covers.  If you are adding graphic elements to the inside of the folder (basically, what will be covered up with printed sheets or collateral), you design that differently, keeping in mind that some of it MAY be visible.  TIP: Get your printer involved at this stage by asking for paper samples or swatch books.  Dependent upon what paper you select, it could have an impact on your design and how it all assembles.  


Once you have the design done, or feel that you are ready to go, get your print servicesavanti-fitness-white-gloss-presentation-folder_inside-right provider to manufacture paper dummies for you.  You’ll need to know which paper you are printing on, and you’ll need to provide your PSP an Illustrator file (if it’s complex), or at least the specifications so they can have the sample manufactured.  Some PSPs may have an in-house structural team member who can create the dummies on site, and insure that the die-line you provided will work with the paper thickness you’ve asked for.  Many printers rely upon the local paper distributors and mills to create the dummies.  Once you have that in your hand, look at it, make sure that it works for you and that the design you’ve done is what you were expecting.  Often the PSP will return your file to you with slight adjustments made in order to insure that it will be manufactured correctly.  TIP: paper thickness can have an impact on your design, particularly if you go with a heavy cover stock, like 130# or even 160# double-thick cover.  Paper dummies will help tremendously in making sure your design for a more dimensional cover will work, especially if you have added capacity to the pockets and spine.  Ask your printer for at least two (2) dummies – and I’ll tell you why you ask for that next.


ai_folder4What I always tell clients is get the Illustrator file of the die-line first, before you actually start the design.  I cannot emphasize enough how crucial this is.  And, if you have sent your die-line to your print services provider, and they returned it to you slightly modified to allow for the paper thickness and capacities, use THAT die-line, not your original one. Take the dummy that was created by the print services provider and make notes on it, like “outside front” or “right hand pocket”, then disassemble it.  This will give you the basics on where you need to place your files for the various panels and pockets, insuring that the art has been placed correctly.  if you’re going to have some kind of a design element like a thick rule or color that will carry over to the inside, set up guides so that the element will be placed in the exact corresponding spot.  If you are going to have something more complex on the inside, and your die-line has capacity or unique pockets, flip the die-line so that you have it in the correct orientation.  Refer often to the disassembled dummy to insure you’re placing the file correctly.  Now, the reason why you ordered that second dummy is apparent:  you need to have that second dummy in order to visualize how all of the design will work when the folder is completed.

Once that is complete, collect your file as you would for printing, and submit it to your print services provider, confident that you did a great job in designing the folder and providing a file that they can work from.

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About John Prothero

John Prothero is a print professional with over 30 years experience in the print industry. Starting out as a driver delivering jobs, he worked in bindery, proofing, plating, traditional prepress (camera and stripping), scheduling, job planning, job management, account management and digital job production. His skills also run in the area of blog authorship, social media management, and lead generation and qualification of prospective clients. John is also a contributor to Rhode Island Creative Magazine, a digital publication that highlights the creative spirit of the state of Rhode Island. You can read their online issues at
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2 Responses to How to design a presentation folder

  1. Make Something Mondays says:

    Awesome job! That would look great for an interview or meeting.

  2. I always try to design my folders flat first, once i know i want it to look then i start on 3d

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