Adobe Illustrator Template for a Tri-Fold Brochure

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As a print graphic designer, you will be hired to create various types of traditional print design work. For large, multi-page projects I recommend using Adobe InDesign or Quark. But, for single page designs, I like to layout my work in Adobe Illustrator. And to improve my work flow using this application, I have created a library of document files that are preset with the necessary full bleed, crop/trim mark and live area guides. This has saved me hours of time and I am going to show you how to do the same. We are going to create a one page template for a tri-fold brochure.

No time for a tutorial?

I understand that sometimes you are in a crunch and just don’t have the time to follow a step by step tutorial. That is why I have released a free set of templates (which includes this brochure template) for you to download and start using immediately. But, if you want to continue to learn how to set one up yourself, please continue reading.

Terminology & Geeky Stuff

Before we begin, let’s understand the terminology I will be using:

Full Bleed
Bleed is a printing term that refers to the printing that goes to the edge of the paper after trimming. If there is any portion of your design you wish to appear to go beyond the edge of a page (textured backgrounds or background colors) without showing any of the white paper, then you will have these elements go beyond the bleed guide, which is considered full bleed.
Crop or Trim Marks
Crop or Trim marks, also known as Corner Marks, are crossed lines place on the corner of documents indicating where the paper will be trimmed after the document has been printed.
Live Area Guide
Live Area Guides, or safety guides, are set so you know exactly where to place all of your text content. I use live area guides as a warning that I am potentially coming too close to where the paper will be trimmed. Remember that the trimming process is not 100% accurate across all printers. So, to err on the “safe” side, give yourself some room for unforeseen printer differences. You will thank yourself later.

The standard American bleed size for a tri-fold brochure, before the folding and trimming process, is 11.25 inches x 8.75 inches. And we know that the final trimmed document will be 11 inches x 8.5 inches. Therefore, we know that the bleed will extend, on all four sides of the document, by .125 inches. This may sound confusing now, but it will make sense by the end of the tutorial.

This tutorial was written using Adobe Illustrator CS3, but can be applied to versions CS to CS2 across both platforms. I’ve chosen not to use keyboard shortcuts to insure there is no confusion for anyone who is new to the application. Let’s begin.

Step 1: Creating a new document

Launch Adobe Illustrator. From the top menu, select File » New, which will open the New Document dialog box. Enter the following settings:

  1. Name: Tri-Fold Brochure Single (or whatever you wish to name the document)
  2. From the New Document Profile drop down, select Print.
  3. For Size, choose Letter and change the orientation to Landscape.
  4. The color mode should say CMYK.
  5. Click “OK”.
  6. If your rulers are not present at the top on the document, select View » Show Rulers from the top menu.
  7. Change the view to actual size by selecting View » Actual Size from the top menu.

Step 2: Create Layers

We are going to create two layers for this template and name each of them. Let’s name the first layer Guides and the second layer Artwork. The names are optional but always good practice to name your layers something you will easily remember. Locate your Layers Palette Window, usually located on the right side of your document, and complete the following steps. If your Layers Palette Window is not visible, select Window » Layers from the top menu.

  1. Double click on Layer 1. The Layers Option dialog box will open. Enter Guides in the Name input box and click “OK”.
  2. At the bottom of the Layers Palette Window, you will see a series of icons. Click on the Create New Layer icon and Layer 2 will appear above Guides Layer. Repeat the first step and name this layer Artwork and click “OK”.

Step 3: Placing your guides

Now we are going to drag out and place all of our guides for the document. This is going to require you to dust off those mathematical grade school skills. First, make sure that your guides are not locked for this step by selecting View » Guides. If there is a check mark next to Lock Guides, select the option to unlock them. We will need the freedom to move guides around and we will lock them at the end.

Step 4a: Trim/Crop Guides

  1. Zoom into the document as much as you can by selecting the Zoom Tool, from the Tools Palette, and clicking and dragging on the upper left hand corner of the document.
  2. Choose your Selection Tool from the Tools Palette and click on your top ruler. Without releasing your mouse, drag a guide from the top, until it snaps into place on the topmost portion of the Artboard.
  3. Zoom back out to 100%. Now, zoom into the lower left corner of the document and repeat this step by dragging a guide until it snaps into place at the bottom of the Artboard.
  4. Do the same for the left and right side of the document. These are your guides for the full bleed.

Step 4b: Full Bleed Guides

Now we are going to have do some basic adding and subtracting to know where to place our guides for the full bleed area. Remember that want to allow for .125 inches between the bleed and crop/trim area. But, before we start, we need to change the Ruler Origin in Illustrator so that the top left corner is set to zero on the x and y axis.

It sounds complicated, but it is not. Make sure you have your Smart Guides turned on for this next step. With the Selection Tool active, click and drag from the upper left portion of the ruler to the upper left portion of the Artboard. Release your mouse when you see the words “intersect”. Your Rulers should now begin at zero on both the x and y axis.

Change your Ruler Origin in Adobe Illustrator.

Now, let’s add the guides for the full bleed.

  1. Once again, zoom into the top left of the document and drag another guide from the top ruler until you reach the top of your trim guide and release your mouse. Now, we need to place the guide exactly .125 inches from the top. We achieve this by selecting that guide and inputting a value in the “x” or “y” input box under the Transform Palette Window. With the newly placed guide selected, input .125 inches in the “y” input box and you will see the guide snap to this new value. If your guide does not move to the newly entered value, make sure that your guides are not locked.
  2. From the left ruler, drag and place a guide at -.125 inches on the “x” axis.
  3. Zoom into the bottom left and from the top ruler, drag and place a guide at -8.625 inches on the “y” axis.
  4. Zoom into the top right and from the left ruler, drag and place a guide at 11.125 inches on the “x” axis.
  5. Zoom out to 100% and you now have your guides for the crop/trim mark area.
  6. You can now lock these guides

Step 4c: Live Area Guide

You can use the method in Step 4b to created the Live Area Guide, but I like to keep things simple. Too many guides on a page and I start to get confused if I am not paying close enough attention. So, here is what we are going to do.

  1. Select the Rectangle Tool and set your Fill and Stroke colors to none.
  2. Click anywhere on the Artboard and enter 10.75 inches for the width (11 − .25 = 10.75) and 8.25 (8.5 − .25 = 8.25) for the height and hit “OK”.
  3. Select the rectangle and align it to the Artboard center.
  4. With the rectangle still selected, from the View menu, choose Guides » Make.
  5. You now have your guides for the live area.

Create a Live Guide Area for your Tri-Fold Template

Step 4d: Folding Guides

With basic division, we know that each panel of the tri-fold brochure will be 3.66666667 inches wide (11 ÷ 3). But, I don’t want to spend the time trying to line that up properly with the method I used earlier. So, here is what we are going to do:

  1. Once again, choose the Rectangle Tool and click anywhere on the Artboard. Enter 11 inches for the width and 8.5 inches for the height.
  2. Align the Rectangle to the center of the Artboard.
  3. From the Object drop down menu, choose Path » Split into Grid.
  4. In the Columns option, enter 3 and in the Gutter option enter zero.
  5. Now, simply make this into a Guide the way we did the Live Area and you have your Fold Guides.

Step 5: Save your document

All that is left to do is to save your document as an Adobe Illustrator Template. Select File » Save as Template… and navigate to where you would like to save the document. You will notice that Illustrator will append .ait to your file name indicating this is a template document. The .ait file is different from the .ai file. Once you have saved this document as a template, from here on out, when you are creating a tri-fold brochure, simply launch Adobe Illustrator and, from the top menu, choose File » New From Template… and it will open an instance of the template, and not the template itself.

Nowadays, many digital print companies have template files available for download for non-designers to use. But, in my opinion, as a professional designer you should create your own template library for standard sized projects for print. You can also create templates for standard sized bi-fold brochures, letterhead, envelopes and business cards. And each one of these templates will save you time, allowing you to concentrate on the creative part of the process and not the document set up.


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