When should you score a folded brochure?

I don’t think there’s a single designer who hasn’t, at some point in their career, rolled the dice and opted to save a few bucks by choosing not to score their folded brochure when the printer recommended it. The lucky ones get through it unscathed, but many learn the hard way when their brochure bears the crackly white scar of shame. It’s a mistake you’ll only make once, I guarantee, as you are forced to use an ugly product or (gulp) reprint.

What is scoring, and why should you do it?
Paper is fiber-based, and the mechanical folding process causes a lot of stress to the sheet, so the fibers and the coating on the sheet can crack and expose an ugly, rough texture at the fold. This is most noticeable on a fold against the grain of a heavier sheet. So we score, because scoring is the process of creasing the sheet of paper to compress the paper fibers and decrease stiffness, which enables a high quality fold.

What are the different types of scoring methods?
There are several ways to score, and there are also different reasons why you might choose one scoring technique over another—some related to budget, printing method, direction and placement of the score, paper finish, equipment, and nature of the product being produced. I’ll do my best to help make the decision easy for you.

Litho Score: A Litho Score, or Press Score, allows the application of a score in line while the job is on press. A thin metal rule, kind of like the thickness of a cookie cutter, is adhered to the impression cylinder on the press. Metal rules can cut, crease, or perforate. In this case, the scoring rule creases the sheet as it passes underneath.

Heat Score: Heat Scoring is a Litho scoring technique that requires the use of special offset presses that can hold heat. This process can apply up to 350 degrees of heat to a copper die that can score, stamp, or emboss in line during the printing process. Heat scoring is especially effective on heavier coated stocks.

Rotary Score: A Rotary Score utilizes a special wheel attachment for the folding machine, and the wheel, with pressure applied, rolls as the sheet passes underneath before it’s folded, and creates the crease inline during the finishing process.

Letterpress Score: Letterpress is the highest quality—and the most expensive scoring process. It’s an offline process in which a steel rule is formed into the desired shape and is set within a piece of wood that is locked into a metal frame. The frame is clamped to a letterpress printing machine that forces the paper between the steel rule and the impression of the press. The process is slower, but the result is outstanding.

Impact Score: Impact scoring is a technique that is used primarily for short-run digital printing. A knife-and-channel configuration strikes the sheet to create a crease. This technique creates a quality crease, but is slower than the other techniques due to the reciprocating action of the knife.

Wet Score: Although not scoring in the literal sense (where paper fibers are compressed), a wet score is a process that is used specifically for an uncoated sheet. A special water attachment on the folding machine applies a thin, straight stream of solution where they want the paper to fold. With a fine line of dampness, the paper can’t help but to create a perfectly clean fold.

Should I score my folded brochure?
Maybe yes, maybe no. Depending upon the design and the specifications of the job you’re working on, scoring may be a necessary part of the production process. There are basic guidelines for scoring, so ask yourself the following questions:

Are you using a sheet that is 100 lb. text / 148 GSM or above? If yes, you should be scoring. I start thinking about it at 80 lb. text, but I’m paranoid, so that’s just me.

Are you folding against the grain of the paper? A fold that is parallel to the grain direction of the sheet is the cleanest, and a fold made against the grain carries a greater likelihood of cracking.

Is there heavy ink coverage across the folds? If yes, cracking is much more obvious when it busts through a field of color.

Does the brochure need to be folded by hand? Lots of folding styles are machine folded, however if your quantity is very small, or if your folding style is a specialty format, it may be hand folded. If so, the people who will be folding the product will need the scores as a guide for where to make the folds.

Do you have critical fold placement, or color breaks at the folds? A tricky format like the Stepped Accordion has a series of tabs that must be the exact same depth. Even the slightest variation in fold placement will throw off the symmetry and ruin the piece. For this type of format, scoring is critical. Also, designers love to put color breaks right at the folds, which is fine, but if the fold is off at all (or if your color is improperly placed), you’ll get a little sliver of color folding over to the next panel that will drive you insane in your portfolio for the rest of your professional career. Just bear in mind that once the score is placed, the bindery operator has little flexibility for “tweaking” fold placement. So, you’ll want to be sure that the folds are placed exactly where they should be in your digital file.

Do you want to make sure the product is positioned for the best possible outcome? Sometimes scoring is like a little insurance policy, and you do it because you don’t mind that bit of extra cost to take the “what ifs” out of your mind, and to ensure that the final product looks amazing.

Is your printer suggesting that you score the piece? If so, they’re making that suggestion for a reason, and you should listen to their advice. Your printer has folded a lot of stuff, and they can see a problem coming a mile away.

The final word on scoring
Don’t gamble with quality to save a few bucks. Listen to your printer, and then to your gut. As you’ve seen above, there are lots of ways to score, and if budget is a concern some of the available scoring techniques are very efficient while adding very little cost to the bottom line. So if you need to score your folded project, relax — it may not be the budget-killer you think it will be. And I can guarantee that scoring will cost a lot less than a reprint.

Trish Witkowski