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How to Create an Iron Cross Self-Mailer Template Using Adobe Illustrator

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Looking for something more exciting than a standard tri-fold or postcard? One attention-grabbing solution is the iron cross fold. This specialty, or exotic, fold gets its name from the cross shape/plus sign shape it forms when flat and unfolded. It is fairly easy to set up and will add significant flair to your piece. It can be either square or rectangular after folding. The flaps can vary in size and include curves or angled cuts, if desired.

Last time around, we looked at creating this exotic fold in Adobe InDesign. This time, let’s look at the process to create it in Adobe Illustrator.



1. Create a New Document

Due to the iron cross being an irregular shape, float the template on the page rather than create a document the trim size of the piece. Go to New > Document and set up a document that is 1 inch larger than the trim size of the entire piece.

Since the outer edges of the template are 26.875 inches wide x 17.875 inches tall, the document pages need to be 27.875 inches wide x 18.875 inches tall. Leave the bleeds at zero, as you won’t need them.

Step 1 Iron Cross AI

2. Add a Vertical Rectangle

Start by creating the vertical section of the template. Select the Rectangle Tool (M), hold down the ALT key and click anywhere on the artboard. A dialogue box will come up. Enter 9 inches in the width box and 17.875 inches in the height box. Click OK and you now have the vertical section of the template. Give it a Stroke Weight of0.5 pt.

Step 2 Iron Cross AI

3. Add a Horizontal Rectangle

Create the horizontal section of the template the same way you created the vertical section. This time enter 26.875 inches in the width box and 6 inches in the height box. Click OK and you now have the horizontal section of the template. Give it a Stroke Weight of 0.5 pt.

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4. Centralise the Rectangles to Create a Cross

Center the rectangles both horizontally and vertically. Select both rectangles and go to Windows > Align to open the Align panel if it isn’t already. Click on Vertical Align Center as well as Horizontal Align Center. The rectangles will perfectly center on each other.

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5. Centralise the Cross to the Artboard

To center the vertical and horizontal sections on the artboard, go to View > Fit Artboard in Window. Then, select both rectangles, Cut, and Paste. They will magically land exactly in the center of the page.

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6. Use the Pathfinder Panel to Divide the Rectangle Cross

To ensure that the piece lies flat when folded, allowances need to be made on the left and right flaps. To prepare for this, select both rectangles. In the Pathfinder panel, select Divide. This will break the overlapping section into individual segments.

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7. Add Dashed Lines to the Fold Design

Select the inner rectangle with the Direct Selection Tool (A). This box will be used to indicate the fold lines and needs to be a dotted line. In the Stroke panel, tick the Dashed Line box and enter 4 pt in the dash box and 5 pt in the gap box. Go to Object > Lock > Selection to Lock the box in place in preparation for the next steps.

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8. Select the Top Edges of the Right & Left Flaps

Using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the top edges of the right and left flaps while holding down the SHIFT key.

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9. Offset the Selected Lines

The lines you just selected need to be offset 0.0625 inches (1/16) to allow for a flat fold. Go to Object > Transform > Move. Enter 0.0625 inches after Vertical. The Distance and Angle boxes will automatically adjust. Hit OK and you will see that the left and right flaps are now 1/16 shorter.

The bottom edges of the left and right flaps needs to be adjusted as well. Again, using the Direct Selection Tool (A), select the bottom edge of the right and left flaps while holding down the SHIFT key. Go to Object > Transform > Move. Enter -0.0625 after Vertical. Hit OK and you now have two flaps that will fold perfectly.

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10. Remove the Solid Line from the Central Rectangle

You will notice that a solid line remains behind the dotted line. To remove it, select the edges of the rectangles that fall under the dotted line. Be sure to hold down the SHIFT key while you are selecting them. Then, hit Delete.

Now, select everything on the page and go to Object > Ungroup. This will allow you to put the die line and fold lines on separate layers.

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11. Set the Die Line’s to Magenta

To differentiate the die line from the graphics, outline it with a spot color. Magenta is typically recognized by printers as a die line.

Select the solid outline (the die line). Go to the Swatches panel and click on the fly-out menu in the upper right corner. Select New Swatch. In the dialogue box that comes up, set Color Type to Spot Color, enter Die Line in the Swatch Name field, and make the color 100 magenta. Click OK and you now have a new spot color in your Swatches panel.

Select the die line and assign it your new spot color.

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12. Separate the Die Line from the Artwork

Separate the die line from the artwork by creating a new layer for it. Click on the Create New Layer icon on the bottom right of the Layers panel. Double click on the text "Layer 2" and a new dialogue box will come up.

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13. Rename the Die Line Layer and Untick the Print Box

In the dialogue box, type Die Line into the Name field and untick the Print box.

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14. Color Your Fold Lines

On a standard rectangular piece, fold marks are indicated outside the print area. Since the iron cross is an irregular shape, the folds have to be marked another way.

Create New Layer and label it "Fold Line". Then, create a new spot color the same process as above, preferably something that doesn’t blend with your artwork. Be sure to untick Print when you label the layer.

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15. Add a Bleed to the Outer Edges

To ensure that ink goes to the edge of the piece, add a bleed to the outer edges of the mailer. Since placement of the bleed guidelines isn’t critical, it’s okay to trust your eyes and set them up using the rulers.

Drag guidelines from the horizontal and vertical rulers and place them 1/8 of an inch from every edge of the die line.

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Great Work, Now You’Re Finished!

You are now ready to create a fabulous mailer!

Tip: Since the iron cross design involves a die cut, scoring, and possibly hand folding, it will also add expense. Be sure to check with both your printer and your client before you get started. Another thing you should know is that this layout is a paper hog and creates a considerable amount of waste. Do not despair my tree hugger friends! The extra paper can be used for accompanying pieces such as inserts or cards. As is true for most extraordinary things, they require added thought, funds and planning… but the end result is worth it.
finished piece Iron Cross AI
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