Pockets, Flaps and Tabs

Pockets, Flaps and Tabs main article image
Posted on July 28, 2021 by Natalie Ballard
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I love creating interactive projects such as mini-books, animated cards, or even projects with pop-up elements. 

The trapezium trick

Many of these rely on an essential basic shape: the trapezium. Now, while many cutting software titles have a pre-built trapezium for you to scale and use, not all software titles do so. Here’s how to create a symmetrical trapezium quickly and easily.

  1. Draw a rectangle with a width matching the maximum width of your trapezium.
  2. Draw another rectangle with a width matching the narrowest point of your desired trapezium; the height should match your desired tab height.
  3. Select both rectangles and align to centre horizontally. If your software allows you, lock the position of these two rectangles.
  4. Use your pen/path tool to join the points – use snapping to help you.

Drawing a trapezium easily using path tools

To use a drawing tool instead, draw the shape and then adjust using your software’s shape tools. Affinity Designer’s trapezium tool is shown here, where you use the red dots to shape the narrower section of your trapezium.

Trapeziums are useful for glue tabs as they give you an automatic neat fit into scoreline and folds. However, without using the structure above it can be tricky to draw right the first time with the pen/path tool.

Inserting a flap

Before getting into pockets and tabs, let’s start off with a simple flap. Flaps are great for adding more space to a project, concealing surprises, and to add a touch of fun. Here’s how to create your own flaps using your cutter.

  1. Draw your flap page/shape. It should have at least one straight edge (where we will add our hinge), but apart from that, you can use any shape you like.
  2. Add your rectangle for the narrower edge of your trapezium to the straight edge of your shape.
  3. Draw your trapezium with your pen/path tool.
  4. Merge the two shapes together.
  5. Use your pen/path tool to add in your score line.

Adding hinges to flaps

To reinforce your shape, or if your desired shape doesn’t have a straight edge, you can create an additional piece that will have an outer hinge also. This enables you to keep a shape intact.

  1. Add 2 copies of your desired shape.
  2. To one add the outer hinge score line (as seen in the right-hand diagram).
  3. To the other, overlap a rectangle that extends past the shape but finishes inline with the outer hinge of the other shape.
  4. Subtract the rectangle from the shape.
  5. Draw your flap page/shape. It should have at least one straight edge (where we will add our hinge), but apart from that, you can use any shape you like.
  6. Add your rectangle for the narrower edge of your trapezium to the straight edge of your shape.
  7. Draw your trapezium with your pen/path tool.
  8. Merge the two shapes together.
  9. Use your pen/path tool to add in your score line.
  10. Cut the pieces and adhere them back to back using double-sided paper for interest. Fold the tabs so your piece finishes in a T shape.
  11. Adhere this to your page.

Let’s hide the hinge

For projects where you add backing papers, you can conceal the hinge of your piece. Before adhering your backing piece, cut a slit measuring the larger width of your trapezium tab. I recommend cutting two lines close together. This means your tab will slide in easily; insert it through and adhere it to the backing paper. You can then apply adhesive to your backing paper (even Xyron if your flap is undecorated). Adhere this to your page, card blank, or project.

Creating pockets

Pockets are very similar to flaps, just they attach on two or more sides. Let’s make this project interesting and go for a shaped pocket.

Building a pocket from scratch

  1. Draw a rectangle measuring your desired pocket size. This could be dictated by what you want to put inside, for instance. Allow an additional 2-3mm if working this way.
  2. Add a point to the bottom centre using the add node tool or by double-clicking with your node select tool.
  3. Move this point downwards to form a point; press and hold [Shift] while moving the point to keep it going straight down.
  4. Create the rectangles for the side tabs first. Draw one and duplicate it across to keep your tabs neat. Align won’t work here in quite the same way. Use snap instead, but remember it will snap to the centre of the new shape. If you want to be meticulous, you can add a point to the pocket the same as you did in step 2 to align your rectangles to.
  5. Now, we can create the rectangles for the lower two edges. This can be a little more tricky in some software titles, my advice is to use the tools you have available: guides, smart guides, measuring tools, and rotate even if it helps you to draw accurately. The good news is you only need to align/draw one. You can then duplicate and flip it for the other side.
  6. Next, you need to decide on capacity. For one insert and surface mounting, you don’t need any capacity beyond your scoreline. For more than this, we recommend adding capacity using offset from your pocket shape. Measure the depth of your decorated inserts when stacked, use this plus 1mm as your offset measurement.
  7. Draw from your pocket shape to your offset, to your rectangle to create the tabs and capacity in one go. Repeat for each tab.
  8. Merge these shapes into one.
  9. Draw in both sets of score lines and cut from a piece of cardstock.

Adding Tabs

I’m sure by now you can see where I’m heading with this, but now I’m going to add a new tool/option: the corner rounder. This is implemented differently in each title, so it’s worth a little research with your particular software. Adobe Illustrator has this as part of the node tool with a dot in a circle in each possible node point. Affinity Designer has a separate tool called the corner tool.

  1. Import your shape for adding your tab(s) to. Duplicate as many copies of it as you need.
  2. Draw your trapezium using the initial method. Keep a separate copy of this shape if applying tabs to 2 or more elements. You can use the align & distribute tools at this stage to space out multiple tabs.
  3. Merge your first trapezium to the element you are adding a tab to.
  4. Use the corner rounder option your software uses as follows. Select the two narrower points of your tab and curve these to soften the points. Then, select the two outer points and smooth these to stabilise the tab.
  5. You can repeat step 3 for each tab. Then, move your pieces ready for cutting.

Adding and smoothing a tab

You can create file folders using this method by duplicating and flipping your tabbed shape. Merge the two and add a scoreline to fold up the folder.


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