A folding machine is a device used to fold paper, usually for mailings. By taking much of the manual labor out of the process, a folding machine can turn out material for a mass mailing in minutes rather than hours -- and prevent painful paper cuts, too. There are several different types of folding machines. The right one for you will depend on your needs and your budget.

Determining Your Needs

Before purchasing a paper-folding machine, think about what you need it to do. The three primary considerations are the amount of folding your business requires (heavier volume requires heavier-duty machines), the frequency of jobs (how many times per week or per month you will use the machine) and the types of folds needed (basic machines handle basic folds, while more complex machines can adjust to different paper types and thicknesses).

Manual Folders

The name "manual folder" makes it sound like these machines would require you to do a lot work, but they really don’t. "Manual" refers to the fact that you have to feed paper into the machine by hand. The folder still does the hard part. Most manual paper folders fold up to 30 sheets per minute (1,800 per hour) and can fold up to three pages at a time. Usually, manual paper folders can handle only letter-size paper. These machines are best for those who need them only occasionally.

Buckle Folders

Buckle folders are also called friction rollers because they use rollers to feed the paper into the machine for folding. All you have to do is load a ream of paper into the machine, and it does the rest for you. These machines are more appropriate for companies with medium- or high-volume needs because they can fold 2,500 to 10,000 letters per hour. Some buckle folders can be adjusted for different types of papers.

Automatic Folders

These are top-of-the-line paper folders that can fold up to 18,000 letters per hour. These machines can handle a range of folding options, most of which are preset. All the user has to do is select the appropriate paper settings from a control panel. Unlike buckle folders, these automatic machines use air to grab each piece of paper for folding, so they’re highly recommended for folding glossy paper.

Knife-Folding Machines

A knife-folding machine uses a blunt-edged blade to create the folds necessary for the letter. Rollers inside the machine roll paper through continuously, but paper is fed one sheet at a time and the blade makes the folds as the sheet goes through. One advantage of this type of machine is that the blades can also be used to slit large sheets of paper into smaller sheets for folding, if desired. Many printers use this to divide large sections of publications into smaller sections for printing.