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How To Create Effective Continuous Paper Forms

Blog / How To Create Effective Continuous Paper Forms

Create professional, effective, customized continuous paper forms that highlight your brand, streamline your business processes, and are cost-effective. Continuous forms are recognized and used worldwide by government agencies, educational institutions, corporations, transcribers, individuals, and many more. Though not widely used as they once were, they still play an important role in business and it is important to understand how they work.


What are Continuous Forms


Continuous paper form and stationery are made of paper and are created to be used with dot-matrix and line printers. It has a paper feed mechanism with small holes on the side that provides the grip to move the paper through the printer. Other names include fan-fold paper, sprocket-feed paper, burst paper, line flow (New Zealand), tractor-feed paper, and pin-feed paper.


It can be a single-ply or multi-part carbon copy where the sheets are separated by carbon paper or carbonless copy, in which case the paper itself is coated with a special chemical that produces the duplicates, triplicates, etc. 


Creating Continuous Forms


One way to create a form on continuous paper is to print your entire design on blank paper. In this case, the entire document or layout that you created on your computer will be printed. You would still need to consider the right size of the paper, the paper stock thickness, and the number of parts or copies per sheet.




One disadvantage to consider here is that this may not be the most cost-effective method for you, especially if you are printing a large number of forms repeatedly. You would be using up an excessive amount of ink to get the job done.


Customizing the forms


Another option is to create customized pre-printed continuous forms with your design or layout. When you run the pre-printed form through your dot matrix printer, you only print in a few selected fields.


You may be asking yourself how you get a pre-printed form.


 It is designed by someone like a graphic designer and printed by a commercial printer. The good news is that you only have to design it once and print a large enough quantity that makes economic sense to your business.


In some cases, you may lose or not have the original design that you had saved in a digital format. You may only have a paper copy of an old form. A graphic designer can recreate the format from the physical paper copy and submit a printable file to the commercial printer. Sometimes you can take a clear picture of the form and email it to the designer but the safest thing to do is give them a physical copy.


Things to consider when ordering continuous form


The Design - The most important thing to consider when creating a customized continuous form design is the alignment of all the fields, rows, and columns to what you have laid out on your computer software. You can use Adobe products such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and InDesign to create your layout.


The Paper Weight - The thickness of the paper will affect the quality of the forms when they are printed. So keep that in mind when you are thinking about the type of documents being printed and your target audience. You may decide to use a 15lb paper stock for internal use such as a warehouse and a 20lb for things such as invoices, receipts, and work orders, that will be issued to your customer.


Paper Sequence - The standard paper color sequence for multi-part continuous carbonless forms is 16# white, 14.5# canary, 14.5# pink, 14.5 goldenrod, and 15# white. Nevertheless, you can have no standard or alternative sequences based on your needs. You must make this clear to the commercial printer or printing company that is producing the forms.


Also keep in mind that you have the option to use a heavier paper stock such as a manila tag paper for part 2 or part 3, assuming it is a 2 or 3-part form.


The Paper Size - The most common size is 8 ½ x 11” (9 ½ x 11” with the tracks/holes on each side). Continuous paper forms can be custom-made with different sizes based on what it is being used for. A commercial printer can cut the paper and create perforations as needed.


The Tractor Feed Edges - The tractor feed edges can be sizes in plain, 19-hole, or spiral pre-punched formats. The edges are normally a ½” (half an inch) vertical perforation on the right and left side. The 19 holes and spirals are punched on the left-hand side and are to be used with standard binding rings, but you can also have them created with custom, special, or an appropriate sizes for your business.


The Perforations - There is a standard 1/2" perforated margins on the left and right-hand sides that are removed when the form is printed on your dot matrix printer. The tear perforations may be short slits, which leave noticeable serrations when torn apart, acceptable for many business documents such as invoices or basic data (such as computer code). Where better appearance is necessary the perforations can be much finer, leaving an almost perfectly smooth edge (micro-perforations, micro-perf for short).


Do all parts print the same? - You can have certain pages or parts in a paper sequence be different from the other parts. This is referred to as a blackout or “blackout” section. Additional plates will be created to print those parts that are different.


Back Printing - If you are printing on the back of the form it is best to print in solid black and use a 20lb paper stock to ensure that the type is readable. You may also screen back the type by approximately 30% if you are using a thinner paper stock such as 15lb paper. You can print on all back pages of or selected pages.


Consecutive Numbering - In the production of continuous forms, each page can be consecutively numbered by impacting with a numbering head after the forms are printed. That is a consecutive numbering of printed or photocopied sheets performed on a collating device using carbon-based or carbonless materials to transfer numbers to successive ply/sheets of a collated set.


Bleeds - This is where you are working print all the way to the edge of the paper. It could be a line, graphic, image, etc. This will impact your price and printing turnaround time.


Take a look at this video if you would like to get an idea of the continuous form printing process.



The Benefits of Using Continuous Forms

Here are the benefits of using continuous forms and how they are used to lower costs, save time, streamline business processes, and increase revenue.

  1. Very cost-effective when used by larger companies for invoices, receipts, reports, statements, etc. 

Some of the most reliable vertical markets for continuous forms are health care and financial institutions,” he added. “Products, such as medical forms, invoices, statements, claim forms, and continuous checks, continue to be used by many businesses every single day. With fewer reliable manufacturers than there were 10 or 20 years ago, the value we can provide to these critical industries has only grown.” Said Mike Allen, general manager of multiple plants for Ennis Inc. Read the full interview from the article at Print + Promo.


  1. Used simply and reliably with dot matrix printers, which have a long track record of being durable machines with low maintenance costs. This is especially true when used in rigid environments such as production or manufacturing plants.


  1. There is great flexibility in designing and pre-printing the forms to be compatible with computer software.


  1. When integrated with other features such as identification cards, labels, or direct mailer postcards, you have the benefit of passing the form through your printer once. A versatile way to save time and money.


It’s clear that there are a number of things to consider when creating or printing carbonless continuous forms. All of these things listed above will impact price, production time, your brand, functionality, and your business overall. I hope this article helped in clarifying certain terminologies and your understanding of the process to create these forms. Contact us if you need further clarification or if you need a price quote.


Michael Reid
Marketing Manager


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design or printing?

Hi there! I'm Michael Reid, and I specialize in design and printing. Would you like me to help you with an upcoming project?

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Michael Reid

From my roots in Jamaica to the bustling streets of the USA, my journey into design and printing has been fueled by a passion for creativity and business. I founded Small Business Promotions, Inc. back in 2003, bringing DesignsnPring.com to life. The foundation of my work comes from not only my degree in accounting and economics from the University of the West Indies but also my hands-on-experience that started at Georgia Perimeter College.

Do You want
design or printing?

Hi there! I'm Michael Reid, and I specialize in design and printing. Would you like me to help you with an upcoming project?