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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Envelope Printing: Choose Standard Sizes to Save Money

I found about 75 beautifully printed fold-over cards on good quality cover stock at a discount store this weekend. Unfortunately all the flaps of the custom envelopes had stuck to the envelopes. So I had perfectly good cards and no way to send them to clients.

Here’s what I did.

First I measured the cards. They came in two sizes, so I chose the larger one. It came to 4.5” x 6.5”. Then I looked up “envelope sizes” on the Internet. Printing companies specializing in custom envelopes almost always have charts on their sites listing popular envelope sizes.

Here’s the caveat. If you choose custom envelopes that are a standard size (A-2, A-6, #10, Baronial Lee), whether you are printing a job for your boss or a client or just using the printed envelopes (or blank envelopes) to send out holiday cards, the price will be reasonable. If you start with an odd-sized enclosure and then focus on the envelope, your business printing vendor will need to have a custom envelope printed and converted, and this will cost money. The conversion will be done by a separate vendor, it will be an extra step in the process, and it will require an envelope cutting die that might cost several hundred dollars.

Choosing a size for printed envelopes (or unprinted envelopes)

As an example, let’s look at the cards I found: 4.5” x 6.5”. The standard rule of thumb is to allow 1/4” clearance for both the height and width when choosing an envelope for a particular card. In my case, that would suggest a 4.75” x 6.75” envelope. Looking at a list of standard envelope dimensions from an envelope printing vendor’s website, I found a 4.75” x 6.5” envelope (an A-6 or a 6 Bar, depending on whether the flap was square or pointed). One dimension would fit comfortably, but the other dimension was exactly the same size as the fold-over card. No room. Bad news.

The next size up was the A-7, according to the envelope size chart. This 5.25” x 7.25” envelope would surely accommodate a 4.5” x 6.5” card. However, there’s ¾ of an inch of play from side to side in the envelope, and the width of the card would fall ¾ of an inch short of the height of the envelope. This isn’t ideal. After all, it would look like a mistake. Most people expect their cards to fit snugly but not too snugly into their printed envelopes. In addition, a card that floats around in an envelope may get damaged.

(As an additional point of interest, you might want to increase the standard rule of thumb for 1/4” clearance for both the height and width when you will be using automated inserting equipment. In this case, increase it to 1/2”. This also may be wise if you plan to insert multiple items into the envelope. To be safe, get a sample envelope, make a mock-up of each enclosure, and assemble the whole package. The Post Office, your custom printing supplier, and your mailshop will all find this mock-up useful for everything from weight—i.e., postage—to dimensions, to paper, etc.)

What were my options?

To return to my example of the cards from the discount shop, I now have two options. I can trim the cards to 4.5” x 6.25”, using a straight-edge and an X-acto knife. Or, I can buy the 5” x 7” envelopes and hope for the best. How do I know this? Because the chart in the envelope printing website includes the following information (as will most envelope charts you will find). It includes the number of the envelope (A-2, A-6, etc.), the envelope dimensions, the dimensions for a typical insert (very useful information), and whether it is a letter or a flat (a letter becomes a flat when its height exceeds 6 1/8” and/or its length exceeds 11.5”.)

A few more envelope printing items to consider

  • The cost to mail a flat is roughly double the cost to mail a letter.
  • The Post Office adds a surcharge if you want to to mail a square envelope.
  • Envelopes usually come in boxes of 250 or 500. Your business printing provider will probably charge you for the entire box, whether or not you use all the envelopes.
  • Envelopes usually come in 24# or 28# weight (which corresponds to 60# or 70# text-weight offset paper).
  • Envelopes are either open-end, called “catalog” envelopes, or open-side, called “booklet” envelopes.
  • Specialty envelopes are either “announcement” envelopes (square flap) or “Baronial” envelopes (pointed flap). “Lee” is the name of the 5.25” x 7.25” Baronial envelope.
  • And then there are business and commercial envelopes, with or without windows. They are the regular envelopes you get in the mail, containing letters, bills, statements, etc.

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