Printing & Design Tips: May 2004, Issue #34

Specifying Envelopes--Envelope Printing, Mailing Specs

You're putting together a mailing, and you need some envelopes. How do you decide what you need, and how do you explain this to your printer?

Make sure your envelope is large enough to comfortably contain everything you want it to hold. More specifically, choose an envelope 1/2" longer than the longest insert and ensure 1/4" clearance from top to bottom. If you have multiple inserts, allow even more room.

To meet postal regulations, the length must be between 5" and 11.5" inclusive, and the height must be between 3.5" and 6.125" inclusive. The thickness must be between .007" and .25" inclusive.

Also, to meet postal regulations, the length of the envelope must be 1.3 to 2.5 times its height.

Options abound. You can choose bond, white wove (simple and inexpensive), translucent paper, Kraft paper, Tyvek, and many other paper stocks. However, you should also discuss this with the Post Office since the contrast between the envelope stock and the printing ink must meet certain standards to allow for optical character recognition by USPS equipment.ent.

You can make envelopes out of numerous paper stocks in many, many sizes. Your printer can obtain standard stocks and sizes quickly and begin production. However, an unstocked item that must be created will take longer to acquire and will cost more to produce. Envelope manufacturers and printers can provide charts showing common sizes. Make this decision early to ensure that you don't compromise your schedule. "Making items" can take a long time to make.

This is related to the last suggestion. If you want to print an address and logo on your envelope, or perhaps business reply information, then printing directly on the envelope should be fine. However, if you will be printing a halftone or solid across an envelope seam, or if you will be printing a full-bleed photo across the back of the envelope, for instance, you will need to print on a flat sheet and then convert it into an envelope. Again, this takes time.

These include center, side, or diagonal seams. Some envelopes have one kind, some have another. As noted above, ink printed across the seam will appear uneven.

Three options include:ude:

  • self-adhering (you peel off the protective sheet and close the flap; no moisture is needed)
  • re-moistenable (you wet the flap and then close it) and
  • latex seal (both the flap and the back of the envelope have a strip of latex; when they touch, a seal is created; no moisture is needed)
In addition, mechanical closures such as button-and-string and clasp are available.

If you will address the envelope, choose a "regular" envelope. It has no window. If you want an insert to carry the address (which avoids matching addresses on envelopes to addresses on inserts), choose a window envelope. Window options include cello, poly, and glassine--and completely open, with no covering. Consult the Post Office early regarding the size and placement of the window as well as what can appear through it.

Your wonderfully conceptualized and artfully produced mailing package can stop dead in its tracks at the US Post Office if anything is outside USPS specifications. That includes (as mentioned above) size, aspect ratio, thickness, contrast between envelope paper and ink, information showing through the window, and any and all address information, teaser information, etc., printed anywhere on the envelope. pe.

Do yourself a favor. Show everything to the Post Office before you print. Postalr eps will show you how to produce a mailable (and even automatable) envelope with no surcharges and even with some discounts, if you follow all their suggestions.

Don't assume that if you have 1,100 names on your mailing list, you only need 1,100 envelopes and 1,100 enclosures. All pieces of equipment in the lettershop and pressroom will spoil a certain percentage of the printed items they process. A good rule of thumb is to request 2 to 3 percent more copies than you think you will need (more for shorter runs). However, you should discuss this with your mail house. It's always cheaper to throw away 200 envelopes than to go back and reprint 200 envelopes.pes.

This is just a starting point. Books can be -- and probably have been -- written on this subject. Talk with your printer, your mail house, and the Post Office. And remember to construct mock-ups of your mail package. Problems that might go unnoticed otherwise will come to light when you have a mock-up of the envelope with a complete set of enclosures as well as an actual window through which the address on the folded enclosure must be visible.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]