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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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Commercial Printing: Tips for Printing Envelopes

I think most people would agree that in the realm of custom printing, envelopes are decidedly not sexy. That said, I’d actually like to disagree.

I recently came upon an old handbook on printing paper from the 1980s, which in fact includes a wealth of information that is just as pertinent now as it was when I started my career in commercial printing. It’s called Walden’s Handbook for Salespeople and Buyers of Printing Paper (published by the Walden-Mott Corporation). If you ask your printer or paper supplier, I’m sure you can get a comparable (but current) text. What makes this such a good print book is that it focuses only on paper and related subjects, unlike most textbooks on graphic design and printing that don’t have this depth in this one subject.

Back to the envelopes. Walden’s Handbook includes a section on envelope styles and sizes. When you remember that nothing you design for direct mail can get to your intended recipient without a functional envelope, and when you consider that nothing is actually read by your intended recipient without your having produced an attractive envelope that entices your reader to open the envelope, envelope printing starts to get interesting.

First of all, you can find this particular information online, including relevant drawings of the envelopes. It would probably be useful to check out some envelope websites to research envelope printing, but if you learn better from paper charts, these are available, too.

In no particular order, here’s a smattering of useful concepts and terms related to envelopes.

(Only a Sampling) of Envelope Sizes and Styles

  1. In the realm of commercial and official envelopes, let’s start with #9 and #10 envelopes. The #10 envelope is the one you receive most often in the mail. It holds standard tri-folded letter paper (8.5” x 11”).
  2. If you receive a marketing package, and the sender wants you to fill out a form (or remit payment) and send it back, usually this goes in a #9 envelope because this will fit comfortably (with other direct mail items) in the #10 envelope, which is also called an “outgoing envelope.”
  3. Both the #10 and #9 envelopes are usually made of 24# stock (usually white wove, comparable to 60# text). Obviously your printer has latitude in paper stock, but if you can print on pre-made envelopes, they will be cheaper, and you know they will be acceptable to the US Post Office.
  4. The #10 envelope comes in two “flavors,” regular and window envelopes. If you will inkjet the recipient’s address on the envelope or on a label, the regular envelope will be your proper choice. However, if your mailing insert (usually a letter) has the recipient’s address on the front, your envelope printing supplier can fold the letter in thirds and insert it into a window envelope with the address visible through the window in the envelope. This makes labeling the #10 envelope unnecessary. These windows come in a variety of sizes and positions on the envelopes.
  5. Regular and window envelopes come in many, many other sizes (noted in envelope charts as 6¾, 7, 7¾, Monarch, and the like). On the charts, each has a number and a size (7¾, for instance, is 3 7/8” x 7 1/2”).
  6. It’s very important to choose an envelope that is large enough for your insert. Many envelope charts also include notations of the insert size as well as the envelope size. You want to have a 1/8” clearance on the top and on either side of the insert when the insert is in the envelope. An A-1 envelope, for instance, is 3 5/8” x 5 1/8”. It will accept 3 1/2” x 4 7/8” inserts. (That is, when the insert is in the envelope, there’s 1/8” of leeway on the left and right plus 1/8” leeway at the top opening, or “throat,” of the envelope.)
  7. Envelopes appropriate for various business uses come in a multitude of classifications in addition to the regular and window envelopes noted above. You can buy large flat envelopes (9” x 12”, for instance) that open on the long side and are called “booklet” envelopes (or open-side envelopes). Or you can buy envelopes that open on the short side and are called “catalog” envelopes (or open-end envelopes). You can buy printed “Airmail” versions of larger envelopes as well. Some of these larger envelopes also have windows (of various sizes and placements) through which you can read addresses (or messages).
  8. Other envelopes for commercial use (usually in-house use) include policy envelopes, coin envelopes, inter-department envelopes (in case you’re sending an inter-office document from one department to another), job ticket envelopes (with one open end and a lip). Envelopes like these can also be used for film (as opposed to digital) x-rays.
  9. If you’re announcing something, you may want to use A-6, A-7, A-8, etc., announcement envelopes. Or you may want to use baronial envelopes, the flaps of which usually come to a point. These are great for social occasions such as weddings. You may also want to include a flat or fold-over RSVP card and smaller envelope in the main envelope.
  10. If you want clients to pay for something, like a magazine subscription, you might print a “bangtail” envelope, which would have an additional, detachable panel attached to an envelope, and this entire unit might be stitched into the center of a magazine. Your subscriber could tear off the printed stub and then mail back the attachment in the envelope.
  11. Some envelopes will have flaps with remoistenable glue. You wet these to reactivate the glue, and then you seal them.
  12. Other envelopes might have a button and string, or a metal clasp, to seal the envelope. These are customarily used within an organization rather than sent out to clients.
  13. Still other envelopes might have a paper liner laid over a glue strip. You just peel off the liner and fold over the glued flap to seal the envelope. Still other envelopes might have a latex-to-latex bond. To seal these envelopes, you just fold the flap so the two strips of latex (like rubber cement) touch one another and the envelope will be sealed.

What You Can Learn from All of This Envelope Information

The first thing you may notice is that this is way too much information to keep in your head. That’s why there are charts with line drawings to which you can refer.

The next thing to learn is that it helps to break down your envelope needs into such categories as social, business, and functional. If you’re designing a social announcement, you might consider A-style envelopes or baronial envelopes. If you’re sending out a direct mail package, you would probably choose something like a #10 envelope. If you’re sending an envelope around the office, you might consider a button-and-string or metal clasp envelope. Envelopes like the bangtail noted above might be good for billing your customers. If you can articulate your envelope needs, you’ll either find the appropriate envelope in the charts or your printer or paper merchant can suggest a solution.

Think about whether you want a flat envelope or one that will expand. This will depend on what you want it to contain, but there are envelopes with gusseting that can hold a lot of forms or other items.

Think about the paper. White wove is good for most business uses. Choose from 20# (the same as 50# offset), 24# (the same as 60# offset), 28# (the same as 70# offset), or even 32# in some cases.

Think about the color of the envelope. If your insert is on a cream stock, you will probably want to choose a matching paper stock for the envelope. There are paper swatch books you can get from your printer that include matching business card, envelope, and letterhead papers for such a coordinated project.

Some envelopes even come to you “converted” from brown kraft paper stocks. These are especially durable.

The term “converted,” noted above, just means that a flat (printed or unprinted) press sheet has been die cut, folded, and then glued to make the envelope. This process adds time and extra cost to your envelope printing purchase. If you can use standard paper stocks and standard sizes, the job will cost less and be completed more quickly.

Finally, make it a habit to communicate early and often with your envelope printing supplier. It is also wise to make paper dummies of your marketing initiatives, including the outgoing envelope, #9 return envelope, letter, and anything else that will be mailed in the package. Make sure everything fits comfortably in the envelope. And make sure your US Postal Service business mail representative approves everything for both “mailability” and “machinability.” That is, you need to ensure that there will be no mailing surcharges (as there are for square-format envelopes, for instance) and that the complete mailing package can be successfully processed by all automated USPS equipment.

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