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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Archive for the ‘Envelope Printing’ Category

Commercial Printing: An Envelope-Printing Case Study

Sunday, July 16th, 2023

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The Printing Industry Exchange Blog is #12 of the best 40 digital printing blogs, as selected by FEEDSPOT.

I realize that things go wrong. I understand that as simple a job (presumably) as an envelope printing run can be fraught with complexities.

In that light, a print brokering client of mine recently brought me a job that included an annual report, a letter to constituents, and a large envelope to contain them. Ironically, as the bidding process proceeded and the specifics of the design came clear, the only element of the package that didn’t change was the annual report, a 12-page, 4-color print product on 80# gloss text with an 80# gloss cover and with all pages gloss aqueous coated.

The Issues

First off, my client specified 9” x 12” vs 10” x 13” envelopes. I conferred with the commercial printing vendor and learned that the ideal size for so few items (two) would be 9” x 12”. My client didn’t need anything larger.

In addition, there was a question about paper weight for the pre-made envelopes. I suggested 28# (comparable to 70# text stock) rather than 24# (comparable to 60# text stock) not only because it would be stronger but also because at that size (9” x 12”) a thicker paper would be more substantial. Less flimsy. Plus with a press run of 1,100 copies, the difference in cost would be (according to the printer) negligible.

So far, so good.

The next issue to resolve was whether my client wanted booklet or catalog envelopes. For the uninitiated, this just refers to the position of the flap. If the envelope opens on the long side, it’s called a “booklet” envelope. If it opens on the short side, it’s called a “catalog” envelope.

In my personal view, the booklet envelope is a little more stately than a catalog envelope. Others may disagree. To me it just looks more like a traditional #10 envelope due to the position of the flap on the long side.

That said (which is really a personal choice), a more pressing issue was that according to the printer, who would be doing the mailing work for the job as well as printing all elements of the project, a booklet envelope would be machinable, while a catalog envelope would not.

This means that the printer’s mailing equipment could automatically insert the letter and the annual report into the envelope if it opened on the long side, but if it opened on the short side, then inserting the client letter and annual report would be hand work. That is, this portion of the job would cost more.

This is where I’d suggest making a mental note. At least that’s what I did. I’m not sure whether other printers (perhaps ones that focus more on promotional mailing initiatives) might have other equipment that could insert items into an open-end envelope (or whether most printers would need to charge for hand-inserting). However, I’d encourage you to ask to avoid being surprised.

Bleeds, Screens, Digital Printing, and Heavy-coverage Solids

After the initial bid, which was based on adjusted specs from the prior year’s mailing, I acquired digital art files for the annual report, accompanying letter, and envelope.

First of all, the artwork did not include heavy coverage solids. This was good. If it had included these, the envelopes might have needed to be printed as flat press sheets that would then be cut, folded, and glued into final envelopes. This (called “converting”) would have been expensive. Given the simplicity of my client’s design, pre-made 9” x 12” envelopes could be used.

However, since the envelope artwork had bleeds on three sides, producing the envelope would need to be done as subcontracted work by a dedicated envelope printer (i.e., not by the printer who had otherwise won the bid). The outside vendor would presumably have produced the envelopes on a special “jet press” that would offset print the envelopes (with bleeds). This outsourced work would cost significantly more than initially planned.

So What Is a JetPress?

A jet press is a specific kind of offset press that accepts envelopes up to 12×15 ½ in size and can print up to 30,000 envelopes per hour. These can even print quality images with fine lines, tight register, or halftones (or area screens). They are appropriate for press runs from 500 copies to 100,000 copies. For fewer than 500 copies, a digital press would be more economical. Unfortunately, even jet presses have limitations. For heavy ink coverage on either the front or back (or both sides) of an envelope, you would still need to print the envelopes as a flat-sheet offset-lithographic project and then convert them into envelopes (adding to the overall cost of the job).

Therefore, I encouraged my client to redesign the envelopes without bleeds. The annual report was perfect as it was. The client letter could be done in-house (by the printer) with or without bleeds. And since it was such a short run (1,100 copies), producing these digitally would be much cheaper than firing up a 40” offset commercial printing press. If my client had concerns about the quality of the screens, she could remove the small screen on the envelope.

And as for the envelope, once my client had redesigned the envelope to omit the bleeds, the printer could then produce all elements of the annual report job in house on a digital press (except, of course, for the offset-printed annual report). This would lower the price back to the initial estimate, saving about $1,400. Again, if my client were concerned about the quality of the screens, she could omit the one screen on the envelope.

From this I learned (and if you are a print buyer or designer, you might want to remember) that bleeds often do not add to the cost of a project, but in some cases (as with these envelopes) they jack the price way up. Not all printers have all press equipment. And subcontracting work costs money and takes time.


Fortunately, in my client’s case, the annual report and letter would be sent to constituents with actual postage affixed to the envelopes. That is, this envelope would not need to conform to standards for Business Reply Mail, as paid for by the company that originally sends out the reply mail envelope to potential clients. But since in your case this may or may not be true, I would encourage you to:

  1. Study (online) the US Postal Service’s Business Reply Mail requirements. Or ask for a print book containing this information. Preparing your envelopes (design, placement of type, blank areas on the envelopes) correctly will save you a lot of money by allowing the US Post Office to automate the process (make the job machinable).
  2. Ask your printer about these Business Reply Mail requirements if you prefer. His (or her) print shop may have enough in-house mailing capabilities to have made him or her cognizant of all of these requirements. Some printers I’ve worked with actually do everything (or almost everything) the Post Office does right in their own print shops.
  3. Consider options for business reply mail vs. standard postage (indicia, meter stamp, precanceled stamp, or other stamp), and be mindful of other business reply mail requirements.
  4. Remember that weight affects postage. Ask your printer whether a 9” x 12” vs. 10” x 13” envelope will increase postage requirements depending on what it must contain. Both are large format, so they will cost more to mail than letters.

The Takeaway

  1. Discuss your custom printing and mailing components in depth with your printer. It’s even smart to make a physical, paper mock-up showing the size of the envelope, placement of copy and art on the envelope, and all printed items the envelope will contain. Any problems (potential US Postal Service issues as well as printing and mailing costs) will be evident. Nothing communicates your needs better than a physical sample.
  2. Ask about bleeds, screens, and heavy coverage and how these will affect the cost and schedule for your mailing initiative (as well as whether you will need to subcontract a portion of the overall job).
  3. Be mindful that the run length of your job will determine whether your printer will produce it (envelopes, in this case) on digital or offset equipment.
  4. Look for dedicated envelope and promotional custom printing companies if you do this kind of work regularly. This might save you money, and the printer will most likely be very well versed in all postal regulations.

Custom Printing: The Power of the Outgoing Envelope

Sunday, April 30th, 2023

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Over the past few years, I’ve noticed that with urgent emails, promotional emails, and spam, I get between 150 and 300 emails a day. Even checking and discarding most of them takes time. In contrast, I get only a handful of physical mail (mostly bills and a few direct-mail pieces). Overall, the direct mail marketers have a lot more of my undivided attention than the email marketers.

In my opinion, direct mail has become a far more personal “conversation” between marketers and prospective clients. And I don’t think I’m alone in believing this. I also don’t think this reflects any great changes in physical mail design.

In this light, I want to discuss a few thoughts on how to ensure that your target audience reads your direct mail materials if your job involves writing, designing, or custom printing such mail.

Clean the Address List

First of all, send your marketing materials to those who will appreciate them. Granted, you won’t always know, but it doesn’t hurt to envision the prospective customer’s “persona,” comprising all of her or his likes and dislikes, hobbies, political preferences, etc., to ensure that the list of addresses to which you send your direct mail reflects this demographic information.

This also means that you should make sure the addresses are complete, accurate, spelled correctly, and current. Your Post Office can help you do this.

Mail list hygiene isn’t really a design decision, but it will at least get your direct mail package or self-mailer in front of those people more likely to be interested. That benefits both them and you.

The Outgoing Envelope

In marketing and publications, this is called the OGE (outgoing envelope). Unless your mail piece is a self-mailer (folded, sealed, and addressed, along with a mail indicia for postage payment), your first job is to get the prospective client to open the envelope. Personally, I usually throw out mail addressed to “Occupant” or “Homeowner.”

But the outgoing envelope is far more than its addressing. When you’re designing direct mail envelopes, consider their size, paper, color, material, texture, and weight.

Here are some thoughts:

Envelope Size and Shape

Custom envelopes that are of an unusual size will attract reader attention. For instance, I’ve received large envelopes, tiny envelopes, square envelopes, and even custom envelopes in the shape of something else (like a truck or a key). Keep in mind that the Post Office will charge more to deliver large envelopes (ask the business mail advisor at your Post Office about the difference in size between letter mail and flat mail, or research this online). Also research surcharges for square custom envelopes. I believe most of the surcharges reflect such things as the difficulty (vs. ease) of automation in processing your mail. If you comply with the rules, you get the discounted rate.

Odd sizes will cost more, but if they increase reader interest (in a material way–and a measurable way), this may be worth the cost. Think of it as an investment.

Color, Texture, and Weight of the Custom Envelope

I recently received a very dark envelope with very serious looking and minimal print in black ink. Needless to say I opened it immediately thinking it was something official and bad. It turned out to be for a funeral parlor. Granted I did throw it out, but the outgoing envelope certainly succeeded. It got me to open the letter.

Other textures or colors (maybe a felt finish, maybe a bright color) can be relevant to what you’re selling and also both a tactile and a visually satisfying experience.

In this light, by increasing the weight of the envelope paper, you can make the entire mail piece seem more official. (People associate heavier paper with a sense of gravitas.) You might want to talk with your printer about 24# vs. 28# envelopes. The former is the regular weight of 60# text paper, while the latter is comparable to 70# text paper. Using 28# paper is also smart for larger envelopes that may contain more marketing materials, since the paper is both thicker and more durable than 24# stock.

Alternatives to the Paper Envelope

An alternative totally different from a colored and textured paper outgoing envelope is a transparent plastic envelope. I’ve received envelopes that have big windows showing what’s inside the envelope, but I have also received totally clear envelopes.

One that comes to mind was for a grand-format inkjet printer. It was made entirely of transparent plastic sheets heat welded into envelopes. I was intrigued. The marketer had done her/his homework and knew I was interested in offset and digital commercial printing. So I not only opened and read the marketing materials, but I also kept the package and wrote a PIE Blog article about it.

You may even choose to forego the envelope entirely and send a self-mailer. Make sure your Post Office approves the paper, design, placement of barcodes and addresses, size and format, etc., before you print, since there are a lot of regulations (which as noted earlier actually allow your mail to proceed smoothly through automation, thus reducing the postage you pay). It’s better to get Post Office approval than to print the job and be sorry when it can’t be mailed or when it incurs a surcharge.

If you send a self-mailer, you can incorporate unique folds (check out Trish Witkowski’s Foldfactory videos online) and seal the proper panels with fugitive glue.

Unique print products pique the reader’s interest. And this sells.

Envelope Personalization

Generic mail gets tossed. Personal mail gets read.

I’ve received direct mail stamped with indicias and meter stamps, but I’ve also received mail with precanceled stamps that are for direct mail use but that look a bit like the “Forever” stamps you buy at the Post Office. These make the envelope look like a friend sent it to you (unless you know what you’re looking at).

Some marketers even choose a typeface for addressing the letter that looks like handwriting, also making the direct mail package look more personal (certainly more personal than a Crack ’N Peel custom label affixed to an outgoing envelope).

When you combine this with clear, accurate, well-chosen addresses vetted for their appropriateness for your message, you’re on the right track to a sale.

These little tricks can get your direct mail package opened, and that’s the first step in interesting your reader in your message and potentially making a sale.

The Power of Cross Media Marketing

All the better if you can key this direct-mail product into a website (home page or personalized landing page). Everything I’ve seen and read suggests that combining physical direct mail and online marketing can drive sales exponentially, because this marriage of technologies allows for a two-way conversation between the marketer and the prospective client. You can receive a direct mail piece, become interested in the content, and then contact the company and request more printed and virtual information through an online portal.

A Reflection on the Quality Product or Service You Offer

Ultimately, your direct mail package is not only a description of the product or service you offer but also a physical product in and of itself, reflecting the quality you promise and your attention to detail. You can convey all of this through your design, paper choices, and every other element of your direct mail piece.

The Takeaway

Each day we go to our mailbox and make an often instant decision as to what to throw away and what to open, read, and even keep. This is based on such visual cues as the custom envelope’s color, shape, texture, paper weight, level of transparency—or, if it’s a self-mailer, based on the intricacy of folds, the typeface, whether there is an indicia or a precanceled stamp that looks like a real stamp. Details matter.

Plus, a direct mail piece (comprising the overall design of all elements) is a physical sample of someone’s (sometimes even a commercial printing vendor’s) design and printing work as well as proof of their attention to detail. So the piece “sells” on many levels.

If it directs the reader to a website or a personal landing page, it even takes advantage of the synergy of cross-media marketing, giving you more sales oomph than either a website by itself or a direct mail piece by itself.

Custom Printing: What’s in an Outgoing Envelope?

Thursday, June 30th, 2022

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My fiancee received an official-looking package yesterday. It was a heavy brown chipboard envelope with a First Class Presort indicia and numerous barcodes. Boy did it look serious. It was the thickness of the envelopes that contain important photo prints, deeds, and diplomas. It had gravitas. (more…)

Commercial Printing: Tips for Printing Envelopes

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

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. (more…)

Envelope Printing: A Few Thoughts to Get You Started

Wednesday, November 1st, 2017

If you’re a marketing executive or designer of marketing materials, you know that almost nothing of importance gets to your prospective clients without an OGE (outgoing envelope). In many cases, nothing gets back to you without a business reply envelope (BRE). The only exception I can think of, other than marketing collateral passed out at conventions, is the postcard, since this workhorse of modern marketing travels unencumbered (without an envelope). (more…)

Custom Printing: An Envelope Printing-Error Update

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

A few PIE Blog posts ago I mentioned some corporate identity materials I had brokered for a commercial printing client. Or, rather, for her client, since she is a designer. (more…)

Envelope Printing: “In Your Face” Design Just Works

Friday, June 7th, 2013

In my hand I’m holding an envelope. It’s not just any envelope. It’s pink, or, rather, magenta. Actually I think it’s fluorescent magenta, which is even better. Sappi Fine Paper of North America sent this to me as the OGE (outgoing envelope) for a paper promotion called “Ideas That Matter.” All type is reversed out of the bright background on this 9.5” x 13” carrier envelope, as is the address block (so all postal information and the Intelligent Mail barcode are readable by the OCR equipment at the Post Office). (more…)

Envelope Printing: Window Options for Envelopes

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

I’ve been receiving a lot of direct mail custom envelopes with large windows recently, and I’m intrigued. The windows run almost from one side of the envelope to the other. Compared to the small address windows I’m used to, these look like plate-glass windows. (more…)

Envelope Printing: Standard Envelopes Need Not Be Boring

Friday, March 8th, 2013

Many months ago in a PIE Blog article, I listed a number of envelope printing options. I focused on paper weight (the thickness of the custom envelopes you might choose for a business letter vs. a formal invitation, for instance) and on how to leave enough space for the enclosure without needing to print and convert an odd-sized envelope for a premium price. (That is, you should choose a standard envelope printing size first and then create a slightly smaller enclosure that will fit. If you design the insert first, you may need a custom-made envelope to fit your piece.) (more…)

Stationery Package Printing: Effective Self-Promotion

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

In the last blog I noted that refrigerator magnets are miniature billboards. I’d say the same thing about business cards. In fact, I feel very strongly that every piece of printed material you produce is an advertisement for your services. (more…)


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