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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: 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.

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.

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).

So it helps to know something about envelopes.

In my experience there’s a lot to know, and this can sometimes seem quite overwhelming. There are all the different sizes (from small coin envelopes up to 9” x 12” mailing envelopes, or larger for medical x-rays), aspect ratios (ranging from rectangular to square), paper weights, flap shapes, paper surface textures, and methods of closure, not to mention colors and whether or not there is a window.

The most useful suggestion I can make is to ask your commercial printing supplier for an envelope printing template booklet (or poster). I have seen several that address all of these issues in one place. Such a publication is immensely useful.

Custom Printing Methods

There are a number of ways to print an envelope. Direct offset printing right on the envelope is usually an economical choice for a large number of envelopes (let’s say 1,000 to 5,000 or more). If you are printing a small amount of text or simple graphics on the envelope, you can use a small offset press or even a jet press that can print 30,000 to 60,000 envelopes per hour (depending on the color configuration). That’s fast.

Based on my experience, this is the best option for simple graphics. However, based on my recent reading, a jet press even works well for ink that bleeds off the edge of the envelope. To be certain, I would always ask your printer if the complexity of your envelope artwork warrants direct printing on the envelope or offset printing on a flat litho press sheet and then conversion into an envelope.

The conversion option is ideal for heavy ink coverage. Let’s say your envelopes have full ink coverage on both sides. Such a product will be of a higher quality if the job is first printed on a flat sheet and then die cut, folded, and glued into the recognizable envelope form. (Again, this is in contrast to printing on what is called a “blank,” which is a standard size–such as a #10 envelope, which is 4 1/8” x 9 1/2”.) It costs a lot to print and convert envelopes (obviously the exact cost depends on the quantity) because it requires both steel-ruled cutting dies and the conversion steps of cutting the paper and then folding and gluing it into an envelope. So there has to be a good reason to “print and convert,” and this is usually due to the complexity of the printing, the amount of ink coverage, and/or a non-standard envelope size.

The third option is flexography, which is great for huge quantities of printed envelopes (let’s say 100,000 or more). For this technology, a rubber relief plate wrapped around a cylinder prints the envelopes as they pass through the press (in contrast to the offset lithography option in which the plates are flat, with both the image area and non-image area on the same level).

The fourth option, for much smaller press runs, is digital, usually laser printing. What makes this an attractive option is that there is no set up, so even for a short run of 300 envelopes the total cost is reasonable. If you were to do this short a press run on an offset press, your press make-ready would be expensive enough that your cost for 300 copies or 3,000 copies would be surprisingly close. For digital printing, there is essentially no make-ready, so for short runs your overall price will be low.

That said, there’s another reason to like digital printing for envelopes. Every envelope can be different, so either you can change the address information for each envelope (you wouldn’t even add the addressing information on an offset press run of envelopes), or you can vary the teaser copy on the envelope (the marketing blurb that grabs the recipient).

Paper Weights for Envelopes

If you’re specifying an envelope, you will most likely choose a text weight paper. Let’s say you’re inserting three pages that are 50# text, which is also 20# bond (each kind of paper is weighed at a different basic size, so these two paper stocks actually feel the same). You would probably specify 24# envelopes (a little heavier than the letterhead). Two other good choices would be 24# envelopes for 60# text letterhead paper or 28# envelopes for 70# text letterhead paper. Increasing the paper weight a little, like this, provides a sense of gravitas (philosophical weightiness) to the marketing piece. It seems just that much more important.

I have also received much heavier weights of envelopes in the mail. However, you should remember that the heavier the product, the higher the postage. When I was a graphic designer, as a rule of thumb I would specify 28# envelopes for the larger sizes, such as the 9” x 12” catalog and booklet envelopes. I found these a little more durable, since they were thicker than the usual 24#, and this was a benefit if the envelope contained a heavier product than a letter. For letter-sized envelopes, I would specify 24# stock.

Options for Envelope Closures

Here are just a few:

  1. Remoistenable glue. When you insert a folded letter into a #10 envelope and lick it to seal the envelope, you have just used remoistenable glue. This name distinguishes this glue from the glue that attaches the permanently sealed flaps of the envelope.
  2. Button and string. If you have a brown kraft envelope that will travel around your office, you may want to close it with a string that wraps around two paper buttons.
  3. Peel-and-stick envelopes. You peel off a sheet of paper attached to the glue, and the flap sticks to the opposite side of the envelope. This makes it unnecessary to lick a flap before sealing it.
  4. Clasp envelopes. These have a little metal brad that fits through a hole on the flap and then is spread apart to seal the envelope.

Window Envelopes

Plastic patches (that used to be glassine, poly, or celophane) cover windows on envelopes through which you can see the address information. The window patches come in standard sizes (and placements), although there are a few options for each. This is a useful product because you only have to address the letter, not the envelope.

Consider Postage

Keep in mind that the standard cost to mail a #10 envelope is not the same as the standard cost to mail a 9” x 12” envelope. Do some checking with your Post Office before you create a budget. Size matters, and weight matters. To be safe, give your Post Office a sample with all enclosures already inserted.

The same goes for square envelopes. There is a postage premium for such an envelope. Discuss this with your Post Office.

Consider BRE Markings

If your envelope will be designed to come back to you, you must follow the design requirements of the Post Office. These include size and placement of certain preprinted type (in addition to the address) and various scannable barcodes. Placement of these is crucial if you want to avoid heartache and surcharges. The Post Office can provide booklets on preparing business mail.

Find a Good Direct Mail Printer

It doesn’t hurt to develop a good working relationship with a dedicated envelope printer. Not that most commercial printers aren’t a good source for this kind of printing, but printers that focus on envelopes and other aspects of direct mail printing will be fluent in all of the postal regulations. They will be able to give you templates to help you design business reply mail, and they will have all of the printing and inserting equipment to complete the various steps of a direct mail job efficiently and economically. In my experience, such a printer that also does commercial printing is a real gem.

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.

There had been problems with registration of toner colors that had caused both a fuzziness in the type and logo mark and also a shift in color. The items in question were a business card, a notecard with an A7 envelope, and a #10 envelope. All jobs had press runs too short for offset, so I had asked the printer to produce the jobs on his HP Indigo press.

What I Thought Had Happened

My initial response when I saw the samples was to assume the HP Indigo had been out of alignment. Under a loupe I had seen the yellow image extending out in one direction, and the cyan and magenta images extending out in two other directions. Moreover, the problems seemed most acute on the A7 envelope, and the misregistration seemed to vary from item to item (business card, A7 envelope, notecard, and #10 envelope). Because of this misalignment, the logo colors had changed a bit as well. And this was more evident and more problematic than the slightly fuzzy image.

What Really Happened

I called up the commercial printing supplier to discuss my findings and concerns. He said he would be willing to adjust the color on the digital press to get a more consistent look from item to item.

However, when I noted that I had never before seen such problems on his HP Indigo, the printer explained something I had not known. The envelopes had been printed on his color laser printer, not the Indigo. The printer explained that only cut sheet work (anything trimmed out of a 12” x 18” flat press sheet) could be printed on the HP Indigo. Envelopes could not be fed through the Indigo; therefore, they had to be produced on the color laser printer.

From prior experience I knew that color laser printers such as the Konica Minolta and Canon were good, but not quite as good as the HP Indigo. But I learned something more from the printer that concerned me. Envelopes always moved slightly in the color laser printer.

The movement of the envelopes was magnified in part because of the various layers of overlapping paper in a converted envelope (i.e., they are thicker or thinner in different places) as well as the overall looser paper feed of a digital press (in contrast to the tight paper movement in an offset press).

So the movement had caused the misregister. The envelopes had shifted when traveling from one color unit of the color laser printer to the next. And the misregister of certain colors had caused color shifts. In addition, the misregistration problem appeared to be inconsistent, but in reality the paper envelopes were just moving through the color laser printer in different ways due to the different paper thicknesses of the folded, converted envelopes.

What Makes It Worse

My client, the designer, had chosen color builds that matched two PMS colors:

Blue C=100 M=73 Y=10 K=48
Orange C=0 M=64 Y=95 K=0

to match:

PMS Blue 654
PMS Orange 158

My sense, which was confirmed by the printer, is that a color build using a large percentage of each of the four process color toners increases the risk of misregistration. This is because the color laser printer has to keep three or four images in perfect alignment to create a crisp image.

The Solution

One of the suggestions the printer made for future digital printing was to remove the yellow toner in the blue logo color mix (Blue C=100 M=73 Y=10 K=48). There would be fewer colors to keep in register, yet the viewer’s eye would probably see very little difference in the overall color build. My client plans to make this change and print a few test samples to see if there will be a noticeable difference in appearance.

A Better Solution

The commercial printing supplier also suggested a better solution. Even though a short run of envelopes (500 copies, in this case) would normally cost less if produced digitally, we could print the envelopes (as a ganged run comprising several original envelopes) on a small offset press using PMS colors. This would avoid any chance of color shifts inherent in any 4-color process work, and the overall cost would still be competitive.

This is counterintuitive. You would think that an offset press-run would cost more, but the cost of prep work and wash-ups could be spread among the multiple jobs making each one more economical.

More importantly, the PMS colors would not vary, whether or not the envelopes moved (which they wouldn’t, since the feeding mechanism of an offset press is more precise than that of a digital press). All envelope jobs would have the same color on all printed pieces.

We’ll see what happens, but this is the job’s status at the moment.

What You Can Learn

  1. If your first impulse is to blame the printer, resist it. If you approach the printer as an ally, he will most likely step up and provide a detailed explanation of what happened. He will probably explain the limits of the digital and offset printing processes, and make suggestions to remedy the problem.
  2. Ideally, you can do this before your live job goes on press. It doesn’t hurt to send a PDF of your file to the printer for feedback prior to final submission of the job. Then, if he identifies any problems, you can adjust the design to avoid any pitfalls of the technology.
  3. The printer won’t always use the equipment you think he will use. I thought the envelopes would be printed on the HP Indigo. But since the Indigo cannot print envelopes, this portion of the job went on the color laser printer. It helps to discuss this sort of thing with the printer before the job goes to press.

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).

When I removed the envelope from my mailbox, the light was blinding. I’m only kidding, but it was the very first envelope I opened that day.

How many direct mail marketers would like that enviable position: the first envelope opened?

Analysis of the Custom Envelope (or Why It Just Works)

Let’s look closely at why this promotion (or the envelope, even before I saw the promotion) worked.

  1. Bright colors capture your attention. Sappi Fine Paper understands marketing. I’m not surprised. This is a bright color, but the radiance of the color suggests the use of fluorescent inks. When you’re doing your own design work, ask your custom printing vendor about either adding fluorescent elements to the ink or replacing one or more process colors with a fluorescent ink.
  2. The custom envelope‘s simplicity grabs you. Sappi went beyond just using a bright color. The heavy-coverage ink bleeds off all sides of the envelope. It is a solid color, and the simplicity of the design (nothing but the fluorescent magenta) makes it stand out from all other envelopes in the mailbox. The simplicity distinguishes this printed envelope.
  3. Reversing the type accentuates the brightness of the color. Sappi could have surprinted black ink over the magenta (or knocked out the magenta behind the black). But, again, the contrast would have been less dramatic. The sans serif typeface with its simple but bold letterforms further accentuates the contrast, as does the bright, white knock-out panel for the address information. I’m sure the Post Office was happy, too. You couldn’t miss the address.
  4. The size makes a difference. Sappi could have mailed a smaller piece, but it would not have been as dramatic. In fact, even a 9” x 12” envelope would have been adequate for an 8.5” x 11” enclosure. But Sappi went a step further and opted for an oversize envelope: 9.5” x 13”.
  5. Paper weight makes a difference. I pulled out my caliper and measured the thickness of the envelope paper. It “mic’ed” (as in micrometer) to 7 pt. Then I looked at an online paper weight conversion chart and saw that this “caliper” fell between 90# and 100# text paper. To put this in perspective, most envelopes are 24# or 28#, which corresponds to 60# or 70# text paper. So this envelope paper is just under 50 percent thicker than most heavy-weight envelopes. Why does this matter? It suggests opulence, just as the full-bleed, thick magenta ink suggests opulence.
  6. The envelope had to be converted. Sappi did not print this heavy-coverage ink on a pre-made envelope. Actually, beyond the 9” x 12” envelope, the standard sizes would be 9.5” x 12.625” (booklet, opening on the long side) or 10” x 13” catalog (opening on the short side). Basically, this is a custom envelope. Sappi printed the heavy-coverage magenta on a 100# gloss text sheet and then diecut, folded, and glued the “flats” into custom envelopes (a process more costly than just printing on pre-made blank envelopes). Granted, the heavily laid down ink and the fact that the ink covers one full side of the press sheet (known as “painting the sheet”) would actually necessitate Sappi’s printing on a flat press sheet and then converting the job into a custom envelope. In short, this also implies opulence.
  7. The size and weight make the promotional piece cost more to mail. Again, this implies opulence. Sappi is saying that this direct mail item is important. Sappi spared no expense (custom printing, converting, or mailing) to put its message in front of prospective buyers. The buyers need to know it’s worth their time to drop everything else and open this custom envelope.

What You Can Learn from Sappi

Think carefully about the design of an OGE (outgoing envelope). Weigh the costs against the benefits. It should definitely not be an after-thought. In fact, its design and custom printing will weigh heavily on a prospect’s decision whether to open this envelope before all the others—or throw it away.

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.

From a marketing perspective, I think that’s the purpose of the custom envelopes: to provide an expansive view of the contents of the direct mail package, to entice the recipient to open and read the mail.

To familiarize myself with the options (for both large and standard window envelopes), I did some research. I started with Google Images and then perused some envelope printing vendors’ websites. This is what I learned.

The Purpose of the Window

One main purpose of a window envelope is to avoid needing to print the address twice (once on the bill or statement, for instance, and once on the envelope). If only the recipient’s address changes, you might need only one window. If, on the other hand, different divisions of your business send out statements or other formal business correspondence, you may want two windows (one for the recipient’s address and one for the return address).

In either case, the benefit is that the addresses on the letter (or other insert within the envelope) show through the window. This makes the (essentially) blank envelope cheaper to buy and easier to use. And the envelope never becomes obsolete, regardless of where your business moves.

Another advantage is that for mass mailings, there’s no chance of mismatching the name/address inkjetted onto the envelope and the name/address included on the direct mail pieces within the envelope.

Window Standardization

Within certain limits, windows on envelopes have been standardized. Nevertheless, there are a number of categories, involving single and double windows on a variety of envelope sizes, with a variety of window placements. Windows are measured (from top to bottom and side to side), and the placement of the windows is noted (the distance from the window to the bottom of the envelope, and the distance from the left edge of the window to the edge of the envelope). You can find this information for the various sized envelope options on the websites of envelope printing suppliers.

Standardization lowers the overall price of these envelopes. After all, since diecutting the windows adds money to the cost of the envelopes, using standard (rather than custom-made) dies for the diecutting limits this extra cost.

Another benefit of standardized window placement is that the addresses can fall precisely where the US Postal Service’s automated address reading (OCR) equipment can easily capture the information.

Window Placement Options

If you check out Google Images, you’ll see more varieties of window envelopes than you can imagine. On regular business envelopes (such as the #10 envelope), the window placement seems to fall into the following categories: bottom right of the envelope (for the main address), bottom left of the envelope (for the main address), and upper left quadrant (for the main address). Corresponding return address windows fit where they can, usually above and to the left of the main window. Obviously, no windows come close to the postage (stamp, meter, or indicia) at the top right.

Booklet and catalog envelopes (larger envelopes that open on either the longer or shorter envelope dimension: i.e., their sides or on their ends) can include windows that are parallel to either the longer dimension or the shorter dimension of the custom envelopes. The position of the address windows will make the orientation of these larger direct mail packages appear to be either upright (vertical or portrait orientation) or horizontal (landscape orientation). (You might use one of these styles to either send a catalog or booklet to a client, or to send an important document without folding it down to fit in a #10 envelope.)

Window Patches

Envelope windows can be holes diecut into the custom envelopes without a covering, or they can be covered by plastic. When I first saw these envelopes in the 1960s and 1970s, the windows were covered with glassine, poly (plastic), or cellophane. Now they are almost all plastic. If you look on the inside of a window envelope with a patch, you will see that the covering material is slightly larger than the diecut window, and you will see that the edges extending beyond the opening have been glued onto the interior of the envelope.

Full-View Window Envelopes

To get back to the custom envelopes that initially caught my interest, the larger window envelopes (called full-view envelopes) showcase their contents. For example, a circular cut window covered in plastic can both display and protect a vividly screen-printed, or inkjet-printed, music CD. Or a large rectangular window can frame an irresistible photo of a Carribean beach scene sent out to prospects by a cruise ship line seeking business.

In short, you have a lot of options. Do some research online and through dedicated envelope printing suppliers, and find the perfect custom envelope for your direct mail package. It’s the first element of a promotional piece that your prospects will touch.

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.)

These rules of thumb are helpful, and they keep your expenses down by standardizing the size and paper weight of your envelopes. That said, there are still numerous envelope printing options that need not be custom diecut and assembled. Your envelopes need not be boring. Here are a few of your options.

Business and Correspondence Envelopes

The #10 envelope (4 1/8” x 9 1/2”) is the workhorse of the industry for business use. Within this category, you can find a number of different flap designs, including commercial flap, wallet flap, side seam, policy, and square flap.

Commercial flap envelopes have diagonal seams that converge at the center of the open envelope under the flap (this part of the envelope is called the “throat”). In contrast, side-seam envelopes have wider backs with (almost) vertical seams running much closer to the sides of the envelope.

Wallet flap envelopes have squarish (not exactly square) flaps that extend down over the back of the envelope. These are quite useful if you need a large area on which to imprint information about a charitable donation, for instance.

In contrast, standard square-flap envelopes have side seams and an almost square flap. This design offers a nice contrast to the more shallow and pointed flap of a commercial envelope. You might choose a square-flap envelope to add a contemporary look to your business correspondence.

Unlike the other standard #10 envelopes, a policy envelope opens on the side, has a square flap, and has a single center seam.

Keep in mind that both commercial flap and side-seam envelopes are fine for machine insertion, but square-flap envelopes are only recommended for hand insertion of their enclosures.

In addition to the varied flaps available on these printed envelopes, you may have multiple options in terms of paper color, weight, texture, and finish. Ask your commercial printing vendor or paper merchant for paper sample books. These will show unprinted samples of corresponding stock for envelopes, letterhead, and business cards. In some cases you might also find less corporate, and more colorful, options for informal business correspondence.

Window Envelopes

To keep the envelopes consistent (presumably for the US Postal Service automation equipment), standard window envelopes include a 4.5″ wide by 1.125″ deep window (almost always the same size and in the same position regardless of the dimensions of the envelope). It is located 0.875″ from the left edge of the envelope and 0.5″ from the bottom of the envelope. This diecut window may be covered with a “patch.” Over the years these have been made of transparent materials ranging from glassine to plastic to cellophane, but they are now usually made of plastic.

Booklet vs. Catalog Envelopes

Booklet envelopes open along the top, or larger dimension. They have side seams and are ideal for machine insertion of enclosures.

Catalog envelopes open on the side, or short dimension. They have center seams (one seam running down the center of the envelope). This single seam makes the envelope more durable, and ideal for heavier enclosures such as catalogs (hence the name).

Announcement Envelopes

You have three options for announcement and invitation envelopes (A-Style, Baronial, and Square).

A-Style envelopes have side seams and a square flap. Hence they provide a more contemporary look.

Baronial envelopes have a deep pointed flap and diagonal seams. They give a more traditional look to announcements, invitations, and cards.

Square envelopes are just what the name implies. With a square flap and side seams, they are ideal for bold announcements and advertising material. Their equal-sided dimensions make them arresting in their appearance. However, the US Postal Service charges a premium for mailing square envelopes.

Ask for an Envelope Printing Chart or Find One Online

In addition to requesting sample paper books to help you determine specifications for your envelope printing needs, look for a chart that shows the dimensions of all standard envelopes (along with their preferred enclosure sizes). This will become a useful, treasured tool as you design and order more and more envelopes over the years. It will help you converse with envelope printing suppliers and also keep you from making sizing mistakes.

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.

A stationery package is a prime example of such self-promotion. When a client opens a letter you have sent, he or she unconsciously (and perhaps consciously as well) judges the quality of your design work, your professionalism, your attention to detail, even your ability to spot current marketing trends and distill them into your self-promotional print design work.

Design Letterhead, Envelopes, and Business Cards Together

Because an identity package is so important to your image, it is wise to design all elements together. There should be an overall cohesiveness to the design. You can accomplish this with consistency of the typefaces you use, the point sizes, spacing, and alignment of the typefaces, and similar treatment of such graphic elements as logos.

Find samples of business cards, letterhead, and envelopes that appeal to you and analyze them to see how the designer approached type size and placement, design grids, balance, and placement of graphic elements. Then design a few samples of your own. Try different typefaces. See how the overall image suggested by your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes changes as you set the text in a serif face (perhaps a more traditional image) and a sans serif face (perhaps a more modern image).

Try different alignments of type (flush left, flush right, centered). Try different colors and color placements. Lay each set of mock-ups on the table in front of you (business cards, letterhead, and envelopes) to make sure they give a unified look, and then make changes as needed. Show your work to colleagues to get their reactions. Strive for more than just a graphically pleasing appearance. Try to capture a reflection of your business: it’s goals, values, and overall tone. A lot of this is very subjective, but I think you’ll know when you’ve hit the right design. It may even help to jot down a few words or sentences describing your business before you work on the actual design of your identity package.

Sometimes it’s even a good idea to put the samples you have designed aside for a day. When you come back to the work, you can approach the design more objectively. Ask yourself what you would think if you received your mocked-up business cards, letterhead, and envelopes from a prospective custom printing vendor. Would you like what you see? Would you want to meet with the commercial printing supplier and perhaps send business his way?

The Paper Is Crucial, Too

Even more subliminal than the effect of the typefaces, point sizes, and logos is the effect of the paper on which you have printed your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes.

In my print brokering business, when I make suggestions to designers regarding their identity packages, I often suggest that they start with Crane, Neenah Classic, and Strathmore papers since these have integrated papers for identity packages. That is, they may offer a coordinated 60# or 70# stock for the letterhead and second sheets (printed, or blank, pages following the first page of a letter). They also may have 80# cover, or perhaps 110# or 130# cover for business cards, and they may have 24# or 28# stock for the envelopes.

There are many other identity paper manufacturers, particularly if you’re looking for a more avant garde look. The best thing you can do is either contact your commercial printing vendor or your paper merchant and ask for a selection of printed and unprinted samples.

When you are deciding which paper to choose, consider the color of the paper (brilliant white or a cream stock, or perhaps something entirely different like a pastel).

Also consider the surface of the paper. Do you want a pattern such as a “linen” or “laid” stock, or do you want a press sheet without a pattern (such as a “wove” sheet)? Think about whether you want a rough paper surface or a smooth paper surface. Review the samples your printer or paper manufacturer provides in different kinds of light (fluorescent, incandescent, and even sunlight). It might actually be good to use your inkjet printer to produce mock-ups of your letterhead, business cards, and envelopes in color right on the sample papers. Your commercial printing vendor or paper merchant can get you extra sheets of any currently available paper stock you see in the paper swatch books.

Again, remember that the identity package is often a client’s first impression of you. If all the component parts present a well-crafted image of who you are and what service or product you can provide, this will work wonders in helping you get your first meeting with a potential client.

Custom Printing: A Wedding Package Case Study

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

A client came to me with a three-element wedding package. Interestingly enough, it had been designed through an on-line print design vendor to be sent to my client for final offset or digital custom printing.

The three pieces included an invitation, an envelope, and an RSVP card. As a separate commercial printing job, my client wanted a thank-you note and envelope. She sent me a low-res PDF of all elements to help me visualize the job

A Small Print Run

First of all, my client wanted only 100 or 150 copies of all wedding package elements. The small press run put the job in the arena of digital rather than offset custom printing. My client had initially wanted a two-color job (black and a single PMS). Due to the nature of digital printing (i.e., both inkjet and xerographic printers use 4-color process inks), the PMS and black would need to be simulated with process color builds.

Letterpress vs. Thermography

My client had seen samples of letterpress printing and thermography and wanted to know if these were possibilities.

First of all, I love the aesthetics of letterpress printing, in which letterforms are recessed slightly below the surface of the paper. This is a “strike-on” process in which metal plates with raised image areas actually strike, and press into, the paper fibers as they deposit the printing ink. Letterpress would yield a beautiful wedding invitation package. Unfortunately, letterpress custom printing was too expensive, so the bride chose not to pursue this option.

Engraving would have been another good choice, with its slightly raised letterforms. (In the engraving process, type and images are incised into a metal plate, and the pressure of the printing rollers forces the paper into the inked, recessed image areas of the plate, resulting in slightly raised letters on the paper.) Unfortunately this was too expensive, given the 100- to 150-copy press run.

Thermography would have simulated the effect of engraving, but the job was too short for an offset printing run. (Here’s how offset custom printing relates to thermography: The thermographic process initially involves an offset printing job. Thermographic powder is deposited onto the wet offset ink, and intense heat causes it to bubble up, creating a raised appearance resembling engraving.)

So we were left with digital commercial printing on the HP Indigo, which in itself is not a bad alternative, depending on the design of the wedding package elements, and the paper on which they are printed.

Considerations with Color Builds

I asked my client to consider the following when she designed the job for the digital press. The sample PDF of the wedding package elements included wispy type with fine strokes. My client wanted to print these in color. I suggested that she choose a color build with only a few of the four component colors (cyan, magenta, yellow, and black). For example, she could build a dark blue color using cyan and black. I suggested this to dissuade her from building fine type serifs with four sets of xerographic dots (C, M, Y and K). Such an attempt could result in fuzzy type if the HP Indigo were out of register even a little.

Choosing the Right Paper

Using a few evocative words from my client describing her goals for the paper choice (“a rough/tactile quality; weighty enough to “feel” formal and high quality; white, though not brilliant white, and slightly off-white paper options; looking for a formal feeling; envelope options should avoid the cheap/thin paper that would undermine the overall presentation”), I asked the commercial printer for a few suggestions. I also asked that paper samples be sent from the paper merchant to my client.

What We Can Learn from This Case Study?

Here are a few things to think about:

  1. The combination of the press run and the amount the client is willing to spend will determine the printing technology. That said, do consider a number of alternative custom printing techniques for your job (offset, xerography, inkjet, thermography, engraving, and letterpress).
  2. The right paper choice can make a simple custom printing job look more expensive and elegant. Ask your commercial printer or paper merchant for unprinted paper sample books (make sure they are recent; there’s a date on the back of each paper book). Also see if your printer or the paper merchant can send you printed samples on the paper choices that interest you.
  3. Thermography is great for simple text. Keep in mind, however, that it is not precise. Therefore, if you have a wedding invitation with intricate artwork and simple type, consider printing the artwork conventionally and the type with thermography. In addition, choose typefaces for thermography that don’t have thin strokes and serifs.

Envelope Printing: Choose Standard Sizes to Save Money

Friday, September 16th, 2011

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.

Business Stationery Printing and Logo Design: Some Considerations

Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

At some point in your career, you may be asked to print business cards or custom envelopes, or you may need to print business stationery. The job may involve designing a logo as well. If so, here are a few key concepts you may want to keep in mind during this process.

The logo will be presented in different sizes.

The logo you design will need to capture a client’s attention immediately and convey something about the business (what your client does, and also the tone or values of the business). On a business card the logo may be very small, but on a sign in front of the business the logo may be very large. Keep in mind that the logo is not just the mark (image, pictogram, etc.), but also the words (name of the company and perhaps the tag line). These must be readable and attractive in both large and small sizes.

Rule of Thumb: Make a mock-up of the logo (image and any related type) at multiple levels of enlargement to ensure that it is readable and conveys the company image in a positive light.

The logo will be presented in different orientations.

The logo you design will appear on a business card, on letterhead, on an envelope, perhaps on a statement of account and an invoice, maybe even on the side of a truck or the side of a building. It will probably even appear on the Internet.

Rule of Thumb: Consider how you will treat the logo in multiple orientations (flush left, flush right, centered–at the left top corner of an envelope vs. on a sheet of ). To be safe, create mock ups reflecting all potential uses of the logo and tagline (in different orientations). It will benefit the overall brand and look of the business if all elements of the corporate identity package reflect a coherent “whole,” and the best way to make this happen is to design them as a unified campaign.

The logo may not always appear in the colors you chose for the design.

Let’s say you want to fax a copy of the business invoice to a client. If you fax a document with a red and blue logo (for instance) at the top of the page, the client will receive the logo in black and white. Does a black and white version of the logo you designed still look acceptable?

Rule of Thumb: Design the logo and type treatment (tagline, etc.) in whatever colors you choose, but also see how they look in black and white. The same goes for use on the Internet. Not all web browsers or computer monitors render colors the same. Also, there are some colors that look better than others on the Web. So check your logo on several computers in several browsers to make sure.

Logo design comes up in many venues. Perhaps your client needs you to find a business card printing service, or a vendor for business envelope printing or even business stationery printing. Particularly if you are charged with either designing the logo yourself or hiring a designer and coordinating the design, the more uses you can take into account for the logo and words that accompany it, the better able you will be to provide a unified “look” for the entire corporate identity package.


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