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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Full Color Envelope Printing - Digital or Offset?

Posted by Jerry Velona on May 21, 2018 2:04:52 PM

Envelopes have typically been printed either flexographically (rubber or plastic printing plate) or offset (metal plate). Those two processes (in addition to flat sheet printing/converting) are still the most common for the vast majority of envelope printing.  Today’s post however deals with the world of digital envelope printing and how that can be used to your advantage for full color envelope printing.

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Flexographic printing for envelopes is generally only economical on larger runs of approximately 100,000 or more. Since digital is only economical on smaller runs, we will only focus on comparing it to offset printing.

Digital envelope printing is done electronically. There are no printing plates. The printer automatically sends out the proper mix of colors to achieve the image that was programmed.  Digital envelope printing can be done with toner (like most desk top digital printers) or with later models that use ink jet technology where the color is “sprayed” onto the envelope.

In the world of envelope printing and envelope converting, digital printing is only economical on very small quantity jobs – generally under 5,000.  The quality is comparable to offset although many prefer offset or lithographic quality.  There is a different look to digital envelope printing – a little shinier perhaps.   From the strict standpoint of quality, the one possible advantage of digital printing is that there would be less variation over the course of the print run given the fact that offset printing requires continuous fine adjustments in the ink/water mixture.

Mostly the advantage of choosing digital custom envelope printing over offset boils down to cost. It’s much less expensive to set up and run a job digitally.  So, the fewer envelopes you require, the more it makes sense to print them digitally.  Once the quantity gets to around 5,000, offset becomes more advantageous cost-wise and as the quantities increase, the unit cost of offset printing decreases significantly. Digital printing unit pricing stays relatively constant regardless of the increase in quantity.

Recent advances in digital printing for envelopes such as the I Jet can print full color images that bleed right to the edge. Previously this could only be done by printing flat sheets and converting at a much higher cost.   Another advantage to the ink jet digital approach is it can print on regular poly window envelopes.  Toner printers generate much higher heat in order for the toner to adhere to the paper. This can melt regular windows.  Lastly, envelopes printed using digital ink jet technology can be run through laser printers for variable addressing. This is great for direct mail printing and is not possible with toner-based digital printing.

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Elite Envelope provides a wide range of digital envelope printing options.  We’ll be happy to answer any questions you may have on the right way to go.

 

Topics: custom envelope printing, offset printing, digital envelope printing

Envelope Printing – flat sheet printing and convert

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jul 25, 2017 1:36:41 PM

While offset and flexographic printing are the two main methods for custom printed envelopes, there is a third way which is very commonly employed; lithographic printing on large, sheet fed and web presses.

 mixing ink for flat sheet envelope printing

These presses are typically employed by printing companies which provide high quality, full color printing on sheets up to 28 x 40 or larger. If a customer has a custom printed envelope that requires full ink coverage on all sides or even very heavy coverage on just one side, then it must be printed on a flat sheet which is then die-cut and converted into an envelope.  (For more specific information on envelope converting, see the previous blog post here.  

There are two main reasons why this approach must be taken.  First, envelope printing presses like the most commonly used Halm Jet presses are not able to print full coverage on all sides of a made envelope.  As my previous post on flexographic printing explains, full coverage can be printed this way in-line but it’s only cost-effective at quantities of at least a few hundred thousand, usually more. 

The second reason is that when jet presses print heavy solids on a made envelope, there are potential problems.   Two of the main ones are seam marks and offsetting.  When a heavy application of ink is applied in this way, the seams usually become visible due to the combination of dense ink and the pressure of the print rollers.  Offsetting occurs when dense concentrations of dark ink are applied to an envelope. As the envelopes come off the press, they come in contact with one another before being scooped up in bundles and put back into a box. The rubbing or scuffing during this process causes the heavy ink solid to rub off onto the envelope next to it leaving a mark.

Offsetting can be mitigated or eliminated by using a UV dryer. This unit applies extra heat to the envelope as it comes off the press which can dry the ink sufficiently to prevent it from rubbing off.  This approach is workable but slows down the process and adds cost to the job.

Printing an envelope on a flat sheet and converting it after the fact eliminates any seam marks or offsetting. It’s also a better way to print full coverage on window envelopes.  Any envelope with a window needs a white border if it’s printed on a Jet press.  Flat sheet printing allows for the window to be cut out of the print solid during the converting process which looks much better.

Envelope printing with flat sheets and then converting is a more expensive way to go but yields excellent results and is very common in high-end direct mail pieces.  One of the disadvantages of this approach from a customer’s standpoint is that it almost always requires dealing with two different companies for the same job.  There are very few companies that have both the printing and envelope equipment necessary to do both components. (Elite Envelope happens to be one of the few companies that can do both under one roof with our combination of web printing and envelope converting).

Topics: custom envelope printing, envelope converting, litho envelope printing, envelope printing options

Envelope Printing Part Two– Flexo

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jun 30, 2017 3:37:04 PM

Flexographic printing, more commonly referred to as “flexo”, has been one of the main types of envelope printing for almost a century.  It was a technological upgrade from letterpress printing which goes back to the days of the Gutenberg press.  Flexography got its name from the flexible rubber plate which it uses to apply the graphic image.

Because of the limitations of the rubber plate, flexo printing was traditionally confined to very basic graphic images:  mostly just type and numbers. However for a return address or reply envelope copy, the quality afforded with flexo printing was more than acceptable for most simple envelope printing requirements.

In the late 1980’s, the invention and practical application of hard plastic (photo polymer) printing plates helped to revolutionize flexographic printing by opening it up to a much larger range of printing possibilities.  These days, flexo printing is routinely used with process printing, halftones, screens and many other fine applications which were previously not possible in that process.

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For envelopes, the advantage of flexographic printing stems from the fact that it can be done while the envelope is being made. Many envelope folding machines have built-in printing stations which can apply not only an inside tint (typically printed flexo) but also printing on the outside of the envelope up to two colors.  This “in-line” printing is more economical than printing an envelope on an offset press as a separate process.  Although flexo has come a long way, the type of image that yields acceptable results on this type of equipment is still limited compared to what is possible with offset printing.  The plastic plate just doesn’t hold the image as well as the metal plates used in offset printing.  

The more advanced flexo printing mentioned above is done on big, expensive machines that require very large quantities (usually starting around 250,000) in order to be cost-effective. The reply envelopes that you get along with your credit card bill are mostly flexo-printed on these types of machines.

So how do you decide whether flexo printing is right for your printed envelopes?  The same two criteria that we applied to the offset printing decision process will apply here as well.

Quantity:  In-line flexo printing of the most common variety (1 or 2 spot colors) becomes competitive with offset printing at around the 100,000 quantity level.  That’s where Elite Envelope will generally start quoting if the customer is looking for the best possible price. The cost of the plates and set up time will usually make it less cost-effective at quantities lower than that.  Another factor is that Jet offset printing prices have come down a bit in the past 5-10 years or so which makes it more competitive against flexo in higher quantities which did not used to be the case.  For high-quality flexo printing of the type I mentioned, use the 250,000 quantity as a general rule although some companies will price these jobs competitively at quantities of 100,000 or more.

Quality:  - At Elite Envelope, flexo printing is quoted conditionally “based on suitability following an inspection of the copy to be printed”. Some quotes are so price-sensitive that a customer will want the flexo price only to find out that what they are printing cannot be done that way.  Unless you are printing at the kind of quantities which allow for the state-of-the-art equipment to be employed, any copy with screens, half tones or duo tones, tight registration or fine lines will most likely have to be printed offset.  Some of the decision is based on what is possible and some of it is based on the level of quality that a customer is expecting.   

In part three of this series on custom envelope printing, I’ll delve into flat sheet litho printing and converting.  

Topics: flexo printing, flexographic envelope printing, custom envelope printing, envelope offset printing

Offset Printing for Envelopes

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jun 2, 2017 12:02:50 PM

Envelope printing has come a long way since the days when Confederate soldiers folded wallpaper to serve as a carrier for their letters home.

These days, the vast majority of the estimated 400 billion envelopes used annually worldwide are printed in 4 ways: offset, flexographic, flat sheet litho and digital. In today’s post, we will focus on offset printing.

The name offset comes from the process whereby a metal printing plate is burned with the image which is then transferred or “offset” to a printing blanket.  The blanket is attached to a roller in the press and coated with ink. The envelope is fed through the press and is printed with the image when it comes in contact with the ink-covered blanket.  Small, 2 color offset presses such as Multi and AB Dick can be adapted to print envelopes with the use of an envelope feeder.  While relatively slow, these do an OK job for small quantity runs (2,500 or fewer).

For anything over that quantity, envelopes are most economically printed on a Jet press. These presses are specially designed for envelope printing and some of the newer models can achieve speeds up to 40,000 per hour or more. Those of us in the biz will use the word “jet” as a verb as in “those envelopes need to be jetted”.  This is sometimes confused with ink-jetting which is a completely different animal (used to print addresses on bulk mailings).  Jet is a brand name for envelope printing presses made by the Halm Corporation.  The vast majority of offset printing for custom printed envelopes are done by this type and brand. The quality is excellent and very consistent.

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How do you know if offset printing is right for your envelope job?  The two main criteria to consider are the quantity you are looking for and the specific graphic image you want printed.

Quantity: - Offset printing is the most economical way to go on jobs of 2,500 and over. If the job must be done with offset printing, quantities from a handful to around 2,500 are most economically printed on one of the smaller, (non-Jet) presses previously mentioned.  (Digital printing is perhaps an even better option for these small runs, more on that in a subsequent post)  Anything 2,500 or more would be best sent to an actual envelope company which utilizes Jet presses.  

Quality: - Certain graphic images such as those containing fine lines, long, thin lines, half-tones (photos) screens (lighter shades of a darker color made by a concentration of tiny dots of varying density) or tight registration (a combination of images placed very close together or actually touching) generally require offset printing for best results. An envelope printing expert can tell from viewing your artwork what the best printing method would be for your custom printed envelopes.

I’ll get into the other main envelope printing methods in my next posts.

How do you print your envelopes these days?

Topics: elite envelope, envelope printing, offset printing, custom envelope printing

Yet Another Blog Post

From Jerry Velona - co-owner,

Elite Envelope & Graphics, Inc.

Jerry offers pertinent, often useful information on envelope converting and printing, web printing, direct mail, the post office, songs that have to do with mail and letters, digital overload and much more!

(Non-spam) Comments always appreciated.  Spread it around!

 

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