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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Pushing the Envelope against a Snow Bank

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 10, 2015 3:15:00 PM

snowstorm picture


Do I have your attention? If you live in most of the United States outside of the west coast, Florida and, interestingly, parts of Alaska, you have just about had enough of winter this year.  I happen to be writing this from the Boston area which has been the epicenter of snow, ice dams, parking-space wars and freezing cold temperatures this year. 


As much as I’d like to kvetch a bit about the weather, I’ll resist the temptation. The extra hour of daylight we now have is putting me in a better mood and besides this blog is supposed to be about making and printing envelopes and web printing.  So, I’ll take advantage of the early onset of spring fever on a 50 degree day to clean out some thoughts that have been hanging around all winter.

  • Hard to believe but commercial digital printing has only been around for a little over 20 years. While there have been tremendous strides made in the technology and it’s become the standard for small quantity, quick turn printing not to mention personalized direct mail, digital still represents less than 20% of the total print market by some estimates.  How much that increases over time will be an interesting market study pitting convenience against quality.  That’s not to say that digital printing doesn’t produce excellent quality. But when held up against offset, there’s no comparison at least to my eye. When audio CDs hit the market, it wasn’t long before vinyl records were hard to find.  I think if digital printing were going to make the same inroads versus offset, it would have happened by now. 

  • A few weeks ago the Boston Globe featured an article about how the Grateful Dead were planning one final tour this summer. The fact that they are doing a concert without Jerry Garcia is odd enough. But perhaps the most interesting aspect is that they were giving hardcore fans the option to order tickets by mail before they went on sale online. According the article (sorry I couldn’t find the link) it was a huge success and there were pictures of tie-died clad office workers moving about trays of envelopes received from fans and then sending the tickets back in the mail.  Given the average age of Dead fans, along with the assumption of their, shall we say, uniqueness, it’s not hard to see how this could be a successful tactic for ensuring that the hardcore fans (presumably those who still know how to include a stamped, self-addressed reply envelope) get first crack at the seats.  Might be a nice gimmick for other summer tours.

  • Haven’t written about the Post Office in a while but since we passed Groundhog Day a month or so ago I thought I’d report that the news is basically the same as it ever was.  On the plus side, operating revenue increased over 9% which was on top of the 8% or so increase from the previous year. This was pretty much all due to increased revenue from package delivery. However, the Service incurred a net loss of over $5 billion which is roughly the same as the year before and the year before that.  And yes, the Post Office blames the deficit on the fact that they have to fund a significant portion of their retiree health care costs rather than carry them on their books as an unfunded liability. They have been assigning this blame for many years as well.   Is anyone else hearing the faint strains of “I Got You Babe” in the background?

  • Lastly, here’s to the truck drivers and package delivery personnel (yes, that includes you guys at the Post Office – you do a fine job!) who have struggled mightily over the past couple of months or so in the greater Boston area trying to make the deliveries and commitments that we and many of our customers count on. It’s been tough getting around not to mention trying to back into a loading dock or parking lot. We appreciate all you do and couldn’t run our business without you.

Happy almost spring!


Topics: post office problems, pushing the envelope, web printing, digital envelope printing

Printing an Envelope the Right Way

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 27, 2014 11:35:00 AM

man looking at envelope

There are two main criteria for deciding how to print your envelopes: aesthetics and price – or most commonly a combination of the two.

The aesthetic or look of the piece is generally going to be determined by marketing factors; i.e. the purpose for which the envelope will be used. A simple function like letterhead or mailing an invoice will not require an elaborate look. In fact, going overboard on design for an envelope with a modest purpose might actually send the wrong message such as; “We’ve got way too much money to spend so thanks to all our customers for putting us in this position.”   On the other hand if you’re selling something – a new and exciting product or service, you’re probably going to want match the excitement of the offering with the appropriate graphics and color.

Fortunately for direct marketers and small business owners, envelope companies like Elite Envelope & Graphics will generally have the capabilities to print whatever your fertile imagination can create. In a previous blog I described in detail the various ways to print an envelope. These are: lithographic (on flat sheets for converting after the fact), offset (mostly done on Halm brand Jet presses but also can be done on smaller presses like an AB Dick with special envelope feeders), flexographic (typically done in-line while an envelope is being folded) and finally, digital (either on flat sheets for converting or on newer model presses that accept pre-converted envelopes).

Each of the four envelope printing methods listed has its own unique characteristics and uses. The most common method is offset.  The reason for that is because it gives the best look for the best price in most situations.  An envelope can be offset printed at quantities as low as 1,000 at very reasonable prices. The Halm Jet press, which is what most envelope company’s use, is built for speed and higher volumes. Printing on a Jet press will generally become most competitive at around 5,000 pieces and up.

Offset printing is done with metal plates that allow for a sharp, clean image even with halftone screens and fine lines. The Jet Press will allow for the envelope to bleed to the edge and print fairly heavy solid coverage and can print anything from black ink up through and including four color process.  All things considered, Jet Offset printing including four color Jet printing provides many options at competitive prices.

Lithographic (or litho for short) is the way to get the highest print quality when that is required.  The reason for that is a combination of the method and the fact that litho presses tend to be large and sophisticated with many built-in features that allow for very fine reproductions.  When an envelope is designed with full ink coverage on all sides (printers sometimes refer to this as a “paint job”) it is generally printed lithographically on flat sheets.  The individual envelope impressions contained on the printed sheets are then die cut and fed into an envelope folding machine where they are scored, glued and folded into envelopes. This process is referred to as envelope converting.  Lithographic printing and converting is more expensive than printing a pre-made envelope on a Jet press. However, it is necessary for certain graphic designs. One way to reduce cost for this option is to print the copy on a cold web press. These presses can print the same heavy coverage as flat sheet presses but can do so more economically. Elite Envelope & Graphics features cold web printing up to eight colors in addition to the more traditional forms of envelope printing.

Flexographic or flexo is done with hard plastic, photo-polymer plates. The impression is raised on the plate and is applied to the substrate in a similar fashion to the older and mostly out-of-date letterpress process.  Flexo printing in the envelope world is almost exclusively done in-line while the envelope is being folded. Certain larger and more sophisticated envelope converting machines have flexo printing capability which allows the printing and folding to be done at the same time.  This greatly reduces cost especially for large-volume print runs which is primarily where this type of printing makes sense. The high cost to set up these machines to fold and print generally makes flexo printing uneconomical at quantities of 100,000 or less.  While the flexo printing technology has improved to the point where it can produce certain full-coverage items that heretofore could only be printing litho, flexo printing is not going to be as sharp and vibrant as litho or even offset printing. However, for the high-quantity runs, even for four color process, flexo printing can be an excellent option for an envelope.

Lastly, digital printing has made inroads into the envelope market over the past ten years or so. Printing digitally with toner rather than ink can yield good results depending on a few factors.  First, it can only be done with process colors, not spot colors.  Any art file can be converted from spot colors to process but if a company’s logo is to be printed in a certain, specific PMS color, converting to process may not yield an exact match to the PMS chart.  Secondly, digital presses are best suited for small quantities. Printing in general will show lower unit costs as the quantity of a job increases. This is mostly because the set-up of a job is a significant cost that is the same to print 500 pieces as it is to print 500,000. The longer the print run, the more the set up cost can be amortized which allows the unit cost to decrease. The same principle however doesn’t apply to digital printing. There is no comparable set-up cost to a digital print job. It’s similar to printing something from your desktop computer. Once the file is ready to go, you press “print” and you’re off and running. Digital printing is generally priced at a “click charge” or per piece charge. Eliminating the set up cost allows for lower quantity jobs to be relatively inexpensive but since there’s nothing to amortize, the same price applies to every piece in the run. This makes digital envelope printing competitive for quantities up to around 2,500 pieces. After that, you’re better off going offset.

One last benefit of digital printing is if you need variable data on the envelope. Some small mailings can be addressed digitally. Or you can vary your teaser copy or code numbers more easily through digital printing. Elite Envelope and Graphics is one of a few companies that can take digitally printed sheets with variable data and convert them into envelopes.


If you have a certain design file and want some advice on how best to print it, send it to me at and I’ll be more than happy to provide suggestions.




Topics: elite envelope, envelope printing, envelope converting, cold web printing, four color envelope printing, digital envelope printing, flexographic envelope printing, flexo printing, flexography, envelope offset printing, litho envelope printing

Small Quantity Envelope Converting – Does it make sense for printers?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 26, 2012 10:56:00 AM

Envelope converting can be tricky. As I’ve explained in a number of previous posts, there are specific ways to go about it and pitfalls to avoid.  Over the years I’ve found that some printers will avoid taking orders from their customers that would entail envelope converting because of uncertainty about the process and a lack of confidence in the outcome.  I suppose I shouldn’t complain because many of those printers tell me this after they’ve referred their customer to deal with us directly. However, I always tell the printer that he’s losing out on a potential order for no good reason.

 Elite Envelope converting

There are some envelope companies out there that can make the rest of us look bad. I suppose that’s true in any industry.  In the envelope world, there are many companies with the word envelope in their name which are not actual manufacturers. They will typically print envelopes but any converting will have to be outsourced.  Sometimes the personnel at these companies are not familiar with the process so getting a converting order from one of their customers can result in some communication problems which can, in turn, lead to a bad outcome.  At Elite, we know the right questions to ask so that usually doesn’t happen. But in general it’s better for a printer to deal directly with a converter if you want the job done properly.

Which leads me to the question du jour: What if I only need a thousand or so of a four color envelope?

Well the short answer is, no problem. With four-color, short run digital printing now so commonplace, the demand for a thousand or two #10 envelopes to go with a letterhead order is increasing. Printers can run  #10 diagonal seam regulars one up on an 11 x 17 sheet or 2 up on a 12 ½ x 19 sheet on a digital press and send them over for converting for a reasonable lot charge.  At small quantities this is more economical than setting up the job on an offset press and it allows for the printing to match on all components which is important.

So printers, don't hesitate to take that order which includes a small quantity of four color envelopes. Find yourself a good converter and once you've done it a couple of times, you'll see that it can be a fairly straightforward process.  It just might open up a new source of business for you. These days, that's nothing but good.

I’d be interested to hear about any of your small run converting experiences. 

Topics: elite envelope, envelope manufacturing, envelope manufacturer, envelope converting, envelope converting tips, digital envelope printing, envelope converting process

Envelope Printing Options – flat sheet litho and convert

Posted by Jerry Velona on May 18, 2011 3:52:00 PM

Elite Envelope print flat sheet litho and converting envelopesWhile offset and flexographic printing are the two main ways envelopes are printed, there is a third way which is very commonly employed; lithographic printing on large, sheet fed and web presses.

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 an 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. (see my previous blog posts for a more thorough explanation of the envelope converting process).

There are two main reasons why this approach must be taken. First, conventional 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 pre-converted envelope, there are problems that can ensue. 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 causes the heavy ink solid to come off onto the envelope that is next to it. What is left is ink residue that usually shows up on the back of the envelopes when the heavy coverage is printed on the front where it mostly is done.

Offsetting can be mitigated or eliminated by using a UV dryer which applies extra heat to the envelope as it comes off the press which can dry the ink sufficiently to prevent it 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 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 (none of which I am aware) that have both the printing and envelope equipment necessary to do both components.

At Elite Envelope, we have the expertise to handle the printing in conjunction with one of our many printer customers as well as the envelope equipment necessary to cut, glue and fold the paper into a high-quality envelope. We also have digital printing capability which works quite nicely for small quantity jobs (up to 2,500) at a very competitive price.

Please let me know your experiences in this regard. I’ll respond to all comments.

Topics: elite envelope, envelope printing, envelope converting, digital envelope printing, flexographic envelope printing, envelope printing options, envelope offset printing, how envelopes are printed

4 Color Envelope Printing: Digital or Offset?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 14, 2011 12:27:00 PM

Envelopes have typically been printed either flexographically (rubber or plastic printing plate) or offset (metal plate). Those two processes are still the most common for the vast majority of envelope printing. In a future article, I will break down the difference between them and how one might choose one over the other. Today’s article however deals with the world of digital printing and how that can be used to your advantage for 4 color envelope printing.

Flexographic printing for envelopes is generally only economical on larger runs of around 75,000 or more. Since digital is only economical on smaller runs, we will only focus on comparing it to offset printing. Offset printing (or lithography – same thing) is based on the principle that oil and water don’t mix. The image to be printed is burned onto a metal plate. That image is then transferred (or offset) to a printing blanket which, in turn, transfers it to the envelope to be printed. During the actual printing process, the oil-based ink adheres to the image area on the plate while a steady stream of water covers the area of the plate without the image in order to keep that free of ink.

Digital 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. 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 most prefer offset or lithographic quality and there are fine differences.

 MG 0147

From the sole 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. For envelopes however the advantage of choosing digital printing over offset mostly 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.

Elite Envelope can provide either type of printing with the additional advantage of being able to print digitally on flat sheets for subsequent envelope converting under one roof.

Topics: envelope printing, envelope converting, four color envelope printing, digital envelope printing, 4 color envelopes

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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