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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

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.

flexoprocess.gif

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

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 jerry@eliteenvelope.com and I’ll be more than happy to provide suggestions.

 

 

 

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

What’s the Best Way to Print a 4 Color Envelope?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Sep 10, 2012 10:43:00 AM

Envelopes can be printed in four different ways: Offset, Flexographic, Litho and Digital.

The majority of envelopes are printed on an offset press; the most popular of which are the “Jet” presses made by the Halm Corporation.  Those are the presses used by most envelope companies and some printers. The Jet press is a sturdy workhorse that feeds envelopes up to 12 x 15 ½ in size and prints at speeds up to 30,000 per hour in some cases.  Most Jet presses print up to two colors and can perfect (print on both sides) in the same number of colors. However, there is a 4 color Jet which prints process or spot colors on envelopes with excellent quality.

Elite Envelope Jet Press

Probably the second most common way envelopes are printed is flexographically. (I say probably because I have no hard data on this. If anyone out there has evidence to the contrary, I’d be very interested).  Flexographic or as it’s commonly referred to, flexo printing is generally done in-line as the envelope is manufactured. Unlike offset printing which uses a metal printing plate, flexo printing uses a hard plastic, photo-polymer plate.  Flexo printing technology has come a long way in the past 20 to 30 years. It used to be done with soft rubber plates and used only for the most basic printing like, say a business reply envelope.  However, these days so-called enhanced flexo machines routinely print full coverage 4 color process envelopes with great results.

The next most popular way to print envelopes is on flat sheet litho presses.   This requires a two step process of first printing on the sheets and then converting the sheets into envelopes.  As an envelope converter, Elite Envelope regularly advises customers on when this might be necessary. It is a more expensive proposition than simply printing an already converted envelope on a Jet press but yields the best quality printing because of the size and capabilities of the equipment.

Lastly envelopes are sometimes printed in small quantities on digital copiers or presses. These machines can only print in process colors so they are not workable for a simple one or two color job. Also, the economics only make them a good choice if the quantities required are small. Generally anything over 2,500 doesn’t make sense to do digitally at least as far as envelopes are concerned. Not all digital presses can easily accommodate envelopes. Some of the newer models include this feature and work quite well.

So back to the question: What IS the best way to print a 4 color envelope?  Well, the simple answer is it’s based on three main factors: quantity, quality and coverage or a combination of the three. I’ll break this all down for you in next week’s post.  In the meantime, your comments are always most welcome!

Topics: four color envelope printing, envelope offset printing, flexographic envelope printing, flexo printing, envelope printing options, elite envelope, envelope converting, envelope printing, envelopes and printing

Envelope Printing Options – Flexography

Posted by Jerry Velona on May 10, 2011 11:51:00 AM

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.

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 flexography 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. Also, the flexo printing units employed on the folding machines are subject to more “bounce” and variation generally than an offset press.

elite envelope flexo printing

The more advanced flexo printing mentioned above is done on big, expensive machines that require very large quantities (usually starting around 500,000) 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 job? 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. For high-quality flexo printing of the type I mentioned, use the 500,000 quantity as a general rule although some companies will price these jobs competitively at quantities of 250,000 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. We will generally err on the side of being conservative in our approach as there are few things worse than a disappointed customer.

In my next post, I’ll delve into flat sheet litho printing and converting. As always, I welcome your comments!

Topics: envelope printing, flexographic envelope printing, flexo printing, flexography, envelope printing options

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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