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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: flexographic envelope printing, flexo printing, envelope offset printing, custom 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 jerry@eliteenvelope.com 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

Envelope Printing – Choosing the Best Method

Posted by Jerry Velona on Sep 17, 2012 12:37:00 PM

Printed Envelopes

In last week’s blog post, I listed the various ways envelopes can be printed: offset, flexo, flat sheet litho and digital.  Those are listed in descending order from the most popular methods through the least popular, at least in my experience.

But the question remains: how does one choose the best method for printing an envelope?  You could just send a quote to your favorite envelope company or printer and ask them to provide a price. That may get you what you need but it also might get you a price on whatever works best for that particular company and not necessarily what is the best and most economical way for that particular job.

No, it’s always best for a buyer to be knowledgeable on his own in order to get the best quality and price. That applies to anything you purchase really.

In my previous post I mentioned the three factors to be considered when deciding how to print your envelope: quantity, quality and print coverage.  In thinking about this, I tried to come up with a simple formula for your use.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite that easy because multiple factors need to be considered for just about any envelope print job.  So here’s my best shot on the basics for you to consider using those three criteria:

1. Coverage:  If the envelope prints with full coverage front and back or full coverage on one side with bleeds all around, the three print options you have would be enhanced flexo, flat sheet litho or flat sheet digital with converting after the fact.  (Most envelopes that print with this type of coverage tend to be 4 color process. If the piece prints in spot colors, then digital would not be an option unless the artwork could be converted to CMYK.)  The enhanced flexo process is done inline on a web machine. Diagonal seam envelopes cannot be done this way because of the web process.

If the envelope has light to medium ink coverage, then Jet offset (printing on a pre-made envelope) is the best option for quantities up to around 250,000. At higher quantities, regular flexo might be a more cost-effective option depending on the quality of the printing required.  Half tones, fine screens and fine lines and close registration generally require offset printing.  However, something like a simple BRE or line copy could be printed flexo with good results.

2. Quantity:  Small quantities up to around 2,000 are where digital printing on a pre-made envelope can be cost-effective. However, as I mentioned, most digital presses can only print process colors. So anything with spot colors needs to be printed in one of the remaining three processes. Strictly from a price standpoint, offset would be the least expensive on quantities up to 250,000. However, the best option would also have to consider the amount of coverage and the quality required.

Some companies, like Elite Envelope, feature very competitive Jet offset pricing at quantities well into the millions. For this reason, the offset/flexo decision can also depend on the company you are dealing with.

3. Quality:  I’ve mostly covered the quality considerations that need to be taken into account except to say that even if an envelope can be printed flexo, you will get superior quality by printing it offset. So if you can make the pricing work, you’re better off going that route simply for best print results. 

Of the four printing options for envelopes, the best quality would be flat sheet litho for the simple reason that those presses are larger and built to produce high-quality fine printing on pieces where the expectations exceed what is commonly required for an envelope.  However, that is generally going to be the most expensive way to go so that must be taken into account as well.

Lastly, one of the comments from last week’s blog concerned bleeds on envelopes. Bleeds can be printed on Jet offset presses in certain cases. The best results are where the coverage is light or involves a screen that bleeds. However, we have printed many envelopes with fairly dense coverage on the jet that happen to bleed. There can be some occasional ink build-up on the edge which needs to be monitored but overall a good pressman can make it work quite well. 

I hope I’ve clarified some of the envelope printing decisions you might need to make. If you’re still unsure, just send me a pdf of your artwork and I’ll be happy to provide a suggestion of your best way to go.

 

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes and printing, printing and envelopes, envelope printing, jet printing, flexographic envelope printing, envelope printing options, envelope offset printing, printed envelopes, how envelopes are printed

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

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

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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