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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

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

What they learned at the envelope plant tour

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jan 17, 2012 10:49:00 AM

Elite Envelope manufacturing plant

As an envelope converter and manufacturer, Elite Envelope holds a relatively unique place in the printing world. We are the only envelope converter in greater Boston and one of only six in all of New England.

One of our favorite things to do is invite customers and prospective customers to visit us for a plant tour. Many envelope buyers have never actually seen an envelope being made and it’s always an eye-opening experience.  There’s always at least one comment about the fact that they didn’t realize so much went into the making of a simple envelope.

We start by showing the paper cutting processes. We show how reams of paper are precisely die-cut either by hand for smaller jobs or, for larger jobs, on our computerized PHP cutter.  Showing the cookie-cutter-style die going through the paper lift demonstrates how variation can occur in the cutting process better than any explanation. You can actually see the paper bend just slightly as it’s cut.  Customers can actually see how certain designs are more practical than others given the limitations inherent in the process.

After a short stop at the latex self seal and peel and seal equipment, we move on to the folding machines which are the heart of the envelope converting process.  We show how the die cut “blanks” are fed into the machine at one end and come out the other end a scored, glued and folded envelope.  Customers see the seal gum applied as the first process and how once the gum is applied, the blank travels the entire length of the machine over hot lamps designed to set the proper dryness of the gum.

We show how the panel cutter die punches out the window area which is then covered over by the poly patch.  The tour guide points out how the window must be at least 3/8” from the edge of the envelope in order to allow for the patch and the glue necessary to keep it tight.  We show how the machine ensures an exact count coming off and how our adjustors/mechanics  continually make the fine adjustments necessary to keep the envelopes perfectly square and to the specifications required by even the most demanding customer in all aspects.

Finally, the tour reaches the printing department where our 2 color and 4 color jets are on display with all the various printing capabilities they provide.  Customers and prospects are generally very impressed by the quality of our four color envelope printing.

So, if you’re buying envelopes I encourage you to contact your envelope vendor for a tour of the plant. Make sure they actually make the envelopes though; not all envelope companies do.  There are many advantages in dealing directly with the manufacturer; not the least of which is you can go on a nifty tour and maybe even get lunch afterwards! 

Topics: elite envelope, elite envelope, envelope manufacturing, jet printing, envelope manufacturer, envelope converting, four color envelope printing, envelope die cutting, envelope converting process, envelope blank, printed envelopes

Envelope Converting and Printing Issue du-jour – flood-coated flaps

Posted by Jerry Velona on Dec 5, 2011 11:18:00 AM

Last week’s blog concerned that hardy perennial problem in the world of envelopes; the envelope flap that’s printed with full coverage in isolation.  In other words, you have a plain envelope with perhaps a corner card or some other printed copy but then a flap that has a large solid printed across the entire available area.  It’s a sharp-looking design. Lots and lots of folks choose it for obvious aesthetic reasons.The problem is; for the most part it’s impossible to make the finished product conform to the design. The reason quite simply has to do with the variation inherent in the envelope converting process.

The only way for this design to be printed without ink buildup on the edges or seam marks is by printing on flat sheets and then converted.  Once the envelopes are printed on flat sheets, they need to be die-cut into the blank size that is fed into the folding machine. The act of the cookie-cutter style die being pressed into a stack of five or six hundred sheets of paper causes a slight buckling which, in turn, causes most of the individual sheets in the ream to move back and forth slightly while they are being cut.  This is the first half of the variation problem.  The second part has to do with the folding process.

Elite Envelope envelope adjuster at work 

Envelope manufacturing machines are a minimum of 25 feet from one end to the other. Most are much longer than that. When an envelope blank or paper roll is fed through one end, it must go through numerous individual stations for gluing, scoring, and folding before it comes out as a finished product. While all folding equipment is engineered for maximum precision, variation from envelope to envelope of up to 1/16 of an inch is unavoidable during the folding process. It will not affect every envelope but it will affect a significant number.

When a designer creates an envelope and expects a fully printed flap to bleed right to the score/fold line every time, there’s going to be disappointment because of the combination of cutting and folding variation I’ve described.  Elite Envelope will typically advise customers who insist on this design that they may get as many as 20% of the total order to line up perfectly.  Because of the way we do things and our attention to detail, that number is on the high side of the industry. Usually, it will be more like 10%.

So, are there ways to minimize the problem?  The answer is twofold:  the variation can be minimized somewhat by hand-cutting the paper and cutting into smaller reams or lifts. The thinner the ream, the less movement there will be during the cutting process. It’s also possible to fold the envelopes in such a way so as to standardize the variation; i.e. instead of some of the envelopes showing ink on the face and others showing white on the flap, we can adjust the folder to have most of the variation go either one way or the other which at least provides some consistency.

The only way to dramatically reduce the amount of variation is to individually die-cut each envelope blank. This completely eliminates one half of the variation and results in a much higher percentage of envelopes that will bleed exactly to the score line.  Depending on your budget, this could work for a small order but is not practical for anything over a few thousand unless you’re looking to swallow a huge extra cost.

The best way to have your cake and eat it is to incorporate an extended bleed or “wrap-around” from the flap onto the face of the envelope. Some designers have gone beyond a simple rectangular bar and used waves or other designs that extend from the flap to the top of the face of the envelope.  While there will still be variation, it becomes virtually unnoticeable from envelope to envelope.

This approach allows for a reasonable combination of sharp design with practical reality. That’s a good combination for many things in life including envelopes!

Topics: elite envelope, elite envelope, printing and envelopes, envelope printing, envelope converting, envelope converting tips, envelope die cutting, envelope converting process

Envelope Converting Issue Du Jour

Posted by Jerry Velona on Nov 15, 2011 11:55:00 AM

Yes, as The Who famously sang, it’s “another tricky day” in the world of envelope converting and manufacturing.  I strongly suspect they were not referring to envelopes in that song, but hey, a hook is a hook!

I’m taking a break from handling a couple of very common problems to write this blog on the subject of one of them.  

The problem concerns the customer who is looking for a rush delivery on converting two thousand press sheets to a 9 x 12 booklet envelope with a peel and seal flap.  Aside from whether we can accommodate their stiff delivery requirements on the week before Thanksgiving, the main problem is that they printed the sheets to the layout provided from another converter.  Now that converter has told them they can’t make the delivery so they are asking us to do it. The copy on the face of the envelope doesn’t bleed to the edge so the printer is assuming that since a 9 x 12 envelope will always measure 9 x 12 (one of life’s certainties for sure) it shouldn’t be a problem.

But here’s where it gets tricky: when envelopes are die cut out of flat sheets, the die is lined up to the impression on the sheet. While 9 x 12 envelopes are always going to measure 9 x 12 after folding, the variable tends to be the size of the flap.  Standard size envelopes from various manufacturers are generally never identical when it comes to flap size.

elite envelope die cutting

Let’s say the flap on the layout they printed to is 1 ½ inches. If our flap is 2”, then the impression on the front of the envelope will be moved  ½” causing it not to line up properly.  We’re checking right now to see if we can come up with a comparable size on the die but if not, the printer is out of luck whether we can do the delivery or not. (We probably can, we’re good that way).

So, the moral of the story here is twofold: first, always try to print to the layout supplied by the vendor who is doing the converting. Secondly, and most importantly, always try to use Elite Envelope for your converting!

BTW, just found out that we can work with the layout AND do the delivery which includes peel and seal on the flap. OK, back to work now: see you next week.

Topics: elite envelope, envelopes, envelope converting, envelope converting tips, envelope die cutting, envelope converting mistakes, envelope converting process

Envelope Converting: The Basics

Posted by Jerry Velona on Aug 19, 2011 1:39:00 PM

envelope converting elite envelope

The term “converting” in relation to envelopes is sometimes not well-understood. So, here’s a very simple explanation: Envelope converting is the process by which sheets of paper are cut, glued and folded into envelopes. An envelope converter is a company that has the machinery and personnel to do this. An envelope converter is the same thing as an envelope manufacturer.  To “convert” means to change. We envelope converters are changing paper into envelopes; hence the name.

An envelope conversion starts with sheets or rolls of paper. The paper can be unprinted or can be covered with ink on both sides.  In either case the process is the same with a few modifications depending on the stock and if or how it is printed.

Let’s take a simple, hypothetical order and go through it step by step to illustrate the process.

"The Printing Company" has a customer who wants 5,000, 24# white wove, #10 standard window envelopes with full printing coverage on all sides.  Since the envelope is easily available as a stock item, TPC is wondering if Elite Envelope can simply print on the stock envelope.  This isn’t possible for two reasons: first, envelope presses cannot print full ink coverage on two sides of an envelope. For starters, there would be ink build-up, seam markings, ink rub-off and that’s assuming that the presses could even be set up to do it.  Second, because the customer wants the printing to bleed right to edge of the window all around, it’s impossible to print this without hitting the window occasionally.

This is a good example of an envelope job which must be converted. The Printing Company has the capability to print up to a 19 x 25 sheet size. Elite Envelope will supply them with a digital file that shows the outline of the unfolded envelopes (called “blanks” in the envelope biz) set up in the proper position for printing. In this case, 4 envelopes can be printed on this sheet.   The diagram which shows how the envelopes must be placed on the sheet for proper conversion is called a layout. The printer must set the job up in the exact manner specified by the layout.

Once the printer sets up his artwork on the layout sheet, he will send a sample sheet to the envelope converter for final approval before printing.  The converter will inspect to make sure that the sheet matches the layout in all respects and, if so, will tell the printer the job is ready to print.

Because there is waste involved in the envelope converting process, TPC has been advised to include a certain amount of extra sheets.  In addition to the regular printing sheets, they will also supply what are called “spotter sheets” which are regular sheets with dots added in the 4 main corners of each envelope on the sheet. A small number of these sheets (typically 1 for every 200 sheets supplied) are required with every job in order for the cutting to be accurate. I’ll explain that later in more detail.

The printer will print the job and stack the sheets on a pallet making sure that the edges are jogged so that the sheets line up perfectly on top of one another. This is an important step taken to ensure uniformity in the cutting process. The printer will take care to pack the sheets on the pallet and strap them tightly so they don’t move in transit.

At this point, the envelope converter takes over. I’ll pick up where this leaves off in my next post.


Topics: envelope manufacturer, envelope converting, envelope converting layout, envelope converting process, envelope blank, spotter sheet, layout, envelope converting basics

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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