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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Envelope Converting Tip: Setting up the sheet for printing.

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jun 4, 2012 11:41:00 AM

One of the most common questions from printers who aren’t familiar with envelope converting is, “Where do I place the impression(s) on the sheet?”

An envelope converter will typically provide a layout to the printer which will show the proper placement of the unfolded envelopes on the sheet to be printed. “Print to the layout” is the short answer to these questions and will usually suffice.  

However, with the growth of digital printing as an economical way to print small-run 4-color jobs, converting jobs of under 5,000 are becoming more common. Digital printers are making customers aware that they can print as few as 500 letterhead and matching envelopes in 4 color process at a reasonable cost. The envelope component is typically printed on flat sheets and then converted for a minimum charge that is less than the cost of setting up a litho press with plates, etc.

In these cases, the printer will be using a small sheet with a one-up impression. The envelope converter will usually provide a die layout that doesn’t always show the proper position on the sheet.

In these cases, the standard rule is very simple. The printer must position the unfolded envelope impression 3/8” of an inch from two sides: typically the flap side will be one and one of the side seams the other.

envelope die cutting through paper 

Often, printers will assume that the envelope must be centered on the sheet. This looks neat and clean but it does not yield good results. The reason is that when the cookie-cutter style high-die cuts through the paper (see photo), it needs to break through the ream.  Envelope dies have a small metal piece screwed to the side in the shape of a small anvil. This is what slices through the paper as the die is pressed down. However, it needs to be positioned no more than ½” from the edge in order to work.

If the envelope impression is centered on the sheet, the “anvil” will not be close enough to the edge and the paper will buckle as it is cut. This will cause more variation in the folding. (See previous blog posts to get an explanation of variation in envelope converting).

So, by all means, print to the layout! But if the layout doesn’t show position, just make sure you place the impression no more than ½” from two sides of the sheet (3/8” is ideal) and you’ll be good to go.

Topics: envelope converting, envelope converting tips, Envelope variation, envelope converting layout, envelope die cutting, envelope converting mistakes

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

Does my envelope need to be converted?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Feb 6, 2012 10:23:00 AM

Ok, so your customer or in-house client wants to do a mailing with a custom envelope: Good for them!

Studies show direct mail advertising to be a very effective way to get your message across. And a colorful and well-designed envelope can help the effectiveness of the message and create interest to open it and find out more.

Your client presents you with an envelope design and now it’s your job to decide how best to get it done.  One of the first decisions is how to print and make the envelope. Here are a few things to keep in mind in order to make the right call.

The three most important factors are the size of the envelope, the size and placement of the window and the amount of print coverage required.

If the envelope is not a standard size, it will most likely have to be custom-made.  If it has a window that is not standard (1-1/8” x 4 ½ ”, 7/8” from the left and ½” from the bottom), the same thing applies. Regardless of whether the envelope even has printing on it, these two factors will have to be taken into account. Obviously an off-the-shelf item in a standard size that can be jet-printed (typically the way envelope companies print envelopes – see other blog posts for more information) is going to be the least expensive way to go.  

However, the most important factor in determining whether an envelope must be converted or not is the amount of printing coverage. The term “converting” is really just another way to say “manufacturing”. However, they are generally not used interchangeably. “Converting” most commonly describes the process by which sheets are printed and then cut and folded to make envelopes.  It can also describe the cutting and folding of flat sheets of paper with no printing but for our purposes, we will stick with the most common use of the term.

Envelope Converting machine

Jet presses have their limitations and that mostly has to do with the amount of print coverage. If your design has either of the following printing characteristics, the envelope will most likely have to be printed on flat sheets and converted into envelopes after the fact:

  • Full coverage front and back

  • Heavy coverage and solids on either side of the envelopes including the flap that bleed to the edge

Anything less than that and it will be a judgment call. Some jet presses (like those at Elite Envelope) can print solids and bleeds to the edge with good results. Some of it has to do with the skill of the pressman (ours are the best!). If you’re unsure, the best way to proceed is to send a pdf of the copy to your envelope company and a trained eye will be able to give you the printing options.  It’s always best to deal directly with an actual envelope converter when you are trying to determine the best way to go. They would have the most expertise on both the printing and converting side.

Good luck and may you be happy and enthusiastic like all recent converts! Feel free to comment or pose a question and I'll be sure to get back to you.

Topics: direct mail, elite envelope, envelopes and printing, envelope manufacturing, jet printing, envelope manufacturer, envelope converting, envelope converting tips, envelope company

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 Tips and Mistakes

Posted by Jerry Velona on Aug 25, 2011 10:49:00 AM

In my previous post, we took the converting process from the point where the printer prepares the sheets and ships them to the envelope converter. Once the sheets are received, the envelope converting process actually begins.

The first step is die-cutting the envelope impressions (or blanks) out of the sheet.  The envelope company will use a steel die – resembling a cookie cutter (see picture below). This is also sometimes referred to as a “high die” as the sides are generally around 4 inches high to account for the size of the ream being cut.

 die cutting envelopes, Elite Envelope & Graphics, envelope converter

Depending on the quantity of the envelopes to be converted, the die-cutting will be either done by hand as the picture shows or in an automated fashion using a programmable hydraulic press (PHP).  The hands-on method allows for a little more accuracy and individual adjustments on cuts which can be improve the results on certain tricky jobs. Once the envelope blanks are cut out of the sheets, they are stacked and ready to be fed into the folding machine.  Each folding machine has a mechanic or “adjustor” who is responsible for setting up the equipment to run the various size envelopes with or without windows.  The adjustor constantly monitors the equipment and pulls off envelopes as they are being made to measure and check glue and other factors which are important to a properly constructed envelope.

Some tips to ensure a problem-free converting experience:

  • Always ensure that the sheets are printed in strict accordance with the layout/template provided by the envelope converter.  If you don’t get one at the time of the order, ask for it. The converter knows how the job is to be laid out for best results. Going by the layout and submitting a proof sheet for prior approval can prevent many of the most common errors.


  • As I’ve covered in previous posts, there is variation inherent in both the cutting and folding of an envelope. If you are printing an envelope that has color which bleeds to one of the folding edges, you must wrap-around the image by at least 1/8” to ensure no white space shows.   The only way to significantly minimize this variation without the wrap-around is to individually die cut each envelope prior to folding. This is a much more costly process and not feasible on a large order. Plus, because of the folding variation, you’re still not going to get them all perfect.


  • If your envelope has full ink coverage all around, you must leave a space – called a no-print area – on the side flaps where they meet the back panel and also on the back panel where it meets the flap. This is where the glue is applied to hold the envelope together and seal it. The adhesion property of the glue is significantly lessened when it is applied on top of heavy ink coverage.  The layout provided by the envelope converter should have these areas marked off.

Topics: elite envelope, envelope converting, envelope converting tips, Envelope variation, envelope converting layout, envelope die cutting, envelope converting mistakes

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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