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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

Envelope Construction: Diagonal Seam or Side Seam?

Posted by Jerry Velona on May 7, 2012 10:56:00 AM

The way an envelope is manufactured can affect how it is used or how it looks to the recipient.  One of the methods offered by envelope converters to tailor the envelope for a particular use is by making them with either side seams or diagonal seams.

The “seams” of an envelope are located in the back behind the flap. All commercial size envelopes are made with one style or the other depending on certain factors. The three main factors to consider are the quantity being made, whether the mailing will be hand or machine-inserted and lastly how the envelope will be printed.

The diagrams below illustrate the look of both construction types. The image directly below is the diagonal seam and the one below that shows the side seam.

diagonal seam envelope diagram2 resized 600

side seam envelope diagram resized 600

Diagonal seam envelopes are pre die-cut and then folded and glued in a separate process.  Side seam envelopes can be made that way as well and typically are when the order quantity is below 100,000 or so.  Side seam construction is more typical and common on large runs because they are made on web-style equipment. The web folding machine uses cutting knives to trim the paper before folding as part of one complete in-line process.  Web machines also typically run at faster speeds than die cut machines which reduces the cost per thousand

With regard to automated inserting; diagonal seam envelopes tend to perform better with most inserters, especially those on the small to mid-size range. Larger and more sophisticated inserters can accommodate side seam envelopes with no problems although some operators still prefer diagonal seams.  The rule here would be to know what the inserting application might be and what equipment is being used before deciding on which style of envelope to use. It’s never a bad idea to run a test beforehand especially if the style of construction is being changed.

The other major factor to consider when choosing the construction style of your envelope is the printing; more specifically, the printing on the back. As the diagram shows, the side seam style allows for a smooth, fold-free- panel on the back portion of the envelope. If your design requires significant printing coverage in that area which cannot be fit in between the folds and creases of the diagonal seam construction, then side seam is the way to go.  While envelopes can be printed over diagonal seams, printing over the seams can cause ink build-up and gaps in the graphic images; not a good look for sure.

Consulting an envelope converter beforehand on your particular project can save you from problems after the fact. Just click here  and the experts at Elite Envelope will be happy to help you figure things out for best results.  

Topics: elite envelope, elite envelope, envelope manufacturing, envelope converting, envelope die cutting, diagonal seam envelope, side seam envelopes

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 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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