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Pushing the Envelope Beyond Ordinary

Custom Envelope Variation – Why?

Posted by Jerry Velona on Apr 4, 2017 10:35:31 AM

Manufacturing an envelope in any size or type; custom envelope, specialty envelope or even a standard envelope involves several distinct processes.  Envelope converting can be a little confusing especially for someone not familiar with how it’s done.

One of the most common concerns from customers of envelope converters is the degree of variation in the product.  By variation, we mean the slight differences in overall size of the envelope, window placement and print placement from what was ordered.

Variation is the result of the three main stages that paper goes through to become an envelope: cutting, folding and gluing and, in some cases, envelope printing.  Another major factor is the nature of the raw material; i.e. paper.

Envelope blanks for converting.jpg

Cutting:  The unfolded piece of paper that becomes an envelope is called a “blank”. Blanks are cut by placing a steel cutting die that resembles a cookie cutter (except much bigger and heavier!) on top of a large ream of paper. The die is then pressed down by the cutting machine until it goes through the entire ream or “lift” of paper.  Paper is a naturally pliable substance.  As the die cuts through the ream, a slight bending or bowing can occur until it reaches the bottom and the paper ream “breaks” at which time it will lay flat.  That slight movement during cutting can cause some of the blanks to vary in size by as much as 1/16” from others.  The hardness or thickness of the paper can be factor as well as the sharpness of the die and the number of sheets in the ream. But ultimately, some variation as a result of die-cutting is unavoidable.

9D6A7832 small file.jpg

Folding:  Once the blanks are cut, they are then loaded into the machine which applies the glue and folds them into a finished envelope. The typical envelope folding machine is between 20 and 30 feet long. The envelope blank will run all the way from one side to the other and then back again through scoring blades, window panel cutters and glue stations.  While envelope folding equipment is engineered for precision, there is a certain amount of movement during the process that is normal and, unfortunately, unavoidable. That movement can account for an additional variation of up to 1/16”.

In our next post, we’ll finish up the reasons for variation and also discuss some strategies customers can take to minimize its effect.

Topics: specialty envelopes, envelope converting, Envelope variation, custom envelopes

Custom Envelopes and "Overs"

Posted by Jerry Velona on Mar 16, 2017 10:29:58 AM

One of the most persistent questions posed by customers ordering specialty envelopes is, “why am I being billed for more (or fewer) envelopes than I ordered?”  Ah yes, the dreaded “over/under” question!

Annoyed designer gesturing in front of her laptop in her office.jpeg 

On custom envelope jobs, most envelope converters and printers will mention the possibility of more or fewer pieces being produced on the customer’s order.  Many customers tend not to pay attention to this; especially ones who are new or not familiar with the process.  Then, when the job or invoice is received, the howling begins.  It’s understandable for sure.

Despite what might seem to be a brazen attempt to increase the order under a dubious pretext, there is a very sensible reason why envelope converters maintain this policy. That reason is centered on the waste involved in the process. 

Let’s say a customer is ordering 5,000 special double window envelopes on a special stock.  There are two main processes in the manufacturing of envelopes. One is die-cutting of the paper (and maybe one of the windows) and the second is the actual folding and gluing of the paper to create the envelope. 

Setting up the paper to be cut involves placing a die in just the right position. Whether it’s done manually or automatically, it takes some trial and error before the cuts come out just right.  Until that point there are numerous sheets that are cut and discarded.  Then, once the paper is cut, setting up the folding machine and getting the specs exact also requires a lot of “make ready” paper.  Lastly, once the machine is running, constant fine adjustments must be made to keep the job running properly.  This can involve numerous stops and restarts which waste more paper.

In order to have enough paper to allow for possible contingencies, a company must order a significantly higher amount which adds cost to the job.  Being able to bill for a reasonable amount of “overs” allows a company to cover these added costs while providing extra envelopes that a customer will more than likely be able to use.  The alternative is for a customer to specify at the quoting stage that they do not want an overage on their order. What most companies will do in this case is simply include their extra costs into the price.  Under this scenario, the customer will pay the same overall cost for his job but without the benefit of more envelopes.  

“Unders” or receiving a quantity less than the amount ordered is also a possibility. It is less common however as getting less is generally a bigger problem to customers than getting more so companies will try to buy more than enough paper to ensure that the count is met.

What is a “reasonable” amount of overs or unders?  In the envelope world, generally the figure is up to 30% on minimum quantities and then the percentage declines as the quantity of the order goes up.  The higher percentage of overs would apply to more expensive specialty envelopes like custom Tyvek envelopes, bubble mailers and poly mailers.

Topics: bubble envelopes, tyvek envelopes, specialty envelopes, envelope converting, custom envelopes, overs/unders, envelope converter, poly mailers

Top Five Envelope Custom Envelope Converting Tips

Posted by Jerry Velona on Feb 27, 2017 11:12:35 AM

Envelope converting can be a confusing and somewhat daunting experience for someone not familiar with the process.  For printed envelopes, the term simply means printing on a flat sheet and having the sheets die cut and then folded and glued into envelopes.  The term also applies if you’re just cutting the paper with no printing. You are “converting” sheets of paper into envelopes:  pretty basic stuff.  Once you’ve gone through the process for the first time; it becomes much clearer and easier to understand.

Maybe you’re thinking about designing a custom envelope for a customer. Or maybe you’re an envelope printer and your customer is asking about a specialty envelope.  Here are a few things to keep in mind for your first converting job:

  1. Deal directly with an actual converter – Many companies that sell envelopes and have the word “envelope” in their name are not converters. It’s best to ask first before sending over an order.  You’ll be better served by those more experienced in the process and doing the job in-house.
  2. Preparation is the key to good results - A good converter should provide you with a specific list of instructions before you begin. Most important is a layout of the printed sheet showing where the envelopes should be placed. They will help you through the process.
  3. Not all design ideas are created equal - If the envelope is printed with a solid that bleeds to an edge, the image must wrap-around to the back by at least one-eighth of an inch in order to account for the normal variation inherent in the process. For window envelopes you can bleed the copy right to the edge of the window when converting. This is not possible with regular envelope printing on a pre-made envelope
  4. Understand what is possible in the process – speaking of variation, this is something that many designers don’t take into account when creating their envelope. Cutting paper in large reams and folding and gluing involves some variation – generally one-sixteenth of an inch in either direction.  This needs to be understood in order to have a satisfactory result and a realistic idea of what to expect.  Something that looks great in a direct mail marketer’s imagination doesn’t always translate to the finished product.
  5. Why convert? – If you want an envelope that features a large amount of ink coverage, generally with bleeds on most or all sides, the best way to proceed would be to print on flat sheets and convert. Anything short of that might be able to be printed on a jet press using pre-made or stock envelopes at a much lower cost. A converter and printer will be able to advise you on the best way to go on your specialty envelopes based on a simple inspection of your artwork.

 Envelope types.jpg

Custom printed envelopes can enhance your image and cause a potential buyer to be curious enough to at least open it up.  Choosing the right envelope company; one which does the envelope converting, printing and manufacturing under the same roof and can make the process easy to understand, is a good place to start.

Topics: envelope printing, specialty envelopes, envelope converting, custom envelopes, envelope converter

Envelope Cost Saving Tips

Posted by Jerry Velona on Jul 9, 2013 10:58:00 AM

I hope everyone had an enjoyable 4th of July weekend.  It’s one of my three favorite holidays; the other two being Thanksgiving and Christmas. It gives us the opportunity to celebrate our good fortune to be Americans and remember the bravery and wisdom of those who founded our country and fought for its independence. God bless America!

Now, did someone say envelope cost saving tips? 

Here are a couple of real-time examples of situations I’m working on which you might find helpful.

Specialty Envelopes

A customer asked us to quote a special size expansion envelope on Herculink stock. (Herculink is a durable, tear and water resistant material similar to Tyvek.  It has reinforcement threads running through it which show on the outside of the envelope but is generally a less expensive alternative). The customer’s sample measures 9 ½ x 12 ½ x 1 ½.  They are using it to mail a large number of letter size sheets for compliance purposes. The customer’s main complaint is waiting 6 weeks for this item to be produced. They use approximately 7,000 per month.

We were able to make two suggestions which they found helpful. First; we suggested switching to the closest standard size which was 10 x 13 x 1 ½. That cut their lead time to less than two weeks. The size they were currently using wasn’t absolutely critical and other than the fact that the papers would move a little more in the larger size, it wouldn’t make a difference.  Secondly, we suggested they consider ordering a six month supply (14,000) and storing half with us. That enabled them to significantly lower their unit cost (per thousand) while having a supply available for immediate shipment when required.

Envelope Printing

We are getting ready to produce a 6 x 9 booklet style envelope with two-color printing on both sides. The customer’s creative team came up with a design and he sent it to me to review prior to ordering. 

Everything looked great but I noticed that a certain graphic image on the back of the envelope appeared to extend underneath the flap. When I questioned this, I was told that yes, this is how they designed it.

I explained that having the image extend underneath the flap required that the envelope be printed in a different and much more expensive way. We quoted the job to print on one of our Jet presses which can take a stock, pre-made envelope and print on both sides at the same time (known as “perfecting” in the printing trade).  The envelopes come out of the box with the flaps folded down which means that printing underneath the flap is not possible in that method.  The only way to get the image under the flap was to print the job on flat sheets and then convert (fold and glue) into envelopes after the fact.  That is commonly done but would have increased the cost of the job significantly.

When I pointed this out to the customer, he said that having the image go under the flap wasn’t critical and altered the artwork to stop it 1/16” short of the flap. That allowed us to print it on the Jet as we quoted.

Elite Envelope blog

What’s the take-away from these examples?

  • Use a standard size product whenever possible. That will almost always be less expensive than a custom size.
  • Instead of just reordering the same item time after time, take a look at each project anew when it comes up. Sometimes things are ordered and reordered for no particular reason other than “it’s always done that way”.  Slight changes in design or size can sometimes result in big savings.
  • Ask your envelope supplier (preferably a converter or direct source) to suggest possible ways to cut your costs. You might be surprised with the options that are available.
  • Envelope printing can be tricky with various things to consider: bleeds, coverage, seam marks, offsetting, etc.  Sending a file to your envelope converter for prior review is always a good idea if possible.

I’ll be back next time with some more examples. In the meantime, enjoy the summer and please share some of your experiences with particular envelope or printing orders.

Topics: envelopes, envelope printing, specialty envelopes, envelope cost saving tips

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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