“Begin with the end in mind.”
Stephen Covey /
The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People
This happens all too often… a project is conceived, designed, and printed before any thought goes into how it will be mailed. When this happens, typically an envelope is selected that doesn’t fit correctly. When we say begin with the end in mind, we’re suggesting that early in the planning process some thought should be given to how the project will be distributed; specifically, what type and size envelope will be used.
If you intend to mail your brochure, invitation, thank-you card, or other material, it is a good idea to size the piece to fit in a standard envelope. Although it is possible to have envelopes custom-manufactured in a special size, the process is expensive and not feasible for fewer than 10,000 envelopes.
Types of Envelopes Used in Business
Envelopes are made for many purposes, so it is useful to categorize them according to use.
Commercial envelopes are used for business purposes such as correspondence, direct mail, and invoicing/payment. Commercial envelopes are typically made of 24# basis weight paper in either fine writing or white book/offset grades in these popular sizes:
• #10, measuring 4.125 x 9.5: an 8.5 x 11 sheet (such as a sheet of letterhead or a brochure) that is tri-folded fits perfectly into a #10.
• #9, measuring 3.875 x 8.625: (slightly smaller than a #10): also holds a tri-folded 8.5 x 11 sheet, and will also fit into a #10. Often used as a reply or remittance envelope.
• 6 ¾, measuring 3.625 x 6.75: fits into a #10, so can also be used for reply or remittance. Also holds a smaller statement.
These three sizes are all available with a standard window (placement in lower left corner) and with inside tint for security. The most common sealing method is glue that needs to be moistened.
Large envelopes are used for mailing bulkier material, booklets, or multiple sheets where folding is undesirable. There are two styles of large envelopes: catalog and booklet. A catalog envelope has the flap located on the shorter side, while a booklet envelope has the flap on the longer side. Large envelopes are typically made of 24# or 28# stock, either white wove or manila. The most popular sizes are:
• 6x9: holds 8.5 x 11 sheets folded in half.
• 9x12: holds 8.5 x 11 sheets without folding.
• 10x13: holds 8.5 x 11 sheets without folding but has more capacity than 9x12.
Common sealing methods are glue, peel-and-seal, metal fasteners, and button & string.
Specialty envelopes are used for social correspondence and invitations. A good rule of thumb when choosing the size of a specialty envelope is to have at least .25 inch more in height and width than the insert. The most popular specialty envelopes are:
• Baronial: typically available in white or off-white stock. This envelope has diagonal seams and a pointed flap and can be used with a panel card or fold-over card of coordinating size. Used for formal announcements, invitations, greeting cards, and some personal stationery. The most popular sizes are:
o #4: 3.625” x 4.625”
o #5 ½: 4.375” x 5.625”
o #6: 5” x 6”
o #7 or Lee: 5.25” x 7.25”
Each size of baronial envelope will fit into the next largest size. Because of the pointed flap, baronial envelopes usually cannot be sealed by machine.
• Announcement: also called A-style, these have side seams and square, deep flaps and are available in more kinds of stock than a baronial. Used for invitations and personal stationery, the most popular sizes are:
o A-2: 4.325” x 5.75”
o A-6: 4.75” x 6.5”
o A-7: 5.25” x 7.25”
Each size of announcement envelope will fit into the next largest size.
Basic Envelope Parts
It is easier to understand envelope construction if you first look at an envelope as a blank, or simply in its unfolded form. Although some envelopes may require unique construction, the majority consist of four basic parts:
• The flap
• The face (this is the solid side of the envelope, opposite the seams)
• The side seams (or wings)
• The bottom seam
The side seams and the bottom seam fold together to form the back of the envelope. When fully formed, the envelope consists of three basic sections: flap, face, and back. Envelope lengths and heights are dimensions that help the manufacturer determine which envelope machine should be used to produce the envelope.
Envelope Sealing Methods
Modern envelopes offer a variety of sealing methods:
• Moisture activated (also known as “lick and stick”) has a gum applied to the flap. Envelope manufacturers have developed moisture activated envelopes that perform particularly well when sealed by machine.
• Press and seal has two flaps, each with a strip of latex that adheres when pressed together.
• Peel and seal has a paper strip over the latex for protection. Remove the strip and press the flap to seal.
• Metal fasteners are common on large catalog or booklet envelopes, particularly those made of manila stock.
• String and button, a metal or paper button with a string that wraps around the button, are common on an envelope that will be opened and closed frequently.
• Tamper-evident has a perforated strip on the top flap; once opened, it cannot be resealed.
How Envelopes are Made
Amazingly, it wasn’t until the development of adequate machinery in the twentieth century that mass production of the envelopes we use today even became a possibility. Despite the development of machines to highly automate modern envelope manufacturing, the steps in the process are the same as in the 1840s; create envelope blanks from sheets of paper, affix glue and adhesive, and fold.
Envelope blanks are cut from large sheets of paper with a steel die, akin to the way a cookie cutter cuts dough. The size and shape of the blank varies depending on the size and type of envelope being manufactured. If needed, windows are cut and transparent material glued into place. Glue is applied to the seams of the envelope, and moisture activated glue is applied to the flap. The final step is folding the blanks to form the envelope.
The large sheets of paper from which envelope blanks are cut can be printed prior to die cutting on either the outside or inside of the finished envelope. Outside printing is often decorative, while a tint on the inside provides a “no-peek” safety feature.
Design Considerations When Printing Envelopes
Envelopes can present some unique printing challenges. Here are two to consider when deciding how the envelope will be designed:
• When printing an envelope, a bleed is any printed element that extends beyond the edge. A full bleed means the printed elements extend beyond all four edges. Since it is not practical to print right to the edge of an envelope, typically the image needs to be printed first and then converted into an envelope. This may not add much expense if a large number of envelopes are being printed, but can add quite a bit as a percentage on short runs.
• Because the thickness of envelopes may vary due to how they are folded and glued, this may present a printing challenge due to the unevenness.
Let Us Help
Envelopes still play an important role in business communications and transactions as well as direct mail marketing. We can help guide you through the choice of envelopes for various purposes to help you find the perfect application. To discuss options, call 781.337.0002 and speak to one of our sales representatives for an appointment.