Envelope printing has come a long way since the days when Confederate soldiers folded wallpaper to serve as a carrier for their letters home. These days, the vast majority of the estimated 400 billion envelopes used annually worldwide are printed in 4 ways: offset, flexographic, flat sheet litho and digital. In today’s post, we will focus on offset printing.

The name offset comes from the process whereby a metal printing plate is burned with the image which is then transferred or “offset” to a printing blanket and then applied to the envelope. Small, 2 color offset presses such as Multi and AB Dick can be adapted to print envelopes with the use of an envelope feeder. While relatively slow, these do an OK job for small quantity runs (2,500 or fewer).

For anything over that quantity, envelopes are most economically run on a Jet press. These are specially designed for envelopes and some of the newer models (we have a couple at Elite) can achieve speeds up to 50,000 per hour. Those of us in the biz will use this word as a verb as in “those envelopes need to be jetted”, etc. This is sometimes confused with ink-jetting which is a completely different animal (used to print addresses on bulk mailings). Jet is a brand name for envelope printing presses made by the Halm Corporation. The vast majority of offset presses used by envelope companies are this type and brand. The quality is excellent and very consistent.

Elite Envelope jet press quality envelope

How do you know if offset printing is right for your envelope job? The two main criteria to consider are the quantity you are looking for and the specific graphic image you want printed.

Quantity: – Offset printing is the most economical way to go on jobs of 2,500 and over up to around 100,000. Jobs from a handful to around 2,500 are most economically done on one of the smaller, (non-Jet) presses previously mentioned. These are in use at most local Instant Print type shops which would most likely be your best option for a 1 or 2 color job of that size. Anything 2,500 or more would be best sent to an actual envelope company which utilizes Jet presses. . At Elite, we routinely print jobs from 2,500 into the millions on our Jets.

Quality: – Certain graphic images such as those containing fine lines, long, thin lines, half-tones (photos) screens (lighter shades of a darker color made by a concentration of tiny dots of varying density) or tight registration (a combination of images placed very close together or actually touching) generally require offset printing for best results. An envelope expert can tell from viewing your artwork what the best printing method would be.

In the next post, I’ll get into flexographic printing. As always, your comments are most welcome and I’ll respond to each of them.