Envelopes play a huge part in delivering our important messages. Think about the Academy Awards: “The envelope, please.” When you received that all important college letter of acceptance. Perhaps a birthday card from Grandma? All are memorable life messages delivered in an envelope.

    To provide a sense of just how long the envelope as has been around, history tells us it was used by the Babylonians in 2000 BC to protect important documents and, quite possibly, letters. The first envelopes were clay wrappers. Clay in its “plastic state” was folded over the message, crimped shut and then baked. This envelope provided the ultimate security as it had to be completely destroyed to gain access to the message within.

    There is even evidence of envelope usage dating back to biblical times. In the Book of Esther, King Ahasuerus summoned his queen Vashti to witness his gathering of princes and nobles from across the land. She refused to attend. The king was furious and, determining not to allow such disobedience, a new law was made. The proclamation was created and sent out in every language stating that “men should bare rule in their house, and women should obey.” Queen Vashti was promptly removed and Esther became the new queen! You might say that Esther was, in effect, the first to benefit from a direct mail campaign.

    In 1775, before the Postal Regulatory Commission and shape-based pricing, the first postal envelope was nothing more than folded sheets of paper. Postage was based on distance and letter size. For example, a single sheet of paper (letter) cost 11 pence (22 cents) to mail from Boston to Philadelphia.

    Today we have hundreds of envelope choices to explore and choose from. Before deciding, you must be mindful of important factors that impact postal regulations including size, color, machinability, window position, and correct BRE set up. These are just a few factors to consider if you want your envelope choice to have optimum processing speed as well as lowest postage costs.


    Machinability standards are different for each inserter manufacturer and vary with each model. There are implications if you ignore flap angles, throat depth, seams, or paper weight. Consider this: You are processing a quarterly mailing of 100000 statements. This mailing has to be completed in two shifts when suddenly the new pallet of envelopes you are using begins to jam. What are the cost implications? Now your previous inserting speed of 12,000/hr. is reduced to 3,000/hr. You discover that “the purchasing team got a good deal on these envelopes,” but, unfortunately, they do not meet your inserting equipment specs. A job that should have taken 10 hours now takes 25 hours to complete and you miss the deadline. When you add up the cost of overtime, missed SLA, and material waste, the figures do not come close to the savings anticipated by going with a less expensive envelope.

    This situation can be prevented when you set up processes to include communication to collaborate with procurement, marketing, and envelope and hardware vendors to ensure the envelopes you are using meet your specific equipment requirements.

    KEY PRACTICE: Establish processes and keep a file of approved envelope specifications to be followed for reordering.

    What About Size and Envelope Color?

    Do these factors matter when choosing an envelope? Absolutely! Let’s say your company’s marketing department has a great idea for a holiday card. They choose a square dark red paper color envelope. The shape does not fit inserting machine specs, so you are forced to hand insert. Your meter only uses red ink for postage evidencing, so now each envelope has to be stamped. And there is not enough contrast between the envelope color and black inkjet address, so you have to use white labels that are hand applied. Not only does it take longer to process, but a square envelope is not compatible with USPS shaped-based letter size rates and is out of aspect ratio. Your postage rate is almost 22 cents per piece higher than was budgeted. What a nightmare!

    KEY PRACTICE: This scenario could have been prevented with better communication at the start of the project design long before it arrives in the mail center for processing. Marketing should be provided with the USPS templates showing dimensional standards for letter size mail rates as well a checklist/proofing process to verify material postal compliance.

    Window Envelopes Present Opportunities for Material Costs Savings if Used Correctly

    Work with your envelope manufacturer and equipment vendor to ensure the window material has clean edges where the glassine/plastic is adhered to the paper, and test the envelope for machinability.

    KEY PRACTICE: Consult your data and/or the document creation team to help you determine the correct window size. Have them create sample test records with the longest and deepest address block including keylines, OEL, and barcode to ensure it fits the window and passes the tap test.

    Are You Planning to Include a BRE (Business Reply Envelope) with Your Outgoing Promotions?

    If created properly, it is a wonderful, cost-effective tool for quick accurate response. Design compliance is crucial for optimum postal processing and correct BRE costs. Take, for example, Company A. Its postage costs were not lining up with the budgeted postage projections for the campaign. In reviewing the envelopes, it was discovered that the company was enrolled in the QBRM program, but the mail center printed the ZIP+4 and IMb for postcard size onto a #9 BRE. This mistake created the 2% USPS processing error threshold, and the envelopes were removed from the QBRM program. This discount program removal increased their return postage costs by 42 cents each!

    KEY PRACTICE:To avoid these errors you should designate one person within your company to manage your BRM program. Engage your USPS design analysis for help, and require all reply pieces go through a QC review for postal compliance before printing.

    Security Tint Lining for Envelopes

    These tints protect confidential client information/data as well as improve customer confidence. Tints can be custom printed with your company logo which also prevents “rogue” printing by unauthorized personnel who do not have complete access to your approved envelope specifications.

    KEY PRACTICE:To maintain consistency, keep your envelope contents secure, and ensure your corporate identity is intact as designed, have one person on your team responsible to oversee this process.

    The goal of a mailing is to reach the customer with a message that appeals to their needs, generates a response, and is delivered in a timely fashion meeting USPS processing standards at the most efficient postage rates possible. This is not only attainable but sustainable if you are mindful of the envelope manufacturing requirements necessary for success and establish processes accordingly. You may not win an Oscar for your efforts, but the contribution to your company’s communications will be invaluable.

    Kathy Battin, CMDSM, MDC, MDP, CDMP, is VP Postal Affairs & Project Management, and Crystal May, MCMP, QPP, MQC, MDP, is Senior VP, Consulting & Solution Design, Postal Source.