Mailing technology constantly evolves as new features and functions are introduced to the equipment used to scan, process, insert, meter, and lodge mail pieces as they enter the mail stream. It is important to keep up with the changes to keep the mail moving as efficiently as possible, especially when it comes to upgrading software and keeping up with firmware updates to the systems that control the paper handling, inserting, and sorting. While it is easy to focus on that equipment, the printing technology components are also important.

When it comes to what printing technology you use today, where do you stand? We’re not referring to the document printers that create the bills, statements, postcards, and letter mail, but rather the marking technology that is part of the mailing process. Have you considered an upgrade? There is some great technology that has come into the market in the last decade that makes it possible to add barcodes and marketing content to the outside of envelopes. And not just in black ink, but with spot-color and full-color solutions that allow you to create a customer experience that is consistent with what is inside the envelope. These printing solutions are sometimes integrated into the inserting engines, but there are many that can be added to existing machines with the help of integrators.

If you do not offer custom printing on the outside of the envelope today, this is a great time to investigate the technology available. It’s possible that you may not even offer any printing on the outside of envelopes at all, especially if your production flow is based on window envelopes. Alternatively, you may offer address printing only. If you offer no printing at all, you will be starting at square one as printing on the outside of the envelope will require the addition of printing technology to your mailing line. If you offer address printing, you may still need to upgrade your technology to offer custom messaging on the outside of the envelope. And, in all cases, if you choose to upgrade to full color on the outside of the envelope, you should expect to be upgrading your workflow as well as the printing technology components.

As you consider upgrading your printing processes, start by reviewing your current workflow and mailing systems to determine what could be added with the least disruption to your current environment. Talk to your mailing systems vendors to see what they offer, what the costs are, and what the timeframes might be if you choose to add new capability to your existing systems. But, don’t stop there. Take the next step and look outside your four walls to see what is on offer from other vendors and integrators. And, while you are talking to potential partners, remember to discuss the workflow tools needed to enable the process.

While you are investigating, remember that printing technology comes in many shapes and sizes. You might choose to buy a fully integrated system or a do-it-yourself one, buying components that your team integrates. Inkjet print technology is the most common for this application, and there are many options. There are options for ink technology, with dye-based inks and pigmented inks the most common. Depending on the types of envelopes you typically process, you might find one or the other more appropriate based on the advice of your vendor partners.

Once you have a sense of the technical requirements, talk to your current clients to test their appetite for adding custom messages and images to their mailings. Remember that the USPS offers promotional discounts during the year for adding enhancements to the mail. Linking your capabilities for full-color envelope enhancement to postal discounts could be a win-win for you and your clients. Another selling point is the increasing interest in the customer experience in all communication channels. Adding color images and messaging to the outside of the envelope helps to enrich the communication experience. Especially in the case of regulated communication, it can help to identify to the recipient why they should open the envelope and engage with the communication inside. For marketing communication, it can tease the promise of information on the inside to draw the recipient into a deeper need to open the envelope.

The new world of print technology means that print options for mailers have expanded. Even if you are printing on the outside of the envelope today, this is a good time to update your understanding of what is possible and lay a course for adding more enhancement to the products you offer to your clients.

Pat McGrew is Senior Director Production Software & Services, Keypoint Intelligence / InfoTrends.

This article originally appeared in the November/December, 2019 issue of Mailing Systems Technology.