Back in the late nineties our print and mail service bureau was producing bills, statements, and other documents for hundreds of customers in industries such as financial services, government, legal, and insurance. Practically every one of those documents was inserted into a #10 single-window envelope. We maintained a warehouse whose shelves were crammed with at least one envelope version for every customer.

I recall thinking back then we ought to switch at least some of our applications over to closed-face envelopes. Inkjet printers that could be mounted at the end of an inserter line were fairly new at the time, as was the concept of file-based processing to control inserting operations or print the addresses. But the concept made a lot of sense to me.

My ideas were shot down. Those inkjet printers couldn't produce the quality or the color variations that were necessary. The automated document factory technology required to accurately print the correct addresses on the envelopes involved a large financial investment. The approach was unworkable for an organization of our size.

A Different Story Today
Modular devices to print full-color high-resolution images on envelopes as they exit the inserting machine are now available. With modern equipment, service providers can print color logos in the return address area and match their customer's corporate branding specifications. Accuracy control through file-based processing is now available from a number of vendors at prices that smaller shops can afford. Portions of what was once a million dollar investment are now available at a fraction of the cost. Many smaller operations can now fit the hardware and software investments necessary to guarantee address printing accuracy into their budgets.

The same benefits of eliminating window envelopes that got my attention in 1997 are still present - especially for service providers who run lots of different jobs for multiple customers:

1. Envelope Stock - Instead of managing a warehouse full of custom window envelopes, print providers can order large quantities of a single, plain white #10 envelope that can be used for multiple applications. The customer logo and return address can be printed on the envelopes as they are used. Obsolescence eliminated, as is the chance an operator might load the wrong envelopes into the inserter.

2. Machine Adjustments - With closed-face envelopes it will not be necessary to adjust the folding plates on the inserters to accommodate different window positions or sizes. Leaving the wrench in the toolbox decreases idle time between jobs, increasing quality and productivity.

3. Higher Page-Counts - If you accumulate pages before folding you know the address can creep up and out of the window as the page count increases. This isn't a problem if there is no window. Similarly, issues such as multiple address lines or data records with extra-long address elements that do not fit in the window are no longer concerns if printing addresses directly on the envelopes.

4. Privacy - Companies have been sued or fined because private information printed on the documents was visible through the envelope window. A closed-face solution eliminates this risk.

5. Document Design - Eliminating the need to accommodate a window frees up space on the documents. No longer will it be necessary to adjust margins or reserve large areas of valuable document real estate for the address block. The address information that is printed on the document can be placed anywhere. Or it might be eliminated altogether. More effective space utilization may even lower your page counts.

6. Combining Jobs - If jobs use the same outbound envelopes, service providers have more opportunities to merge several small jobs into larger ones and reap the rewards of higher presort density and increased throughput.

If I were starting a print/mail service bureau today I'd seriously consider building it on the assumption that we'd use closed-face envelopes as the default. Mail piece tracking and integrity controls are getting to be a minimum capability anyway, so any shop that is reading document ID information from the statement pages is half way there. All that is necessary is to add the sending address and return address information to the mail piece database and install the necessary printing devices on the inserting equipment.

Mike Porter is an expert in Print and Mail operations and President of Print/Mail Consultants, an independent consulting firm that helps companies nationwide improve their production workflows or implement new technology. For more tips visit and sign up for Practical Stuff - the free newsletter for document operations. Your comments are welcome. Send them to Follow Mike on Twitter @PMCmike