By Cassandra Balentine
Part one of one
Envelope printers are designed to handle the specific issues this media is known to present. These include thick materials, seams, glue, and windows that prove challenging to standard digital presses.
“Having a dedicated envelope press frees up your digital press for job multi-tasking, which improves turnaround time while also lowering cost-per-piece and increasing envelope printing capabilities,” comments Tim Murphy, president, iJetColor. He says it also provides the ability to say “yes” to all customer jobs that require more complex, four-color and variable data mail/print/addressing that would typically be outsourced.
In part one of our two part web-exclusive series on envelope printing, we discuss the common issues of printing to envelopes and compare advantages of inkjet- and toner-based solutions.
Envelopes are a notoriously challenging substrate to print to. Several features commonly present complications when overprinting envelopes with digital equipment, including paper type, envelope quality, glue, paper path, and window film.
In some cases, the envelope’s composition and construction may limit the type of graphic artwork and/or the positioning of the content for that envelope style. “Be it wallet or pocket, seams can cause creasing of the media when put through a normal digital printer,” offers Terri Winstanley, product and marketing manager, Intec Printers.
A majority of high-volume mail utilizes white woven uncoated paper as envelope paper. Andrew Schipke, VP marketing and strategic sales, W+D North America Inc., says because of its highly absorbent characteristics and smoothness, it tends to present issues with achieving the highest print quality with CMYK inkjet when compared to specialty treated inkjet papers. “Color gamut range and color density need to be addressed with color matching software and software that controls the amount of inkjet droplets in order to achieve the best printing results,” he explains.
Murphy points out that the lowest quality envelopes are susceptible to warping in the box, which can slow down feeding. Some adhesives may seal shut under the heat or pressure of digital equipment, and uniquely shaped or small envelopes feed poorly through the complex system of standard digital printing equipment.
Schipke agrees, adding that warped envelopes create problems when continuously fed and may cause printhead strikes because the envelope is not laying flat and touches the printheads. “This not only causes unacceptable print but can damage the very sensitive surface of the inkjet printheads,” he explains.
Jesse Heindl, marketing manager, RISO, Inc., says curling is a known issue when printing envelopes. “Rollers can bend and flex the substrate, causing it to curl, gap, warp, and jam within the device. If you’re printing on something you want it to remain as flat as possible.”
Windows are another challenge, especially when toner-based systems are used with heated fusion systems. “Standard polystyrene window film is heat sensitive so when using toner-based systems with heated fusion of the inks you need to switch to a heat-resistant window film. This is a more expensive window film and has been the basis for many printers switching to inkjet systems, which can run with the lower cost standard window films. Traditional window film for a #10 envelope represents around seven percent of the total envelope cost for a single address window,” shares Schipke.
Overall, envelopes are a problematic substrate. “You’ve got issues with thickness because you’re sending essentially two sheets through the printer at a time, you’ve got an unusual shape if the flap is open, and you’ve got glue on one side—not to mention the film of a windowed envelope. “You run that through a number of rollers and under a fuser, and you’re almost guaranteed to have a bad time somewhere,” says Heindl.
Inkjet or Toner
Similar to their production printing counterparts, envelope printers come in toner and inkjet configurations.
Murphy believes that in general, inkjet solutions provide both greater capabilities and greater profitability, explaining that it is two to four times faster due to faster imaging speeds; features a straight feed-path; and offers four-color, full-bleed image capability.
“The only challenges to inkjet printing are some systems do not provide a comprehensive color matching technology and inkjet print most closely matches offset print rather than raised toner look and feel. Some customers complain that larger than normal deposits of profits shocked their bankers, but that is an easy problem to overcome,” says Murphy.
Heindl believes toner-based technologies were never really meant for envelope printing. He adds that inkjet technology has made great strides in recent years, addressing several of the issues that make printing on envelopes such a challenge.
As previously noted, heat is a known issue for envelope printing. Here, inkjet has the advantage. “Inkjet printers are a heatless process, ink is dropped directly onto the substrate to eliminate that risk.”
In addition to dedicated envelope printers, another way to add envelope printing is through a hybrid option. “Hybrid inkjet solutions utilize customers’ existing analog envelope web presses and finishing equipment, thus saving companies tons of money. There is also no operator learning curve. Adding hybrid inkjet breathes new life into this legacy equipment making it capable of inkjet printing speeds of up to or exceeding 1,000 feet per minute,” says Bill Papp, product manager, Document Data Solutions.
On the other hand, Winstanley points out that toner-based solutions provide a much faster print capability so higher production runs can be realized as well as cost per print in this scenario. “Output is also waterproof and a diverse range of different substrates can be used to print on the digital press including synthetics, cards, boards, and papers.”
An envelope printer can improve the efficiencies of a print provider or environment that processes a lot of mail. However, finding the right solution and getting staff on board is imperative to success.
“The greatest challenge is finding the machine that best compliments your current machine configuration—no digital press does it all. Your operation and customer demands will determine what output volume, quality, envelope size, and capabilities you need in an envelope press,” says Murphy. “Most customers find inkjet dedicated envelope presses best match an existing offset, liquid toner-based digital press operations, and production-class toner print devices once properly calibrated and color corrected,” he adds.
“I think that one of the greatest challenges we’re facing is resistance to change,” adds Heindl. “People have been pre-printing envelopes for so long and working with toner devices for such a long time, that people have just accepted that there’s no other way to do things. But some are coming around to the shift to inkjet, and they’re starting to realize that the old method of storing cases of preprinted envelopes isn’t just inefficient, it’s unnecessary. It’s a paradigm shift for people.”
Print providers and other environments that process a lot of mailing may consider investing in a dedicated envelope printer, or adding the feature as an inline option on press. Because this substrate poses a lot of potential challenges, running envelopes through a typical printing press leaves it vulnerable to down time.
In part two of this series we highlight several digital envelope printers. dps
Read part two, Digital Envelope Printers
Jul2020, DPS Magazine