A DESIGNER IN THE PRINTER’S DEN
In this blog series, the creative director of our sister company, Blackbuck Marketing, gives us an insider’s view of what a graphic designer can learn working inside a printing company.
If you’ve ever designed direct mail, at some point you have no doubt designed an envelope. And it is likely the item that gets the least attention.
Let’s say you’re designing an end-of-year appeal letter for a non-profit. You might spend ages going back and forth with the client as they revise the letter multiple times. You might devote considerable energy to making the remit device graphically appealing. (“Just $50 will feed this kitten for six months!”)
And then it’s all got to tuck into something for mailing. You know that envelope needs to look visually appealing so it doesn’t immediately get tossed into the recycling bin at the end of its journey. So you take a few minutes to cover the front of the envelope with one of your client’s gripping photographs, typeset the return address at the top left, and position where the mailing address will go. Easy peasy lemon squeezy.
But here’s the thing that I never realized until I worked in a print shop: if you’re going to have an image fill the entire front of that envelope, that means the image needs to go right to the edge. How’s that going to work?
Typically when you want an image or other graphic to go right to the edge of a printed piece, you need to build in what’s called bleed. That means in your layout software, you extend the edge of your image or graphic at least ⅛” past the edge, as shown in the image below. Your print shop will then print out the whole thing, bleed and all, and trim away that ⅛” excess (everything outside the red line in the image below). That way, you won’t accidentally get any white showing up around your edges.
Great, but how would this work with an envelope? You can’t trim the edges off an envelope or you’ll end up slicing it right open.
You can incorporate bleed into an envelope, but that’s done by folding the bleed in rather than trimming it off. This means that instead of printing onto an already-folded-and-glued envelope, your printer will almost certainly need to print your file flat and then “convert” it: that is, die cut it to an envelope shape, fold it, and glue it. The bleed ends up folding around to the back side of the envelope, as in the example below.
Essentially, when you submit an envelope design with bleed, you’re telling the printer you want them to create an envelope for you from scratch. As you can imagine, this costs extra money because of all the additional steps (and therefore labor and machine time) involved.
This extra cost may well be worth it. Envelopes with full bleed do have a great look. But if your client is working with a limited budget, you don’t want to saddle them with unexpected costs. Ask your printer to quote for a converted and unconverted envelope for your job so you can see the difference and decide for yourself.