Regular letter mail isn't nearly as important as it used to be – the U.S. Postal Service's own numbers show first-class mail dropping by about half since 2001– but for businesses, printed paper is still an important communication tool. That means your business will also need envelopes to hold those contracts, invoices and all of your other correspondence.
Types of Envelopes
There are thousands of different types of envelopes, but you don't have to know them all. They're all differentiated by just a few different factors, including their size and shape, the style of flap and its placement and such. A few are closely associated with specific uses, like the long and narrow envelopes customarily used to hold legal documents.
Others go beyond generic, standard-issue varieties. You might order custom envelopes in an unusual shape and size for promotional purposes. You may order them in colors that match your branding or simply have your letterhead printed on them. For a really distinctive, premium appearance, you can even specify what kind of paper will be used to make the envelope.
Different Envelope Sizes
One of the main differences among envelopes is their physical size. Most stationery sites include an envelope size chart to guide you, but a few are used more widely than most. The #10 envelope at 4 1/8 by 9 1/2 inches is used for most business correspondence in the U.S. because it's the right width to hold a folded sheet of 8 1/2-by-11-inch legal or letter-sized paper. You'll find separate size charts for European envelopes and paper, which are similar but not quite identical to their American counterparts.
Two others you'll use frequently are the smaller #9 and #6 3/4, which fit nicely inside a standard #10 envelope. They're widely used for return mail, often along with an invoice, and they are often referred to as "remittance envelopes" because they're used to remit payment to a vendor.
A "banker envelope" is just a standard envelope with one or more transparent windows in it so you can see through to a printed address or other information inside. This saves printing the same information on both your mailer piece and the individual envelope.
Styles of Envelopes
Envelopes are also distinguished by their shape and the shape and style of their closure flap. General-purpose business envelopes are generally referred to as the "commercial" style, for obvious reasons. A-style envelopes come in a similar range of sizes and shapes but with a square flap, and they're typically used for brochures, promotional pieces or sometimes announcements and invitations.
Booklet envelopes and catalog envelopes are the larger version of A-style envelopes. They're sized to conveniently hold thicker and larger-format printed materials, usually booklets, catalogs and other promotional materials. They can also be ordered with an expanding gusset at the edge to hold thicker items.
"Baronial" envelopes have a deep, triangular flap. They're the kind you'd typically use when you send greeting cards to clients and prospects, but they also work well for invitations and announcements. If you're in the habit of sending personalized "thank you" messages – a very good habit to form – this style of envelope works well with personalized stationery.
Envelope Customization Options
Volume envelope manufacturers typically offer a stock line of envelopes in various styles and colors, which can easily be printed with your logo or letterhead. You can also specify varying combinations of window size and placement in the case of banker envelopes. These are usually inexpensive and available for quick delivery.
Depending on your supplier, you may also have the option of requesting nonstandard sizes and configurations, which can help your print materials stand out from your competitors. Your options include anything from custom colors that match your branding to premium papers. Some papers are distinguished by a greater weight, measured in grams per square meter, while others may be constructed from paper with a distinctive textured or hammered finish.
These nonstandard options and premium papers are created in small runs as custom orders, so you can expect to pay more and wait longer for delivery. That's part of their appeal, though, and can be an integral part of the image you want to project to your clients or potential clients.