How it’s made: the envelope

a pile of white paper envelopes in printing machine

When you are standing in a queue at the post office preparing to send a letter or package, or when you obliviously fold and insert a piece of paper or birthday card into a stationery envelope, do you ever think about where the envelope came from, its multitude of purposes or how it was made?

ax seal on a letter paper placed on a wooden table

A history lesson

The envelope is believed to have made its first appearance as early as 2000 BC. Back then it was made from clay and used to protect private correspondence. The information was written on clay tablets and baked then another layer was placed over the first and baked again. The recipient would then have to break open the first layer to read the tablet’s contents.

Fast forward to the 1600s, after the invention of paper, King Louis XIV of France popularised a diamond-shaped piece of paper that literally enveloped the piece of paper and was sealed with a wax stamp. This method of sending messages was reserved for the elite.

Then in 1837, Rowland Hill introduced the concept of the stamp in his Post Office Reform, known as the penny postal system. The idea was people could purchase a prepaid ‘wrapper’ to send mail around the UK. The envelope was still hand-folded until Edwin Hill, Rowland’s older brother, invented and patented a steam-powered machine to create what we know today as the envelope.

Machine producing brown letter envelope

Envelope evolution

The production of the envelope was automated in 1853 and was capable of producing 12,500 envelopes per day. James Green Arnold designed the sticky gum application in 1876 and the last significant envelope revolution was the window envelope created by Americus Callahan in 1902.

Today, factories process large amounts of natural and coloured paper and cardboard to make envelopes for many industries and purposes. Die cut machines use ‘stencils’ and large presses to cut multiple sheets of paper or cardboard into envelope blanks.

These stencils move into what is known as the blank sheet envelope folding machine, which scores the fold lines along the length and width of the blank sheet.

As the cut sheets move through an automated folding machine, glue is applied to the relevant edges before these are joined together. Adhesive is then applied to the top flap and left open to dry, which users then stick down before sending.

Different types of Office paper

Enveloped in the 21st century

As envelope printing specialists here at Acme Preston, we thought we’d break down the six envelope categories and their purposes:

Baronial Envelopes are probably the most familiar, traditional envelopes with the pointed flap and are often custom printed envelopes. They’re generally used for invitations, cards (birthday, greetings, celebrations) or announcements.

A-Style envelope flaps are square rather than pointed and are also used for the same applications as highlighted above and used for marketing collateral like brochures and promotional content. They too come in a variety of sizes.

Much like the naming convention, square envelopes are, well, square. They’re more of a custom envelope for specific needs and are used for announcements and specialty cards like printed wedding envelopes and are used as part of direct marketing and advertising campaigns.

Commercial envelopes are arguably the most popular type of envelope. They’re often ordered in bulk, are of premium envelope quality and can be custom branded to suit your business or commercial needs.

Booklet envelopes are designed to fit larger printed items like catalogues, financial booklets or brochures. They’re generally larger and robust as they’re intended for bulkier items or items that must be protected in transit.

Catalogue envelopes are similar in size options and material to the Booklet envelope. The only difference is that the flap is on the short edge of the envelope instead of the long edge like its booklet envelope brother. These types of envelopes are best for leave-behind presentations or documents.

In addition to these envelopes, freight delivery services also use custom padded mail bags, which are based on envelope design.

Different size of envelopes

If the size fits

When selecting envelope sizes, use the guide below to know which envelope is best for you:

  • DL envelopes (dimension lengthwise) fit an A4 piece of paper folded into three
  • DLX envelopes are slightly larger than DL envelopes and fit an A4 piece of paper folded into two
  • B4 envelopes fit an unfolded piece of A4 paper
  • C4 envelopes are slightly smaller than B4 envelopes but also hold an A4 piece of paper
  • C5 envelopes are used for A5 documents, and
  • C6 envelopes are used for A6 (A4 folded into 4) documents or marketing collateral.

With customers across a myriad of industry sectors like finance & legal, health & medical plus schools & education we are guaranteed to have the envelope you need. Be sure to contact our team about the right envelope for your business.

Read more custom branded product articles.

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