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Building A Better Envelope

Take nothing for granted.

Just because a standard #10, closed face, white envelope has worked in the past, doesn’t mean it’s still a control-beater today. Direct marketers understand the value of testing the elements of outer envelopes such as the size, shape, color, paper stock, texture, teaser copy, images, flap style, even postage. These provide new opportunities for breaking through the clutter. Don’t settle for “standard” unless it makes strategic sense.


Outer envelopes don't have to be a standard #10 or 6x9 although these often make strategic sense. A custom envelope can stand out in the daily stack of mail while supporting the creative concept of your package. But even standard envelopes also offer a wide range of choices. For example, here's a sample list of standard envelope sizes and configurations. All can be automatically/machine inserted in most situations. If you're doing large mailings, this is an important consideration. Size charts for different types of commonly used envelopes can be found in Addendum A of this white paper. As with everything in direct mail, even the smallest detail can make a huge difference in response. Various envelope sizes also mail at different postal rates so check with the USPS as part of your design process.

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Paper weight can enhance perceived value. Heavier paper is often associated with higher quality and upscale brands. When selecting paper, ask for envelope samples in varying paper weights to help you decide what's most appropriate. Also factor envelope paper weight into the overall weight of your mailing package when calculating postage costs. The more pieces you're mailing, the more important this becomes.

Printing Techniques

Varnish and embossing add both texture and visual emphasis. Eye-catching metallic inks and 5- or 6-color printing create excitement and add a luxe look. Explore the full range of printing techniques available from your vendors to find those that support your branding and package concept.


Adding or changing the color of your outer doesn't have to add cost but it can significantly add to your response. Direct marketers frequently test, then change the color of a control envelope to maintain its winning status. Track what you see in your own mail. Marketers often find bright colors such as solid red, yellow or orange outperform white. Basic black, manila, and "paper bag" are other looks worth testing.

Involvement Devices

Use a zip-strip opener, peel-off sticker, or pull-off repositionable note to encourage reader retention and interaction. The longer an envelope remains in the hands of your targeted prospect as he/she pulls and peels, the more likely it is that they'll also open it. For ideas, look through your mail or talk with an envelope expert.


Standard window envelopes allow you to use interior components for addressing your mailings. Special windows of unique shapes and sizes on the front or back of an OE also provide the reader with a sneak peek of the envelope's contents. While specifying windows is often left to production or print purchasing, the decision to use them and where to place them should also be part of the creative process.

Images and Graphics

Graphic design and images attract the eye. Test including them on the front and back of your envelopes—you never know which side of an envelope will be seen first. If you're using inline variable data printing (VDP), test variable images to see which have most appeal to target market segments.

Return Address

The return address, also referred to as the corner card, is more than a housekeeping detail. It identifies the sender of the mailing and begins establishing rapport with the reader. Decisions need to be about what it says and how it looks because the return address is a hot spot. It's one of the places your reader's eye goes in those first 3 seconds to decide whether or not to toss your mailing in the trash.


Postage in the upper right-hand corner is another hot spot and shouldn't be left to a printer or letter shop to decide. It's a marketing and creative decision because, again, it helps mail recipients and screeners decide whether or not to keep your mailing. Postal decisions include, but are not limited to using First-Class or Standard Mail postage, a printed indicia or live postage stamp, and a proprietary vs. standard indicia.
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