How to Buy the Right Business Envelopes

Did you know envelopes are over five thousand years old? The first examples were very different to those we know today, being hollow spheres of clay that were molded around financial tokens. The original paper envelopes were developed, again to hold money, in China over twenty-one centuries ago. Moving forward to the mid-1800s, all envelopes were still hand-made. Then, in 1845 a patent was granted for an envelope-making machine.

Envelopes as we know them

Like many objects that are in everyday use, it’s easy to assume that we all know everything about them. Often, this simply isn’t the case. Let’s examine both the sizes and styles of the most commonly used envelopes.


When size matters

Especially since the Royal Mail move to the pricing of posted items on size and bulk, the envelope you choose for your letter or package can affect the amount you pay. In business, the impression made by the envelope can also still have an effect on the success, or otherwise, of the message it contains. Let’s examine the most common sizes and their uses:

  • The C4 is 324x229mm, more commonly known as A4, and are often the preferred office envelopes of choice for business and official documents, especially where their appearance (unfolded and in prime condition) can be important. Business tenders, company brochures, and legal documents are prime examples of materials usually best presented in this style of envelope.

  • The C5, at 229x162mm, is half the size of the previous example, therefore is useful for A4 documents that can be folded a single time, or A5 material (such as brochures and booklets) which can still be presented uncreased.

  • The C6 is sized at 114x162, again a half-sized version of the previous example. Therefore, you can fold an A5 sheet once, or an A4 quartered. It’s also a popular size for use with personal folded note cards, or sometimes to contain a business message presented in postcard style.

  • Perhaps most frequently-used, is the DL, at 110x220. It is the envelope of choice for simple business letters or many mass mailings such as you receive at home from credit card or insurance companies or containing your bank statements.

Three final choices

Once you have the size, there are three final choices to make. Firstly, window or plain? The former allows a printed address on a letter to show through, thereby saving time spent addressing or printing the envelope. The latter may be better when it’s vital that the contents are kept completely confidential, or where it’s simpler and quicker to address-print the envelopes.

The second choice is seal-style. Gummed means a lot of individual moistening, whereas either self-seal or peel and seal save that task. Thirdly, the colour. Brown may still offer notions of bills or official communications (such as income tax returns, council tax information and the like); white or cream can appear pristine and well-presented.

Final thought

Your choice of size and style of envelope do reflect on the communication it contains. You’ll also find a range of variations in weights and finishes, depending on how you wish to protect the contents. It is always worth taking a little time to consider the impact you wish to make and then envelope-up accordingly!


Carl Barton is a director of Office Allsorts who has worked in the office products industry for 15 years.

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