Toner Offset on personal correspondence letters

Have you ever opened a letter sent to you in the mail and noticed that the toner used to print the body of the letter had offset onto the letterhead paper?   I couldn’t understand why, when I printed the letter out at my desktop laser printer, the letter looked clean and beautiful yet when it arrived on the desk of the person I was mailing it to the toner used to write the letter had offset onto the letterhead paper.

I did an informal study by mailing letters to my home printed on a variety of papers using both my desktop Brother MFC-7220 laser printer and my HP Officejet 5610 inkjet printer.  When I opened my mail  all of the letters had offset on the paper, although some less than others.  Since all of the letters looked clean and beautiful when they left my office in the mail the culprit  in this mystery seemed to be the US Postal Service.

Upon further investigation I discovered that when letters enter the U S Post Office mail stream envelopes go through a labyrinth of sorting machines.  These machines have rollers that move and hold the envelopes along their path to their intended destinations.  The combination of the heat and pressure these rollers apply to the envelopes cause the toner printed on the letter inside the envelope to re-apply itself to whatever paper is next to it.

Here we are in the business of printing letterheads for businesses to use to correspond with and yet those letters look less-than-professional when they are read by the person the letter is sent to.  What can be done about this?

There are a few solutions that came to mind about what to do to remedy this situation, among them;

  • fold the letter inside out when stuffing it into a #10 envelope.  This way the toner offsets on the inside of the envelope instead of on the letter itself.  One problem with this solution is that the letter can be read through the envelope.
  • place a tissue or lightweight translucent sheet of paper over the letter prior to folding it.  This way the toner is offset onto the tissue instead of onto  the letter.  Some of us may remember engraved wedding invitations with a tissue in them.  Engravers learned long ago that since engraving ink sits up on the paper it will rub off onto the paper next to it when rubbed under the pressure of postal equipment.  A tissue was used between the engraved ink and the paper.
  • Send all letters in a 9×12 envelope instead of a #10 envelope.  One problem with this is that the postage is more expensive and the letter still offsets onto the inside of the envelope and you can read through most  9×12’s just as you can with the #10
  • Hand deliver your letter, very expensive but very impressive…

This morning I contacted Julie Schafer of the Printing Industry Digital Imaging Council this morning to discuss this subject.  Julie was aware of this issue and was going to see if there has been any research done in this area.  Julie was going to bring Frank Romano and Daryl Mooney also with PIA into the discussion.  Without a practical solution to this problem I fear that customers will increasingly turn to the email to send correspondence as pdf attachments to be printed out at the receivers desktop instead of mailing letters.  Not only would this trend be bad for those us who print letterheads but it would take another step away from the personal correspondence we are increasing moving away from in our digital world.

More information will follow on this important subject in the coming days.


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