The computer industry has a knack for creating big solutions to big problems. But what about the little problems, like printing addresses on envelopes?
It seems that most offices I visit, no matter how computerized, have at least one typewriter around for typing on envelopes. Traditional PC printers and software make the job too cumbersome, but there are some solutions.
Most laser printers, for example, have a tray where you can feed in envelopes and other odd-sized documents. However, your word processing program may not have any idea where to put the information.
When you feed an envelope into the printer, the software has to print it at a 90 degree angle from the way it usually prints letters. Most programs can do that (it's called "landscape mode"), but it's often a big hassle.
Microsoft Word for Windows 2.0 handles the situation beautifully with a "create envelope" command. You just issue the "create envelope" command and the software is smart enough to locate an address and format the envelope for you. It even remembers your return address and works with a wide variety of business envelopes.
AddressMate Software, a new El Cerrito, Calif., company, (510) 237-7460, just came up with a solution that works with just about any MS-DOS program. It requires a Hewlett-Packard compatible laser printer.
Press a key and AddressMate (introductory price $69.95) will copy an address from the screen and print the envelope. The program will optionally print your return address and add a post office-approved bar code to the bottom of the envelope. AddressMate also maintains a data base of addresses that you can call up for use in your correspondence.
Bar codes are used by the Postal Service to automate letter sorting. It saves time and cuts down on errors. Companies who mail 500 pieces at a time can save 2 cents a letter by using a bar code.
Kiwi Envelopes handles envelope printing for Macintoshes connected to laser printers or ink jet printers such as the Hewlett-Packard DeskJet.
This "desk accessory" runs in the background while you're using another program. You use your mouse to highlight an address, copy it into the Macintosh clipboard, load the envelope, click the print button and you're done.
You can print postal bar codes and can even paste in a graphic in case you want to impress the letter carrier.
The program, which costs $49.95, only handles one address at a time,but that's usually all you need. Kiwi Software can be reached at (805) 685-4031.
With both of these products you have to hand load the envelope into the printer. This may be a hassle in some offices, especially if the printer is shared over a network. Hewlett-Packard and other printer companies offer high-end printers with optional automatic envelope feeders.
If you do run envelopes through your laser printer, you may find that some envelopes tend to bend, wrinkle or even jam the printer. In my experience, cheaper envelopes work best because they tend to be thinner.
Another solution is to use a gummed label. Seiko Instruments and Avery Dennison both offer special little printers, designed specifically to produce gummed labels.
In both cases, the printers plug into your serial port and come with software that can be used while you're using a word processor or other program.
The Seiko Smart Label Printer ($199) comes with easy to use Macintosh or MS-DOS software. A Windows version ($249) will be available later this month.
Avery's Personal Label Printer ($279) is faster and prints better-looking labels, but the MS-DOS version of its software is harder to use. The company also makes a Mac version and is working on Windows software that, hopefully, will make it easier to use. White labels, which come in rolls of 100, cost between 3 and 5 cents each.
I use the Seiko product for labeling file folders, video cassettes other objects but I don't like using labels on my mail for fear that people will think it's junk mail.
Both companies will soon offer clear labels designed to minimize that problem.