OpenOffice tip: Everything about envelopes

OpenOffice expert Solveig Haugland walks users through the printing, formatting, and design processes for making a custom envelope.

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Solveig Haugland, Site expert

Envelope printing is the tax return of office suite tasks. Everyone has to do it, and everyone hates it.

Printing envelopes in OpenOffice.org, or in any office suite, is complicated because of printers. When you take printers out of their comfort space of letter or A4 size paper, they get cranky. Well, not cranky; they just have different rules for how they print, and it's not always obvious what those are.

Here's my best take on how to print envelopes successfully. This step-by-step guide is for OpenOffice.org on Windows. It should work the same way on Linux and a Mac.

I'm going to talk about getting started, set some expectations, mention some setup steps and then go through the procedures.

Getting started: Making your printer like envelopes

You will need to fiddle with your printer a bit to find out where it likes envelopes to come through -- left or right, portrait or landscape, tray preferences, etc. You can do this with OpenOffice.org, another program or both. Keep printing your envelope document, inserting it in different locations and orientations.

My printer, for instance, will print in positions A and B but not C. It's just like that. You'll need to try it with envelopes or envelope-sized and -shaped pieces of paper. Consider folding a regular piece of paper in thirds, as you would to fit it in an envelope.

Printer default settings

If you send your printer an envelope and it's all set up to print on letter or A4 sized paper, it will get confused. Best case, the printer will feed through without printing and claim that you're out of paper. So you'll need to specify that envelopes will be the paper to print on. In case your printer settings don't stick very well, as with my printer, you can just change it in the Control Panel. Go to your Control Panel, find the printers, find your printer, then right-click and choose Printing Preferences. Select the envelope size you're using as the paper size, then click OK. (Remember to change it back when you're done.)

How to set up your return address information

If you want to print your return address on envelopes, type it up in the user data window and OpenOffice.org will suck it in when you use the standard envelope function. Choose Tools > Options > OpenOffice.org > User Data. You can overwrite this information later, but it's handy to have it as an option.

Three key steps in printing envelopes

Here are the three important things about printing envelopes. Then I'll get into the step-by-step action.

  1. Create the envelope document. You can do this by choosing Insert > Envelope, or just create a new text document and choose Format > Page and select your envelope as the page size. OpenOffice.org won't take a letter and copy in the address block for you. However, copying and pasting is something you can do fairly quickly.
  2. Set up your printer to know that envelopes are coming through its tray. If your printer is expecting letter or A4, envelopes will be a nasty shock and cause possible chafing. You can do this each time you print, or in your control panel, as mentioned previously.
  3. Know where your printer will be expecting the envelopes: left side or right side, portrait or landscape. As noted previously, this will require some fiddling. Keep printing your envelope document, inserting it in different locations and orientations.

Various ways to print envelopes

The rubber is about to hit the road. There are two ways to create the envelope document, and two ways to get the data in there. Use the one you like best and suits the data you're working with.

  1. If you're typing in the data, not bringing it in from a data source: Make an envelope by just creating a new text document, as described above.
  2. If you're typing in the data, not bringing it in from a data source: Produce an envelope by using the standard envelope feature, as described above.

We finish up with what to do next time you want to print envelopes, so you don't need to go through all this rigmarole again.

Simple approach: Envelopes with data you type in

You can print one or several envelopes with data you just type in, or you can suck the data in from a database. They're similar, but, of course, somewhat different. This section just covers plain envelopes where you type in the data.

Here's a simple approach to creating the envelope document with typed data. You don't need the official "envelope" function at all. Also, if you want to just download an envelope, I created the following procedure.

  1. Choose File > New > Text Document.
  2. Choose Format > Page.
  3. Click the Page tab.
  4. Select the envelope type you want in the Format list, specify landscape for the Orientation option and decrease the margins, as shown.
  5. Click OK.
  6. Now just treat it like a normal document and put the information where you want it. You don't have to use frames, boxes or anything. Just type the information, format it the way you want it and position it where you want it. You can use tabs for the main address, or select the text and choose Format > Paragraph, click the Indents&Spacing tab and specify an indent in the Indent Before Text field. Or you can drag the small hourglass-looking control on the ruler to bring the text farther right. There are a lot of ways to do this.
  7. Choose File > Print. If you haven't already, be sure that your printer is expecting envelopes of the size you specified. You can click the Properties button to get to your printer setup window. The paper size is often in the Paper/Quality tab.
  8. Click OK.
  9. Insert the envelope on the correct side, with the correct orientation (long side in first or short side in first).

The envelope should come out exactly the way you want it. If not, see the "Getting started: Making your printer like envelopes" section again, and insert envelopes in different locations and orientations.

Here's the standard approach to creating the envelope. In this approach, we use the official Envelope Feature of OpenOffice.org. Also, if you want to just download an envelope, I created a procedure, click here.

  1. If you're in the letter with the address of the person you're sending the envelope to, copy the address information. If you're not, no big deal.
  2. Choose Insert > Envelope. The Envelope window will appear. If you filled in your return address data as described previously, it will appear. If you don't want it, just unmark the User Data checkbox.

  3. Paste the address information into the Addressee field, or just type it.

  4. Click the Format tab.
  5. Select the size envelope you want to print to.

  6. Click the Printer tab.
  7. Specify how your printer likes envelopes to be inserted in the tray.

  8. As an extra precaution, click Setup, then click Properties and be sure that your printer still expects the correct size envelope. Click OK a couple times to get back out and back to the Envelope window.
  9. Click New Document. The envelope will appear as shown below.

  10. If you want, format the text in the address box frames. Move them around if the boxes aren't where you want them. (Frames are a bit tricky to deal with which is why the aforementioned simple approach procedure can be, well, simpler.)
  11. Choose File > Print. If you haven't already, be sure that your printer is expecting envelopes of the size you specified. You can click the Properties button to get to your printer setup window. The paper size is often in the Paper/Quality tab.
  12. Click OK.
  13. Insert the envelope on the correct side, with the correct orientation (long side in first or short side in first).

The envelope should come out exactly the way you want it. If not, see "Getting started: Making your printer like envelopes" above, and insert envelopes in different locations and orientations.

Envelopes and databases

If you've got 30 people listed in a database, it's easier to bring the data in from there than to type each address. We're not going to go through creating databases; let's assume it's already set up.

Let's walk through the simple approach to creating the envelope document with database data. First, create the envelope document as in steps one through four of the simple approach procedure above in "Simple approach: Envelopes with data you type in." Also add your return address information if necessary.

Then follow these steps:

  1. Choose View > Data Sources.
  2. Find the data source where your address information is, on the left side.
  3. Expand to find the table where the data is.

  4. Select that table.
  5. Click on the title of the field you want first, such as Firstname, and drag it into your document.
  6. Type a space, then drag the next field, such as Lastname.
  7. Press Return to make a new line, and continue.

  8. Format the fields as you like them; see step five above in the simple approach to creating the Envelope Document. Then skip the rest of the steps in that procedure, and follow these steps instead.
  9. Choose File > Print.
  10. In the message that appears, click Yes.
  11. In the window that appears, leave everything as is. (You can enter a range of data, like the records one through five, if you just want to print a few envelopes to see if it works.)
  12. Click Print.
  13. If you haven't already, be sure that your printer is expecting envelopes of the size you specified. You can click the Properties button to get to your printer setup window. The paper size is often in the Paper/Quality tab.
  14. Click OK.
  15. Insert the envelope on the correct side, with the correct orientation (long side in first or short side in first).

The envelope should come out exactly the way you want it. If not, go back to and insert envelopes in different locations and orientations.

Standard approach: Creating the envelope document with database data

There's a rich tapestry of options. Here's the final one. Then we talk about a couple of ways you can reuse the envelope document to make this less work the second time.

You're going to do things very similarly to the standard approach process I just described.

Do steps one and two. However, instead of step three, which is typing or pasting the data into the Addressee field, you're going to do these steps instead.

  • In the Database list, select the data source where your addresses are and in the Table list, select the table. (You might just have one, and if the data source is a spreadsheet, the table name will be the sheet name.)

  • In the Database Field list, select the first field you want, usually Firstname, and click the arrow to put the field in the Addressee field.

  • Type a space after the firstname field and select the next field you want, usually Lastname. Click the arrow to put that in the Addressee field, too.
  • Press Return after the Lastname field and continue inserting the other fields you want. Put in spaces and carriage returns as necessary. (If you don't get it all right here, you can fix it in the resulting document.)

Now go back to step four of "Standard approach: Creating the envelope document with typed data" and continue through step 10.

Note: Once your document has appeared, if you didn't get the correct carriage returns or spacing between the fields when selecting the fields in the Envelope window, go ahead and do that now.

Instead of printing as in the last three steps of that procedure, 11-13, you're going to do these steps instead.

  • Choose File > Print.
  • In the message that appears, click Yes.
  • In the window that appears, leave everything as is. (You can enter a range of data, like the records one through five, if you just want to print a few envelopes to see if it works.)
  • Click Print.
  • If you haven't already, be sure that your printer is expecting envelopes of the size you specified. You can click the Properties button to get to your printer setup window. The paper size is often in the Paper/Quality tab.
  • Click OK.
  • Insert the envelope on the correct side, with the correct orientation (long side in first or short side in first).
  • The envelope should come out exactly the way you want it. If not, see "Fiddling with your printer to see where it likes its envelopes" and insert envelopes in different locations and orientations.

When you want to print more envelopes

Just open up the envelope document you used before and type in new information.

If you like templates, make the envelope document a template. Open the envelope document, choose File > Templates > Save, name the template Envelope and select a category. Click OK.

Then when you want to create an envelope, choose File > New > Templates and Documents, select the category and double-click the envelope template.

Solveig Haugland has worked as an instructor, course developer, author and technical writer in the high-tech industry for 15 years, for employers including Microsoft Great Plains, Sun Microsystems,and BEA. Currently, Solveig is a StarOffice and OpenOffice.org instructor, author, and freelance technical writer. She is also co-author, with Floyd Jones, of three books: Staroffice 5.2 Companion, Staroffice 6.0 Office Suite Companion and OpenOffice.Org 1.0 Resource Kit, published by Prentice Hall PTR. Her fourth book, on OpenOffice.org 2.0, is coming this summer. For more tips on working in OpenOffice, visit Solveig's OpenOffice blog.

This was first published in November 2005

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