If your business is growing and you now find yourself having to send out a large amount of printed correspondence, there are probably a few things left to learn about letter writing that could make your life a lot easier. Wouldn’t it be great if you could use window envelopes, for example, so that you don’t have to print off address stickers or, even worse, hand-copy address details onto envelopes? And if you just knew exactly where to fold your letter so that it fits perfectly into the envelope.
Luckily, you don’t have to find out by trial and error where to print the letterhead for a window envelope or how to fold a letter to fit an envelope, because the International Organisation for Standardization and the British Standards Institution have codified the entire process. So as long as you buy standard-sized stationary, you’ll always know how to deal with written correspondence.
Here are the three most important standards you need to know about:
Let’s start with the one almost everybody has heard of, A4, the classic sheet of letter and general purpose printer paper. Its full name is actually “DIN A4” because its size was defined by the German Industry Norms organisation – Deutsches Institut für Normung – in the 1920s as 210 x 297mm . Britain formally adopted DIN A4 in 1959, and as of 1975, A4 became an international standard set documented by ISO 217; all of the other A sizes are defined by their relation to A4.
Since the 1970s, all other measurements for correspondence in the United Kingdom have been based on ISO 217 standard A4. That is, of course, a blessing, since it is very hard to purchase office paper in other sizes, so when you buy A4, you can be sure that it will be suitable for standard letters.
When it comes to producing a letter that sits correctly in a standard envelope and has its letterhead correctly positioned, the standard to check is BS1808, produced by the British Standards Institute for correspondence in the UK. The most important points here are the addressee panel and the fold marks.
For the address of the person you are writing to, BS1808 specifies a panel on the left-hand side of the letterhead measuring 30mm in height and 80mm across. The top left corner of this panel should be located 20mm from the left margin and 51mm from the top margin of the A4 sheet; this panel is embedded inside a 48 x 91mm area referred to as an “exclusion zone” whose top left corner is situated 20mm from the left margin and 42mm from the top: i.e. once you transpose the addressee panel onto the exclusion zone, there will be a buffer of 9mm above and 11mm to the right of the addressee panel which you should leave unprinted. Before you go playing around with Enter and printing off rough drafts, there good Word templates that automatically place the address where it should be.
As logical as it may seem, don’t fold your sheet of A4 with the carefully placed address into three exactly equal parts. BS1808 states that the first fold should be 103mm below the top margin, with the letter head folded to touch the reverse side. If you then turn over the sheet and align the bottom margin with this first fold, the resulting second fold will always be slightly below it: this is important, because it reduces the chances of a letter knife or an electric letter opener slicing the letter in two.
Here you find an overview what to keep in mind in creating your letterheads.
BS1808 addressee panels and folding marks are not very helpful, however, without the third important standard, BS4264, which regulates the dimensions of envelopes for office and professional use. Do make sure to buy window envelopes that adhere to BS4264 because, in contrast to A4 office paper, BS4264 envelopes are not the automatic choice and some stationers also stock older window envelopes based on the imperial system. These envelopes are still in widespread use in other parts of the world which have kept to different paper measurements – notably the USA and Canada, which have a shorter, slightly broader format for letters.
If you stick BS4264 windowed envelopes, apply BS1808 to your letters, and keep to A4, there is nothing to stop you saving time and paper by producing really professional correspondence. Happy letter-writing!