Review: HP Print to Mail Accessory

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted October 01, 2000
by David Schloss

Companies spend a fortune every year on mailing campaigns because of the high costs of materials, labor, and postage. Outsourcing is a popular option for large mailings, but many firms charge exorbitant rates to take a project off a company's hands. As the number of pieces in a mailing increases, economies of scale drive the costs down, but this only works in favor of large companies and direct mailing firms.

A small business with a two thousand piece mailing is left with few options besides farming out the job or forcing interns to spend hours stuffing envelopes and affixing postage. Worse yet, a traditional mailing is heavy, which makes it more expensive to mail.

Hewlett-Packard comes to the rescue with the HP Print to Mail Accessory, an ingenious add-on piece of hardware for the Laserjet 4050 series of printers. With a single mouse click, the system prints, folds, and seals all in one operation. The genius of the Print to Mail lies in the prepared mailers that have become so popular for bulk mail distribution. Most of us have encountered these in the form of a bill or invoice. They are the mailings with perforated corners, which when opened reveal the contents of the bill.

Any small business that regularly sends invoices, bills, checks, or any other short printed communications will immediately benefit from the Print to Mail system. Installation of the unit is a snap, attaching directly to the rear of the HP printer, thanks to smart industrial design and a few well-hidden cables. The driver CD includes templates for QuickBooks, Peachtree Accountant, and Microsoft Word, and the included sample pack contains templates for designing mailings in programs such as In Design, Filemaker, Access, Illustrator, and more.

Once set up, letter forms are placed directly into the printer's standard paper tray and, after emerging from the rear paper path, are fed into the Print to Mail attachment. There the pages are Z-folded as pressure activated glue seals the document, then emerges as a completed mailing in the unit's output tray. Four standard mailer sizes are available directly through Moore, in partnership with HP. Changing between form types is a simple matter of loading different stock and adjusting the idiot-proof paper guides. For example, pages printed on the 2C stock require one guide set to "2" and the other guide set to "C".

At 17 pages-per-minute, the printer is able to produce more than 500 pieces per half-hour. HP estimates that the savings from producing a 1,000-piece mailing are as great as 50 percent compared to either folding and sorting in-house or outsourcing. Even better, the unit is capable of producing mail-merged output, allowing a company to purchase a mailing list and print it directly to the envelope.

Third-party solutions exist to enhance the features of the Print to Mail system including add-ons for check printing, barcodes, signatures, logos, and more. MindGate offers software to reformat Windows applications to work with the system, Peachtree offers custom checks, and Stamps.com provides postage printing solutions. As a result, a variety of mailings can be produced with the capability of being completely sorted and franked at the same time as they are printed. A list of solutions is included with the system.

The main downside of the unit is the cost. Companies without the benefit of a HP 4050 printer will spend between $1,700 to $2,100 for the complete system (depending on the printer configuration) while the Print to Mail accessory itself retails for $699. Still, any company that performs more than a few mailings a year will quickly recoup those costs. Currently, the Print to Mail system runs only on the Windows platform.

With almost foolproof setup, quick software installation, and near- professional quality, the Print to Mail accessory is the perfect solution for the small business looking to streamline and cut costs from the painful process of producing mailings.

Rating: 93

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