Laura and Nicholas are away for the summer, exploring the verdant hills of Vermont. Laura, 14, made me promise not to embarrass her by writing every day. So far I have honored her wishes. However, a personal computer equipped with mailing label software places the promise in jeopardy by making it so easy to write.
The Avery Commercial Products Division, maker of the Avery labels that are standard fare in office supply stores, also makes software for DOS and Macintosh computers.
In less than two minutes the Mac and its LaserWriter IIg printer on my desk have pumped out dozens of elegantly printed, peel-off address labels that will be used to send letters and postcards to Vermont. (Don't worry, Laura, half are for Nick.)
Using the awkwardly named Mac-LabelPro software from Avery (the DOS version is simply LabelPro) I was able, in the course of an afternoon, to go berserk with labels: shipping labels, audio cassette labels, computer diskette labels complete with serial numbers in sequence, file folder labels, transparencies, Rolodex cards, and a year's supply of envelope labels to Nicholas and Laura in Vermont. Perhaps several years' worth.
I could have made fancy name tags, too, except that most of the people in my house know my name already.
Avery must be delighted, because for each type of label I had to buy a box of Avery blank forms at $5 to $7 each.
After the novelty wears off, the envelope and shipping labels will probably get the most use. Addressing envelopes has always been a major weakness of computers and printers.
Some cynics think this weakness keeps typewriter companies in business. In more than a few offices, typewriters are kept on hand solely to type addresses on envelopes and labels.
Sure, there are all sorts of devices that purport to make it easy to print envelopes.
There are automatic envelope feeders for printers, but if you print only a few envelopes a day they can be more trouble than they are worth. There are little ink-jet envelope printers that sit on the desk next to the regular printer, but the ones I have used are very expensive and the ink smudges easily. There are tiny ink-jet label printers, too, but they cost $175 or so.
The brightest development in the envelope field is the inclusion in some word-processing and desktop-publishing programs of automatic address grabbers.
These programs scan a letter document for three or four short lines of text near the top of the page, which is the usual format for addresses, and send a copy of the lines to an address printer. Most people still have to load the envelope into the printer, though, and occasionally the software grabs the wrong few lines.
All these reasons add up to explain why it is common to see beautiful desktop-published letters, with fancy fonts and logos, in hand-addressed envelopes.
Miss Manners may sniff at the use of printed address labels for personal letters. Handwritten notes are more personal, of course. On the other hand, pre-printed labels increase the odds that someone will write.
Perhaps Miss Manners would agree that a letter with an address label is better than no letter, except for wedding announcements, sympathy cards and the like.
Avery also makes transparent mailing labels that almost make it look as if the text were printed right on the envelope. Almost, but not quite.
On the Mac, at least, it was quite easy to drop in some artwork to jazz up the labels.
MacLabelPro comes with a collection of simple clip-art figures, and it works with standard graphics file formats, too.
Users can create their own logos or designs in a paint program
and add those to the labels as well, adjusting the size and placement as needed.
The program has a variety of tools that make it easy to change type size, type font and alignment and to draw a variety of borders, lines and other embellishments.
Both versions of LabelPro can grab names and addresses from a data base, spreadsheet or specially constructed word-processing mailing list file.
MacLabelPro comes with a desk accessory called LabelPrinter, which can be summoned even while the user works in another program, like a word processor. Using LabelPrinter, the address from a business letter can be copied and pasted onto a label template without having to quit the word processor.
It is not as elegant as some of the automatic address grabbers, but it works.
For businesses that produce a lot of mail, the LabelPro programs allows users with laser printers to generate PostNet bar-coded ZIP codes as part of the label design.
The PostNet bar codes supposedly get the letters to their destination faster, and the Postal Service gives a discount for bulk mailings using the codes.
LabelPro and MacLabelPro have a list price of $99.95. Avery, of Covina, Calif., a division of the Avery Dennison Corp., can be reached at (800) 462-8379.