Address Book envelope printing tips

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As a professional procrastinator, it’s my job to see how badly things break when put to the “oh my gosh, I need it today ” test. Given that it’s the week before Christmas, you can probably guess what my task was for this past weekend. No, not gift shopping—tons of time left for that! Instead, it was holiday card time. This meant sorting through the Address Book and printing out the envelopes. (Envelope printing was quietly added in OS X 10.4, so this hint applies only if you’re using 10.4.)

I recall trying this last year, then giving up for some reason that I couldn’t recall now. So I dove right back into Address Book this weekend to try again…and after again getting frustrated, I actually went out and found a free program, Snail Mail, that did the job perfectly. But really, that’s not today’s hint (though it’s a good program if you want to give it a try).

Instead, I thought I’d share my frustrations with Address Book, and the solutions to those frustrations—most of which I found after I’d used Snail Mail to print our envelopes. With the new knowledge I’ve gained, perhaps I’ll be able to print our envelopes from Address Book next year. (Of course, we’ll be running OS X 10.5 by then, so who knows if this will still be applicable.) There were still a couple of problems I couldn’t resolve, which I’ll cover at the end of the tips.

The first frustration I ran into was creating a customized envelope profile, which is necessary for anything other than the predefined standard sizes. It seems simple enough in concept—just select File -> Print with an address selected in Address Book, set the Style pop-up to Envelopes, and then select Define Custom from the Layout pop-up in the Layout tab of the dialog box. Enter a name in the pop-up box that appears, click OK, and you should be good to go. Should be, that is.

What I’ve found is that about nine times out of 10, the dimensions aren’t editable; they simply highlight grey when clicked. Thankfully, the fix for this one is amazingly simple—just Command-Tab to another application and return back to Address Book, and the fields will be editable.

The second frustration I ran into had to do with controlling the size of the font in the return address box. There’s a Font box in the Label tab of the Envelopes Print dialog, but you can only choose the font face and size for the main address. The return address uses the same font, in a smaller size. In my case, though, the size wasn’t small enough, and I couldn’t figure out how to change it. Looking back on it now, it seems obvious, but that’s only because I now know how it’s done.

To change the font size used for the return address, you have to shrink the box in which the return address is displayed. Go to the Layout tab, and change some of the dimensions in the Sender section—I found it easiest to simply reduce the Height value.

My third frustration was related to the printing of spouses’ names on the envelope. Address Book includes this potentially very cool feature, whereby it will grab the value from the Spouse field and insert it into the printed address. So an entry for Sally Sample with the Spouse field set to Steve Sample should print the first line of the address as Sally and Steve Sample . In my testing, however, the results were spotty—sometimes it worked, and sometimes it didn’t. I couldn’t figure out why it worked sometimes and not others.

It took some digging on macosxhints and other sites to find the cause of the problem, as well as a solution. The problem is caused by Address Book’s fuzzy matching on first names. In the example above, if I have another entry anywhere in my Address Book with a first name of Steve, then the spouse information will be missing when I print Sally Sample’s entry. That’s right; if a spouse’s first name is not unique in the Address Book database, it will not be printed. This problem doesn’t exist if you’ve coded the person as a partner (which appears as Sally Sample and Steve ) instead of a spouse.

So what’s the solution for this one? You need to create an Address Book entry for the spouse, with the address exactly matching that used in the other record. In my example above, after creating a new card for Steve Sample, and using Sally Sample’s address on it, the name entry on the envelope printed correctly. It’s a pain, but it does work.

Note that you also must use full names in the Spouse field to make this work; just entering the first name won’t work, even if the spouse has a card of their own. If you don’t enter a last name in the spouse field, Address Book will print using the Partner format, with and Steve at the end. Note that you can use this fact to send cards to Sally Smith and Family —just enter Family in the Spouse (or Partner) field.

Unsolved frustrations

After solving the above problems, I was left with only two frustrations I couldn’t resolve. The first is relatively minor, but something to be aware of if you’re working with envelope printing. I was experimenting with the interesting Image pop-up on the Label tab, which lets you print a small image to the left of the return address. After printing an envelope with an image, I decided I didn’t like the results, so I wanted to get rid of the image.

Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be possible. The Image button doesn’t have anything like a “no image” or “none” option; it’s a simple “file open” dialog. Clicking Cancel doesn’t remove a defined image, nor can you select a folder or other non-image file as a workaround. The only way I could remove a defined image was to delete the custom layout and start all over—I’d love to hear that I overlooked something obvious.

The second annoyance has to do with the return address field. Instead of my name on the first line of the return address, I wanted it to read The Griffiths . Address Book lets you specify which entry from your card should be used as the return address, but you can’t edit the return address field directly to customize it. I called this one unsolved, but I did find a workaround—I just had to temporarily change my first name from Rob to The , and all was fine. But I hardly consider this an ideal solution.

Being able to print envelopes from Address Book is a nice timesaver—just be aware of some of the quirks of the feature before you proceed. And if anyone knows better workarounds for my two unsolved frustrations, please comment.

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