Everybody wants to cut costs wherever they can. Your stationery is one area where you might be able to drastically cut costs. With the variety of inexpensive, high quality printers available, you can print your own letterhead instead of purchasing preprinted stationery. Up front, you’ll save by printing only what you need when you need it. You’ll also save money if information changes. Instead of throwing away reams of preprinted letterhead, simply alter the letterhead template. An inexpensive printer has the potential to save you a lot of money.

But don’t cancel your next order with your printer just yet. First, do a thorough cost analysis, because in-house printing costs will definitely go up. Most notably, you’ll replace print cartridges and toner more often. If your letterhead is colorful, preprinted letterhead might actually be a bargain, especially if your company gets a significant discount because of volume. On the other hand, smaller companies and individual contractors with less buying power should benefit from printing their own letterhead, as long as it’s not terribly colorful (and most aren’t).

Note: This information is also available as a PDF download, along with the Word template used as our example here.

Sketch out the design

The hardest part about creating your own letterhead template isn’t technical — it’s getting the design right. The key is to reduce your letterhead to individual elements and then balance the placement of those elements. It isn’t hard, but it isn’t exactly intuitive to most of us. Using a copy of your preprinted letterhead, create a mockup using a blank sheet of paper and a pencil:

  1. Study the preprinted letterhead and identity the individual elements: the return address, the company logo, any header and footer elements, and any additional text or graphic elements.
  2. Using a ruler, draw the top, bottom, right, and left margins. There might be text or graphic elements above or below your top and bottom margins, respectively. For instance, you should treat the animal track graphic at the bottom right of the example page in Figure A as part of the footer. That means you’d position the bottom margin above this graphic. Most likely, you’ll want to include the example template’s banner graphic within the body of the letter (below the top margin). Otherwise, all pages will have a low top margin.

Figure A

blocking up letterhead

Block up a copy of your preprinted letterhead to learn the exact positions of all the text and graphic elements.
  1. Draw a small rectangle around each element. Doing so will help you identify and define each section rather than seeing the page as a single unit.
  2. Using a ruler, measure each element. Use the smallest space possible to accommodate each element.
  3. Next, use a ruler to draw the margin and element boxes you outlined in step 3 on a clean sheet of paper. Be sure to mark the dimensions so you can position each element correctly in the Word template. Technically, you don’t need a blank sheet for this, as you can block up the preprinted page. However, if you find the print and graphic elements distracting, work from a clean sheet.
  4. Block up a blank piece of paper with margins and elements to represent a second sheet. This one won’t have the letterhead information, but it might include a page number and other elements in the header or footer.
  5. Block up a copy of your preprinted letterhead to learn the exact positions of all the text and graphic elements.

At this point, you should consider just how much of the original design you’re going to reproduce. You might want to change the font for the motto or the return address. You’re free to embellish and delete as you like — it’s your letterhead!

Create the template from the design

Once you’re comfortable with the design and you know the position of each element, you’re ready to create the actual template. To get started, do the following:

  1. Open a new document and choose Save As from the File menu.
  2. Select Document Template (*.dot) from the Save As Type drop-down list (Figure B). Enter a meaningful name, such as Letterhead, and click Save.

Figure B

Save as template

You must save your letterhead document as a template file.

Now you can start altering the template. First, set the margins as you normally would, using the measurements from the blocked-up sheet. Save the file. (It’s a good idea to save the file after adding each text or graphic element, just to be on the safe side.)

You’ll probably find it easier to work if you can see the whole page. From the Zoom drop-down list, choose Whole Page. If your monitor’s too small for that setting try Page Width. You want to see as much of the page as possible. It also helps if you can see the margins. To display them, choose Options from the Tools menu. Then, on the View tab, select Text Boundaries from the Print And Web Layout Options section. You’ll probably find Print Layout (on the View menu) easy to work in, but choose the settings that support you best.

At this point, you can start adding text and graphics. There’s no right or wrong way to add these elements. However, I suggest that you start with your header and footer. At first, it might be difficult to discern just what goes in these sections. Treat anything that’s above your top margin or below your bottom margin as a header or footer. In the case of the example template shown in Figure C, right-align the animal track graphic in the footer for all pages. The page number prints in the center of the header on all pages except the first. Save the template when you’re done.

Figure C

Start with the header and footer elements.

For each of the remaining text or graphic elements, add a rectangular AutoShape. Use the measurements on your block-up sheet as a guide. A bit of setup will make this process a bit easier:

  1. Display the Drawing toolbar by choosing Toolbars from the View menu and selecting Drawing.
  2. Disable the canvas by choosing Options from the Tools menu. Then, click the General tab and deselect Automatically Create Drawing Canvas When Inserting AutoShapes in the Options section.

If a logo or banner is at the top of the first page of your letterhead, add it next. Be sure to align it correctly and use Word’s vertical and horizontal rulers to position it in just the right spot. For instance, the banner in the example template is 5 inches wide and 5/8 of an inch deep. Using the top left margin as an anchor, draw a similarly sized rectangular AutoShape. (Open the AutoShapes drop-down list and choose Basic Shapes to select a rectangle.)

Once the shape is secure, save the file. Then, add a rectangular AutoShape to accommodate all your text and graphic elements, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

Use an AutoShape to represent the approximate size of each text and graphic element.

For each AutoShape, set the following formats by right-clicking the shape and choosing Format AutoShape:

  • On the Colors And Lines tab, set the Weight option under Line Color to a value other than 0. You’ll use these boundary lines later.
  • On the Layout tab, click Behind Text in the Wrapping Style section. This won’t be the appropriate choice for every rectangle, but it works for the example template.
  • On the Layout tab, click Advanced. Then, select Lock Anchor in the Options section. Doing so will lock the shape to its position on the page.

It isn’t important that you be exact — a few pixels here and there aren’t going to hurt anything. What’s important is that you maintain the overall balance from left to right and top to bottom.

After adding enough shapes to accommodate all of your print and graphic elements, print the file. Place the printed test page on top of the blocked-up sheet you created earlier and compare the placement of each AutoShape. If necessary, resize or move the AutoShapes in your template until they match the blocked-up sheet. With most of these areas, you don’t have to be exact.

When all the shapes are right, you’re ready to add graphic elements. To do so, simply select the appropriate shape and add the graphic as you normally would. For instance, to add the banner in the example template shown in Figure E, select the shape, choose Picture from the Insert menu, select From File, locate the file, and click Insert. Then, change the Weight property of the AutoShape to 0 so it doesn’t print. Now, save the template.

Figure E

Add all the graphic elements.

To add text, select the appropriate shape and delete it — that’s right. Replace the shape with the text meant for that area, as shown in Figure F.

Figure F

Add all the text elements.

Finally, save the template, distribute it as needed, and train users to open the template when starting a new letter instead of clicking the New Blank Document button or choosing New from the File menu.

When users need more than one template, add a custom menu that lets them choose the appropriate template for the task at hand. Doing so will require extra work on your part but the process will be easier if you can store the templates on a server. That way you won’t have to adjust the template location for each user — it’ll be the same for everybody.

Take a letter

Using a letterhead template lets you eliminate preprinted stationery cost. Just be careful to consider all the aspects of such a change first. Remember that printing letterhead in-house won’t reduce costs in all cases, especially if your letterhead uses a lot of color.

Susan Sales Harkins is an independent consultant and the author of several articles and books on database technologies. Her most recent book is Mastering Microsoft SQL Server 2005 Express, with Mike Gunderloy, published by Sybex. Other collaborations with Gunderloy are Automating Microsoft Access 2003 with VBA, Upgrader’s Guide to Microsoft Office System 2003, ICDL Exam Cram 2, and Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Microsoft Access 2003, all published by Que. Currently, Susan volunteers as the Publications Director for Database Advisors. You can reach her at ssharkins@gmail.com.