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2005.05.25

Snail Mail Prints Envelopes from Your Address Book

Dan Knight - 2004.12.16

Rating: 3 out of 4

Apple has included some very nice features with OS X: Safari, iTunes, iCal, a built-in spell checker, iSync, and Address Book among them. I use them all, although I haven't made any use of Address Book beyond email addresses used in Mail and GyazMail, as well as backing up synchronizing phone numbers in my cell phone.

This week I found a new challenge. I've used a wonderful shareware program called AddressBook for years, but it's strictly a Classic application. The original author died, and the guy who took it over hasn't updated it in year. Fact is, I can't even find this great old app on the Web.

AddressBook is a "just right" solution for people who want to print addressed envelopes and print hard copy phone directories from their data. It even lets you add a graphic by the return address and adds postal bar codes to mail addressed within the US and Canada. It would be the perfect way to address my Christmas cards so the Postal Service wouldn't have to decipher my horrid handwriting. (Best penmanship grade in school: D.)

Alas, the only printer driver I have in Classic mode is LaserWriter 8, and the Epson Stylus Color 880 I have when away from home doesn't work with it. And I can't boot the 1.25 GHz eMac into OS 9 to install drivers - if they even exist.

Time to look for an OS X solution, so I went to MacUpdate, searched OS X apps for "print envelope," and found five freeware and shareware contenders. I tried them all and soon discovered that one wasn't a crippled demo version and was very easy to use - Snail Mail.

As it says on the Snail Mail page, "It's primary function is to quickly address and print single or multiple envelopes based on entries in the Mac OS X Address Book database. Batches of envelopes can be based on Address Book groups, or ad-hoc lists selections of addresses. Snail Mail can print barcodes for more efficient mail handling."

Nik Sands, the author, explains that Snail Mail was created when he couldn't find an existing program to print envelopes using the Address Book. Although others have since come to market, Snail Mail's tight focus and simple integration with Address Book make using it a breeze.

Step one was creating a group called Christmas Cards, to which I added addresses one at a time. If the name already existed in the Address Book (about half did, but usually with only a phone number or email address), I could double-click the name in the main Snail Mail pane and jump right to that record in Address Book, where I could immediately edit it (below).

I chose to add addresses one at a time and print envelopes individually, but next year - now that I have all of these addresses on file - I'll be able to do it in a batch.

As you can see in the screen shot above, Snail Mail does a very nice job of printing US postal bar codes above the recipient's address. It doesn't support Canadian bar codes, something I've suggested to the author.

Page SetupOne very nice feature of Snail Mail is that the Page Setup dialog (right) not only tells you the paper size by name (A10, Monarch, Letter, Legal, etc.), but it also displays the actual size below it. Since my Christmas cards came with envelopes measuring 7" wide and 5" tall, I chose JBS as the next-best thing. (There is a way to add custom page sizes to Snail Mail, but I couldn't get it to work consistently. That said, I'm a Mac user and don't like to read manuals.)

The envelopes printed out very nicely with only a few glitches - two caused by me mistyping Zip codes and three caused by Snail Mail inexplicably changing the return address as I added new addresses to the Address Book. (I've suggested to the author that he add a "lock this address" feature to fix that.)

I know now that I should pay more attention to details. Sigh.

Anyhow, Snail Mail works nicely, and it's essentially freeware, although those who really appreciate it are encouraged to send money, beer, or some other token of their appreciation.

All things considered, Snail Mail is a good program with a few glitches, so it earns three out of a possible four LEMs. LEM

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