Introduction: Envelope-free Letter Sending (Snail-Mail Origami)

Picture of Envelope-free Letter Sending (Snail-Mail Origami)

Everyone loves receiving letters in the mail, and the best way to get letters is to send letters.  I try to make it point to send several letters to my close friends and family throughout the year (not to mention a plethora of postcards, but that's another instructable); it helps me stay in touch, is more personal and appreciated than Facebook or a quick email, and helps keep the USPS in business!    Y( ^ o ^ )Y

But envelopes can get expensive, and I often don't have them on hand, or don't have the correct size.  This instructable will show you how to fold your letter into its own envelope, saving you ( tens of ? ) dollars and maybe some time.

Step 1: You'll Need...

Picture of You'll Need...

You'll need a letter.  This folding works best for letters written on 8.5' x 11' or A4 paper, or similar.  Letters written on substantially larger or smaller sheets of paper will likely have trouble conforming to U.S. Postal Service letter size requirements.

Step 2: Initial Folds

Picture of Initial Folds

The first step is to turn your letter lengthwise (landscape) and fold it in half once, so that the two short edges touch.  Then open the letter up again.  You should have a crease down the center, like the one I've marked in red.  This will be our reference crease.  [Pic. 1]

Keeping the letter horizontal, the next step is to fold the lower left corner up and to the right 45 degrees, such that the left edge of the fold is parallel with the reference crease but separated by a gap of about a half an inch .  This is a rough estimate as I never measure the gap width, but a gap like this will help our envelope conform to USPS letter size requirements (they like letters that are a bit longer than they are tall, as they are better for machine processing).  An example of the type of gap is marked with a green dotted line in the photo above.  [Pic. 2]

Next, repeat the previous fold in reverse with the top right corner, again leaving the half inch gap from the reference fold.  [Pic. 3]

Step 3: Secondary Fold

Picture of Secondary Fold

Here it starts to get hard to explain with words, hopefully the pictures make everything clear.  :)

Rotate the letter 90 degrees so it is oriented the tall way again (portrait).  Take the upper right-hand edge of the letter and fold it to the left, keeping it parallel to the original edge, and again leaving about a half inch gap from the edge of the triangle made by the previous folds.  I've marked the approximate line you should fold to in green.  [Pic. 1 & 2]

Your letter should now look like Pic. 3.

Step 4: Tertiary Fold

Picture of Tertiary Fold

Now take the new right-hand edge (just formed by your last fold) and fold it down until it is touching the reference crease (in red).  No gap this time.  It should look like Pic. 1.

Step 5: Repeat, Repeat

Picture of Repeat, Repeat

Now repeat Steps 3 and 4 on the lower left edge of the letter.

First fold the lower left edge over until it is flush with and perfectly covers the flap made by your last fold in step 4.  [Pic 1]

Then fold the lower left corner up towards the reference line (in red), like you did in step 4, but this time making sure to tuck it into the tab along the right edge of the letter.  [Pic 2]

Your letter should now look like this [Pic. 3].  The tabs keep the letter closed.  However, I would suggest putting a piece of tape across the middle if you will be sending it via USPS, as their machines (or mail carriers) might cause it to open otherwise.

Step 6: Your Done!

Picture of Your Done!
Now flip your letter... excuse me, your envelope ... over and address it.  Stick on a stamp, and you're good to go!  You probably should put a return address on as well.

Hopefully now you will be inspired to go and write a letter of your own.  It really is a great way to pass some time on the bus or in the dentist's waiting room, and as I mentioned everyone loves getting real mail.

This is the first of several postal-structables I hope to upload, as well as my first instructable ever, so any advice or questions are very welcome! 

Go forth and Mail-tiply!

PS.  Here are some other postal-structables I've made:


KarenC268 (author)2017-02-23

Wow, all of your instructables I've seen are fantastic! Thanks for sharing! I'm envious of the people who get the Franken-card especially.

hindmarauder (author)2015-01-18

This is great! made a lot of these for retreat letters :]

Thank you for this simple yet awesome origami :D

tbussard (author)2014-10-18

This was one of the first Instructables I ever completed, and I still use it to this day. Thanks so much for posting one of the most practical origami I know I'll be using my whole life!

LuisGaudencio (author)2014-07-22

Very cute idea!! I did not send any of the ones I made, since I just hid them in my gf purse so she would see at home!! But its very original and a great project

Pfarmkid (author)2012-02-27

so how does this work for postal service rules

ATTILAtheHUNgry (author)Pfarmkid2012-03-02

It works just fine. All you do is pay regular letter postage, Which I think at the moment is 45 cents. Stamp in the top right corner, as usual. :)

daredevil499 (author)2011-12-03

I have one question. Is this actually legal everywhere?

Not sure if it is legal in foreign countries, but the USPS doesn't have rules about non-rectangular envelopes that I've ever seen. Perhaps someday I'll run into a really picky postman who charges extra postage or something though.

ok thanks

femmegauche (author)2011-09-05

This certainly saves a lot of paper, and adds an additional level of novelty.

kalithenowhereman (author)2011-05-10

I'm wondering if this would work with longer multiple paged letters. If not, is there anyway to modify original design so it does work?

The short answer is Yes. I have sent 2-3 page letters using this fold before. But the more pages you use, the thicker the folds become and the more robust your taping job needs to be. Sometimes, when I don't want people to be able to read my letter through the paper, I will wrap my letter in an extra completely blank sheet of paper and fold them up together. Happy Mailing.

daredevil499 (author)2011-04-05

this is very cool thankyou

k4gdw (author)2011-03-16

That's an interesting fold. A little easier than the Mennonite Letter Fold.  Although the Mennonite fold would be a little more secure and the recipient would be less likely put a tear through the middle of the letter.  It also lets you use the stamp to hold the letter shut.

inquist (author)k4gdw2011-03-19

It seems that your link points back to this same page.

k4gdw (author)inquist2011-03-19

Must've messed up the copy and paste. Sorry about that. Try this one.

Mennonite Letter Fold

(Ramen) (author)2011-03-18

Hey, awesome instructable; I want to try this now, it may just give me a reason to send a letter.. Now I just need to find a person to send a letter to, haha.
Anyway, good job! :)

msnhdr (author)2011-03-18

Thanks heaps for your nicely written instruction. A letter like this is really impressive; saving an envelope comes next.

MillenniumMan (author)2011-03-17

forget the envelope-free, and just work with free.
Instead of putting the to address where it normally goes and the from address where it goes, swap them.

The to address is the return address and the return address is the to address, then don't put a stamp on the envelope. Drop it in a postbox, let processing do its thing, nine times out of ten it will be "returned to sender" once in a while there will be someone nice enough in the USPS to put a stamp on it, in which case the plan is foiled. Just speaking from personal experience :)

I've worked for the Postal Service for 38 years. I work hard, and try to be a nice guy. I will often personally pay for "postage due" items for my patrons and have put stamps on unstamped letters many times.

I just want to say that there are many schemes to defraud the Postal Service of revenue, and that to do so is just low-brow and petty.

Come on, folks, your integrity sold for the price of a 44 cent stamp?

jovino (author)MillenniumMan2011-03-17

This is a federal offense.

lbrewer42 (author)jovino2011-03-17

Trying to get a freebie over the USPS is not only a federal offense, but downright dishonest - hence my previous comment. We are in the mess we are nowadays b/c of the mindset of people who cheat the system in any way they can. Yes, I know government is not honest either (especially now) - and I get angry at what is currently happening. This always brings a temptation to "take what you can." But my kids will never be able to say I did not teach them the right way to do things and that virtue and honesty are their own rewards.

I have dealt with other country's postal services and KNOW our USPS is the best - as far as service goes - in the world. Though I think they could tighten their belts instead of whining about not having enough money - surely ebay and other online services have amazingly multiplied the business they do - but we do not hear about this. We only hear about how email has hurt the sending of letters. So, no, I have no love for the government's system of running the USPS - as always, anything government touches is bankrupt.

However, at the same time, I am glad I can almost guarantee when I mail something it will get to its destination. I believe if the P.O. was in private hands - it would be even better. in fact when USP was became large enough they did just as good a job for a lot less in fees - until the government decided to put regulation on UPS so as to jack their prices up to be comparable with the USPS.

But I digress - the facts are that honesty and integrity built out country and until we stopped making it part of our kids education, we were a great nation. Now we are in debt up to our ears and greed is king.

jovino (author)lbrewer422011-03-17

Hey lbrewer42,

My reply was to MillenniumMan's initial comment suggesting the address swap trick; not to the instructable of "folding paper to create an envelope."

Of course, not MillenniumMan is back-pedaling and you are accusing the president of doing dishonest deeds -- a statement that you cannot, in fact, back up with any facts.

lbrewer42 (author)jovino2011-03-17

Sorry if i made any misunderstanding - I was also trying to say that the address trick - not the was illegal.

Actually, there are many, many facts to back up his dishonesty. But I will not make a major discusinstructiblesion of that here. If you want just one of many (and it took no effort to come up with this one off the top of my head), the other day he said America has just 2% of the world's proven oil reserves whereas the Congressional Research Service had released a report that said the US has at least 17%. Why? Obama has made no deal to try to hide he wants gasoline at incredibly high prices so as to push so-called green technologies (research and see why I say "so called").

Remember the openess policy he said and then tried as fast as he could to ram Obamacare through without it even being read?

Oops - sorry - I started doing what i said i would not. instead, of going further, just make sure you are getting your news from both sides of the fence so the truth can be determined. Take a look at youtube and try to refute some of the videos showing him outright lying - using clips from his own speeches.

jovino (author)lbrewer422011-03-17

Actually, the Republicans are mostly to blame for the "Obamacare" problem. He wanted a good thing for everyone, the Republicans did not. He wanted to ensure that people like me can get affordable healthcare, but between big pharma dollars, corporate greed and those pesky Republicans this was perhaps the best solution for now. In the meantime, I am uninsured.

As for the Oil Reserve thing, I feel that was for the best to help get our asses in gear regarding alternative fuel solutions. Our entire existence relies on oil and petroleum, and those resources are rapidly being diminished at an alarming rate. (By the way, how many people ride in your car when you drive to work?)

The presidency is not as simple as waiving your hand and having a solution magically appear -- especially when there are so many other greedy agendas blocking your good intentions.

I still have faith in Obama.

Glad you clarified, because (like so many others) I was about to tell you off for cheating the USPS. This trick can work (from personal experience - I did it once and only once just to see if it worked), but it left a bad taste in my mouth. To clear my conscience, I overstamped my next letter :-)

I have no idea if this qualifies as mail fraud, but I urge people to NOT try it, as the hardworking people at the post office (many of them Vets, just saying) deserve at least 50 cents for their trouble.

Kinnishian (author)MillenniumMan2011-03-17

I tend to think with amazement that I can pay someone 50 cents to deliver a letter 2,600 miles. So I just go ahead and pay postage. But I haven't found cool stamps in a while. Where to buy cool stamps, that should be a link on this instructable (a necessary part of cool letters).

lisavieja (author)Kinnishian2011-03-17

Re "cool stamps": Last time at the PO, I bought a roll of forever stamps with the usual patriotic images. When I commented about the images, the PO clerk offered the info that "soon" I would be able to buy forever stamps with images I can choose. That's all I know, but I'm hopeful that "cool" stamp choices are in the works, right at the post office.

Oh, also, I've received a wedding invitation with a stamp that displayed the couple's engagement photo; plus, a birth announcement with the baby's Day 1 pic on the stamp. So, you might already be able to achieve any .jpg image you want on a stamp to personalize it (for a fee, I'm sure!).

Kinnishian (author)lisavieja2011-03-17

Sigh. Forever Stamps. Better than the flag, I guess. I have a roll of endangered frogs stamps that I pull out for extra fun (<--said jokingly) letters.

trashbin (author)MillenniumMan2011-03-17

Free Everything: The Instructable

1) Find someone that has something you want
2) Take that thing
3) Dance a jig, you got what you want--for free! :)

MillenniumMan (author)trashbin2011-03-17

Why'd you do that? Now they can see my face!

trashbin (author)MillenniumMan2011-03-17

LOL. You're a good sport MM.

Udon (author)trashbin2011-03-17

I live in SA - chicky lives in Beijing.

Even the not-so-bright and slow South African postal service might briefly think about it and see the highly non-unfishiness of it.

Maybe I should clarify before too many people assume that I'm the dick who did this.

I used to be a carrier for the USPS. I'd be that one out of ten that caused those kind of letters to not go through. This is one of the many kinds of schemes I'd seen to bilk us out of .33 cents.

Kind of like having a letter addressed to an address only to have it returned to prove the person was somewhere else at the time while another crime was supposedly being committed by someone else.

lbrewer42 (author)MillenniumMan2011-03-17

Its this kind of honesty and integrity that America was (NOT) built on. Do the right thing, show the character I'm sure is hiding inside of you (yes - this is a complement). Don't be an Obumma clone - this is a trick like he pulls except on a much gander scale.

SLYJOE8907 (author)MillenniumMan2011-03-17

Mail Fraud: The Instructable. :P

chuckyd (author)2011-03-17

Using paper like this is an old, old trick, although I never learned it.

Letters wilthout envelopes are popular in Europe and are sold in the usual markets, made of very thin paper.

marian1936 (author)chuckyd2011-03-17

I remember this being done during World War II. Then the same was done for air mail, to save on the weight of the letter. Maybe I'm not remembering accurately. During WW II mail was censored by actually cutting certain words from the letters.

Another way to always have free envelopes is to unglue the incoming envelopes and glue them back together inside out.

Thanks for the instructible.

faragher63 (author)2011-03-17

ahah thats the letter from the shining

Hooray, someone noticed! I was wondering someone would mention it :)

gnarf_ (author)2011-03-17

Good idea, but what about people who use letter openers and will cut your letter in half?

ATTILAtheHUNgry (author)gnarf_2011-03-17

It did occur to me that a person acting a bit too hastily might cut your letter in pieces, but - A) I've never had this happen yet, and - B) They'll only do it once :-)

DavidRobertson (author)2011-03-17

This is exactly like how giffgaff package their SIMs.

foxramsey (author)2011-03-17

This helps being a prior postal worker I always had stamps but never envelopes.

twestheimer (author)2011-03-17

what about creating a word document with very faint numbered lines to help in the folding etc
This looks like fun

ysabet (author)2011-03-17

Excellent set of instructions, very well laid out; I've been using this one to pay my rent with for years-- they drop by the bill, I fold it into an envelope, put my check inside and drop it back in the office mail-slot.

Broom (author)2011-03-16

Nicely written. A tiny typo: In Section 2, you mention "the photo below", but you actually mean "the photo above".

ATTILAtheHUNgry (author)Broom2011-03-16

Good catch, Thanks.

usbdevice (author)2011-03-16

thanks, this is cool!

l33tn3ss (author)2011-03-16

I had a bulk mailing through my door a while back and it was folded like this. I couldn't work out how to refold it or where to make new folds on a virgin piece of paper though. Thanks!

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