Understanding Basic USPS Requirements For Direct Mail


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There are too many times that a design element can cause you to pay significant additional postage. By learning the basic United States Postal Service requirements, you can save a ton of money. The fees can be 35 cents or more per piece, depending on the issue. And when you’re mailing hundreds of pieces, the cost can add up quickly.
Some of our clients have found that reprinting is actually cheaper than paying the additional postal fees. Knowing the requirements before you print will save you not only money but also time, and in direct mail, time can be the most critical thing.
First, let’s look at the five different mail categories, and the three most common classes of mail, first class, standard and nonprofit. Choosing which category and which class will determine the cost of your postage.
1. Postcards. These are available in first-class mail only, while the following four are available in all classes of mail. Your paper stock must be a minimum of .007 inches thick and the aspect ratio must be between 1.3 and 2.5 inches. To determine the aspect ratio, look at the mail panel, measure the length and height, then take the length divide it by height. (3.5 inches by 5 inches to 4.25 inches to 6 inches)
2. Letters. A letter can be a postcard that is larger than 4.25 inches by 6 inches or an enveloped piece. The thickness for all pieces must be between .009 and .25 inches; the aspect ratio is the same as postcards. (3.5 inches by 5 inches to 6.125 inches by 11.5 inches)
3. Self-Mailers. A self-mailer is a single sheet of paper folded. The minimum paper stock for a piece that is less than an ounce is 70-pound paper. If it’s over 1 ounce, you need to use 80-pound or greater stock. This category has the same aspect ratio requirements as both postcards and letters. (3.5 inches by 5 inches to 6 inches by 10.5 inches)
4. Booklets. A booklet consists of multiple sheets or pages that are bound by saddle‐stitching, or some type of binding method. The paper stock minimum weight for the cover is 40# to 80# book, depending on the design. This category has the same aspect ratio requirements as postcards, letters and self-mailers. (5 inches by 5 finches to 6 inches by 10.5 inches)
5. Flats. For flats, the minimum paper stock thickness is .009. There are no aspect ratio requirements for this category. (6.126 inches by 11.51 inches to 12 inches by 15 inches)
Now for the addressing requirements:
1. Postcards, Letters, Self-Mailers And Booklets. All of these have the same addressing options. First, put the barcode with the address. It must be at least a 1/2 inch from the right edge as well as at least 5/8 from the bottom edge. You need to stay 1/8 inch away from text and images and the maximum distance the address can be from the bottom of the mailer is 3.5 inches. We usually recommend to customers to leave an area of about 4 inches by 2 inches for the address and barcode. This area must be clear of UV coating, varnish, images and other text. The second option is to use the bottom right area for the barcode, which is referred to as the barcode clear zone. If you want to use this area you need to keep all images, color and text out of the bottom 5/8 area. The address would then have the same placement requirements as your first option.
2. Flats. These are required to have the address block in the upper half of the short edge. For instance, with an 8.5-inch-by-11-inch mailer, you would need to address from the top of the piece down only to 5.5; don’t address below the 5.5. There is no barcode clear zone for flats. You will need to use an address block that includes the barcode, a 4-inch-by-2-inch clear area, no varnish, UV coating, text or images. You must also make sure that you have at least a .125-inch clearance for the address block from the edge of the piece and any text or graphics.
Finally, look at folding and tabbing/fugitive gluing mailers. Obviously, this is not needed for postcards, but you also do not need to use tabs or glue for flats.
• Self- Mailer Folding. Folding requirements are very strict. You can fold vertically or horizontally based on the mail panel. The final fold should be to the right of the mail panel for the vertical fold, and should be below the mail panel for the horizontal fold. If you are folding an 11-inch-by-17-inch sheet down to 5.5 inches by 8.5 inches, the first fold needs to be to the right of the mail panel and the second fold below it.
• Booklets. Binding requirements allow for two locations on the binding. You may either bind to the right of the mail panel or to the bottom of the mail panel.
• Flat Folding. The fold or binding must be to the right of the mail panel. If you are using a poly bag or envelope, this is not necessary.
• Self-Mailer Tabbing. You have the choice to either tab or glue self-mailers. If tabbing a mailer that is up to 1 ounce, you need two 1-inch tabs and a mailer over 1 ounce needs two 1.5-inch tabs. For fugitive gluing you have a couple of options: One is a glue line and the other is glue spots. The most common tab positions are two above the mail panel or two to the left of the mail panel.
• Booklet Tabbing. Three tabs are required with a minimum 1.5-inch diameter and may not be perforated. If binding is below mail panel, then two tabs are required to the right of the mail panel and one tab to the left. If the binding is to the right of the mail panel, then two tabs are required above the mail panel and one tab to the left.
As you can see, the regulations can get pretty complicated. Have your mail service provider take a look at a PDF of your design before you print to help you spot any potential problems. When you plan ahead, you won’t have to pay the post office a penalty.
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