What you need to know about printing direct mail
In this article, find what you need to get direct mail printed right the first time: Ways to find and select commercial printers, tips on types of paper to use, and how to work with a local quick copy shop.
Tips on choosing paper and ink for direct mail
Know the U.S. Postal Service paper weight requirements
- If you are mailing first class using a stamp, your mailing must weigh one ounce or less
- If you are mailing standard class (formerly called bulk by the US Post Office), the mailing can be up to three ounces
- For reply cards sent through the mail, the post office requires that paper weight must be .007 inches thick. If the reply card is larger than the standard 6″ x 4 1/4″ card, then the minimum thickness must be .009 inches.
- Check with your local Post Office or visit the U.S. Postal Service web site
Tips on choosing paper grade and type for direct mail
- Ask to see samples of printed pieces with different paper weights and grades. That’s the easiest way to determine what you like and don’t like.
- If you want to convey a high quality image or are selling an expensive product or this is a direct mail for a professional service, pay the premium to use high quality paper. The heftier paper weight and grade of the paper will convey quality.
- For brochures with photography, use matte or gloss-coated papers
- For letters, use uncoated paper so there is no glare
- If you are printing on both sides of the paper, make sure to use heavy enough paper stock so there is no show through
Tips on choosing ink for direct mail printing
- If you need to match a specific corporate (or franchise) PMS (Pantone Matching System) color exactly, tell the printer this.
- If you are printing a four-color job, you’ll want to print with five colors.
- Ask your printer about spot colors for headlines and other information you want to call out to be noticed more readily.
- Some colors when used in a dense area don’t dry well and may smear. Work with a graphic designer who knows direct mail to avoid this and show your printer the initial design before finalizing it.
Working with a local quick print/copy shop
This is generally the most expensive way to get direct mail printing done. You are paying a premium for the convenience and ability to talk to someone in person. Check the prices for national chains like FedExOffice (used to be Kinkos), UPS Stores (used to be Mailboxes Etc.) and office supply stores like Staples. Your local or regional quick print shop may have lower prices. Check!
Advantages of using a local print/copy shop for direct mail
- You can work with someone in person at a retail store near you.
- Their stores are generally open evenings and weekends so you can work with them on your non-business hours.
- They have stores conveniently located in most towns and cities
- The turnaround time is generally very fast and the service is good
- Many copy/quick print shops now allow you to upload documents to their web site and “order online” and then either pick up the job yourself or have them deliver it to your office
- Optimal for lower quantity, straightforward one and two color print jobs (flyers, self-mailers, postcards) that you need same day
When working with a print/copy shop for direct mail be sure to…
- Ask to work with a manager or someone experienced with handling larger print jobs and specifically with direct mail projects.
- Compare prices with online services (add in cost of them shipping what they print to you so it’s a fair comparison) and local commercial printers. You’re generally paying a premium at the local print/copy shop for fast turn-around.
- Ask to see examples of direct mail jobs they’ve done like what you are planning to check the print quality. Many are making color copies, not printing.
Questions to ask
- What equipment do they have? They should list this on their web site.
- How are they going to print your job? On a copier? On a digital press? On other equipment? Ask to see print samples for the equipment they will be using for your direct mail job to evaluate the print quality.
- How many colors can they handle? This is important if you need to match a specific PMS color or want to add specialty colors like gold or silver.
- What other services do they offer?
- What type of printing jobs do they specialize in?
- Do they sell envelopes? Print envelopes?
- What is their process for pricing jobs?
- What type of files do they accept?
What you’ll need to tell the quick print/copy shop to get an accurate price quote
- Flat size of the direct mail piece
- If folds are required. If so, what the final folded size is to be.
- Type of paper; paper weight; paper grade
- Printed on one side or 2-sides
- Colors — 1 color? 2-color? 4-color? 5-color? 6-color?
- Will the printing “bleed” to the end of the paper or not?
- Ink coverage
- How will art be supplied
- If envelopes are needed, quantity and specifications
- If any special treatments are needed like perforations, die-cuts, stickers, lift notes