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Printing Industry Exchange (printindustry.com) is pleased to have Steven Waxman writing and managing the Printing Industry Blog. As a printing consultant, Steven teaches corporations how to save money buying printing, brokers printing services, and teaches prepress techniques. Steven has been in the printing industry for thirty-three years working as a writer, editor, print buyer, photographer, graphic designer, art director, and production manager.

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Printing Postcard Decks: Specifications

As strange as this may sound, a postcard is one of the more effective direct marketing tools. It may not be flashy. It may not always be elegantly designed to impress you. But it gets your attention. Particularly with less mail these days. All the surveys I’ve read say that people like going to the mailbox, and they spend at least a little time looking at every piece of mail, from checks to bills to direct marketing pieces. And unlike a lot of direct mail, a postcard is already open. You don’t need to remove it from an envelope. You just have to look at it.

My Client’s Postcard Job

With this in mind, a commercial printing client came to me recently wanting to produce a card set for her client (my client is a freelance graphic designer). These were the specifications that we agreed upon, and that I submitted to a printer I considered appropriate for the job.

The first thing we had to determine was the flat size of the postcards. Since they will have to meet international mailing standards, my client chose the A6 format: 5.8″ x 4.1″. Normally, if the postcards were to mail in the United States only, the US Postal Service regulations would stipulate the following:

For First Class and Presort Standard postcards up to 4.25” x 6”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 7pt. (.007”). For larger sized Presort Standard postcards from 4.25” x 6” through 6.125” x 11.5”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 9pt. (.009”).

Based on the specifications above, I suggested a C1S (coated one side) sheet that mics to 10pt. (in thickness), just to be safe. The custom printing vendor confirmed this and noted that the C1S designation would be appropriate, since the postcards would have only black ink, or no ink, on the back and a 4-color image on the front.

So at this point my client and I agreed on the following specifications:

  1. The postcards would be 5.8″ x 4.1″ in size to conform to international postcard standard specs.
  2. The postcards would be 10pt. in thickness to be stiff enough for the particular format/size (I have seen thicker postcards, perhaps 12pt., specified to provide a more opulent feel, but the 10pt. stock would be adequate). The printer suggested Carolina coated stock, not an expensive paper. For postcards that would be read once and then discarded, this would be fine.
  3. The cards would be either 4/0 or 4/1 (four color on the front, and either not printed or printed in black-only on the back), depending on the particular card, since there would be a total of six originals.
  4. Due to the exceptionally quick turn-around for the commercial printing job, I encouraged my client to request virtual proofs (PDF soft proofs). This would eliminate the time needed for sending hard-copy proofs back and forth to the printer.
  5. My client requested that each set of six postcards be shrink wrapped. I had seen three varieties of shrink wrapping. The first was thin and not durable, more like plastic wrap for food. This I had seen used for grouping multiple copies of a commercial printing job before packaging. I had also seen heat-welded plastic used for postcard decks that had come to me in the mail. Finally, I had seen polybags used to ship annual reports and other magazines. I asked the printer for suggestions. I also found out from my client that the postcard decks would only be handed out (not mailed). Therefore, the packaging would not need to conform to any US Postal regulations. I requested the cheapest shrink-wrap-like packaging the printer could offer that would be durable. If the package had mailed, I would have done more homework, researching US Postal Service requirements for postcard decks on the USPS website.
  6. The printer and I discussed schedules, shipping destinations, and the fact that he was competing against an online postcard vendor. Fortunately this particular printer gave me a low price.
  7. Finally, my client noted the overall press run of 750 sets of six cards.

What You Can Learn from My Client’s Experience

  1. This is a very simple job. As a marketing vehicle, it is also a very efficient and cost-effective product. It may not be sexy, but consider it for your own design work anyway, since it can effectively interest new clients in your product or service—and for very little expense.
  2. Consider size and thickness from a design point of view (how you want the cards to feel and look), but make sure you also do the online research at the US Postal Service website. Make sure you comply with all automation standards (particularly size and paper thickness) to receive the best postal rates. If you don’t find what you need online, contact a business mail specialist in person. Not all branches of the Post Office have such a specialist, but the employees at your particular branch will know where to send you. That’s how I found mine.
  3. Discuss with the Post Office what their requirements are for the plastic packaging of the postcard decks. To get a head start on this, you might want to look closely at postcard decks you receive in your own mailbox. There are a lot of different wrapping options. Just because your printer can provide one, you still need to make sure the Post Office will accept it. If you’re just handing out the packages, as my client’s client was, you can forgo this step.

2 Responses to “Printing Postcard Decks: Specifications”

  1. Thanks for sharing some interesting insights on Postcard printing. Printing comes in all shapes and sizes and when taking on a project, it is very important to know the right techniques that must be applied to be assured of getting quality results.

    • admin says:

      Thank you for your comment. I agree completely. Fortunately, with the growth of digital printing alongside more traditional technologies, there are a lot more options now for both short and long press runs of various kinds.

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