Printing & Design Tips: January 2005, Issue #42

Business Reply Card Stock

Designers are increasingly called upon to produce direct mail packages that include business reply cards. Specifying such jobs requires the designer to select the proper paper stock by taking into consideration Post Office requirements, aesthetics, the ability of the paper stock to accept ink without smearing, and cost.

First of all, one must make sure that the size and paper weight of the reply card will be accepted by the U.S. Post Office. If the reply card does not meet the Post Office's physical requirements, the mail campaign will be rejected outright or will incur a mailing surcharge. Even a few-cents-per-unit surcharge can add up in a large mailing (for example, a $0.02 surcharge added to all elements of a 100,000-piece mailing would amount to $2,000 of unnecessary expense).

The U.S. Post Office requires business reply cards between 3.5" x 5" and 4.25" x 6" to register on a micrometer to at least 7 pt. (0.007") in thickness ("mic" to 7pt.). Cards larger than 4.25" x 6" must mic to at least 9 pt.

Selecting reply card paper stock can be complicated because paper thickness is not always directly related to the weight noted on the label of the ream of paper. A sheet of 67# Vellum Bristol mics to 7 pt., but a sheet of 75# Hi-Bulk also mics to 7 pt. To be sure your paper will be acceptable, ask your printer to check a sheet with a micrometer before ordering the paper for your entire press run.

The designer must not only consider the size and weight of the card stock but also the surface coating or lack thereof. Your options, of course, are gloss coated, dull coated, matte coated, and uncoated. If one needs to personalize the cards with an ink-jet printer, or wishes the recipient to fill the card in with a ballpoint pen, the appropriate surface must be chosen.

  • The first of these, gloss-coated stock, is usually inappropriate, since ballpoint pen and ink-jet address information would smear on its surface.
  • Dull coated is more receptive to ball-point pen and ink-jet addressing since the coating is slightly rougher.
  • Matte coated is a bit rougher still and therefore more receptive to ink. (Patina Matte would be an example of this stock.)
  • Uncoated paper is extremely receptive to ballpoint pen and ink-jet printing since the ink will soak into thefibers of the paper rather than sitting on the coated surface. Within the realm of uncoated papers, one might choose 67# Vellum Bristol or 75# Hi-Bulk. Both mic to 7 pt. The former has a bit harder surface than the latter. The downside is that printing on either of these uncoated sheets will increase dot gain, so colors may become muddy and dark.

What is Thermography?

Thermography is an offshoot of offset printing often used to produce business cards, stationery, and the like. First, the job is printed with non-drying inks. Once the inks have been laid down, powder is dusted on the ink; the excess powder is then removed from non-imaged areas by suction. Finally, the job is heated in a process that causes the ink and powder to bubble up, creating raised printing simulating engraving.

With thermography, it is best to avoid using screens. Design only with type and solids. First of all, the crudeness of the process makes it impossible to print fine screens. In addition, coarse screen printing reveals large dot patterns that would most likely compromise the design.


When designing page spreads in a publication, keep in mind that the binding process is imperfect. If type or photos cross over from one page to another, misalignment can ruin the overall design effect. To minimize this problem, consider the following:

  1. In saddle-stitched books print the crossover across the center spread. Because the two pages are adjacent on one side of a press sheet, there will be no misalignment.

  2. Position both halves of the crossover on the same side of the press sheet if you can't place the crossover on the center spread. This way the color and ink coverage will be the same for both pages, since ink color and coverage normally vary from signature to signature or from one side of a signature to another.

  3. Avoid small type and thin rules in your design. In particular, the small type will get harder to read as it approaches the gutter and binding.

  4. Avoid placing the crossover image on an angle. This will make misalignment more obvious.

[Steven Waxman is a printing consultant. He 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.]