rinting & Design Tips: JULY 2009, Issue #96

Perodical (Second Class) vs. Standard Rate Postage

Printing a job is only the beginning. Once your job is hot off the presses, you have to distribute it, or it’s useless: the proverbial tree falling in the forest with no readers (to mix metaphors).

And postage isn’t cheap, so it behooves you to study the USPS rules and regulations. Fortunately, even though postage may be a sizable component of your printing budget, there are ways to minimize the cost.

With this in mind, a client of mine recently decided to do a promotional special issue magazine to send out to his subscriber base. This client publishes a weekly magazine. The special issue in question would be sent out to all regular subscribers and to other potential clients as well.

When I was asked to produce a budget for this job, my first thought was that copies not mailed via First Class, Air Mail, Canadian Mail, or Foreign Surface would go Periodical Rate. After all, the main publication already had a subscriber base of 11,000 people, and the 3,000+ non-local copies of this publication were sent as Periodical Mail.

At this point, to give a brief explanation of Periodical Mail, suffice it to say that a magazine composed of bound pages must be sent four or more times a year to people who request it (a subscriber base). For this, you get a mailing discount (as Periodical Mail).

But the special publication in question wasn’t requested, and it was to be sent out once, not four times during the year. So, basically, it wasn’t a periodical, and it couldn’t reap the benefits of Periodical Rate postage.

So I suggested to the client that he send it as a supplement. The client didn’t want to link the two publications in any way so he nixed the idea. He didn’t want the special publication to be marked “supplement to…,” which would have been required for him to reap the postage rate discount that comes from sending one magazine in an envelope (or polybagged) with another related magazine.

Therefore, Standard Rate was the only available option, according to the US Post Office. When I drafted a budget for mailing the special edition of this magazine, I had to incorporate this information into my computations.

To put this case into real numbers, consider the following: The special issue of the magazine was to be approximately 60 pages in length, including the cover. Had the magazine been eligible for Periodical Rate postage, the postage cost per unit would have been $.50. As a Standard Rate mail piece, each copy of the magazine would cost $.61.

By itself, $.11 is minimal. Multiplied by the mail subscriber base of approximately 3,000 names (the other 8,000 copies were to be hand delivered), it cost a $330.00 premium to not send the magazine along with the main, host publication as a supplement. This was the client’s conscious decision (not a whim or error), so the extra $330.00 was a cost of doing business. But what if the mail subscriber base had been higher (let’s say 50,000 copies)? In such a case, the premium for this mailing choice would have exceeded $5,000.00.

What I learned from this was twofold: Do the research early. Start asking the US Post Office questions while you’re making the budget. And realize that there are ways to control postage costs, whether that means sending special publications as “supplements to” the host publication, or making sure that your brochure conforms to USPS size, weight, thickness, etc., requirements that allow you to mail a brochure at “machineable” or “automated” (rather than “hand-sortation”) rates. The list of ways to save on postage costs goes on and on.

The Post Office offers a wealth of information—and options. Be prudent. Take advantage of their expertise.

What is a Loupe?

Like a microscope, a loupe, or linen tester, opens up a new world by enhancing your vision. You may have noticed loupes if you’ve ever gone to a press inspection. They are essentially magnifying glasses on little frames to hold them at a precise level above a press sheet.

Among other things, at this level of magnification, you can see the halftone dots that make up a printed photograph. Moreover, if the image is a four-color (process color) photograph, you can see how the cyan, magenta, yellow, and black halftone screens, each tilted at a 30 degree angle to the next process color (except for yellow, which is at a 15 degree angle), make up “rosettes,” flower like patterns of halftone dots on the press sheet.

With a loupe, you can see when one of the colors is “out of register,” that is, not properly aligned with the others (if the registration marks don't line up from color to color) or if the image is out of “fit” (if the registration marks all line up but one or more colors are still out of alignment).

Seeing all of this helps you understand why an image on the press sheet looks fuzzy (if the colors are out of register) or why it has a color cast, or looks over-saturated or weak (if the halftone dots are too large or too small relative to each other and/or to the proof).

Some other bits of insight a loupe can provide include the following:

  • You can see whether the halftone dots are spreading on the paper (dot gain) and making the overall image muddy.
  • You can see the dot shape (round, square, or elliptical, each of which is ideal for certain kinds of images).
  • You can see the relative size of the halftone line screen (85-100 lpi for newsprint, for instance, and 175-300 lpi for a smooth, coated printing sheet).
  • You can see the presence or absence of a clean specular highlight in an image (free of halftone dots), and/or you can see the level of detail in the highlights.
  • You can check the 3-color neutrals on the color bar and see whether there is too much (or too little) cyan, magenta, yellow, or black on the press sheet (when compared to the proof and to densitometer readings).

It’s a useful little device, the loupe, and not that expensive (maybe $15.00 to $70.00, depending on quality and materials). Get one, and ask your printer to teach you how to use it. You may be surprised at how quickly you can learn.

[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.]