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Printing Industry Exchange ( 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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Postcard Printing: Analysis of a Sample Postcard

I just received a postcard today from a local printer. I happen to know that this commercial printing vendor specializes in multichannel marketing: i.e., helping clients increase their ROI (return on investment) by coordinating multiple channels of information, from offset and digital printing to email blasts and PURLs. They provide solutions. They don’t just put ink on paper.

I have a lot of respect for this custom printing supplier. I’ve worked with the firm for almost two decades. But I was both curious about, and frustrated by, their marketing postcard. When I thought about it, I made a list. Here are the pros and cons.

What I Liked About the Postcard

I liked the large format: 6” x 9”. Just the right size to stand apart from all the other letters, brochures, and magazines in my mail box. It had been printed on an uncoated stock, which felt good to my fingers, one point thicker than the USPS-required 9 pt. So it didn’t feel flimsy.

I liked the brown and turquoise color scheme, and the fact that the postcard had been personalized. The card included a link to a personal website: a PURL. I thought the postcard did a good job of blending digital custom printing (laser printing, or xerography) with the Internet and social media.

Most of all, I liked the content. The postcard referenced a seminar that piqued my interest, and the fact that I knew the printer’s work made me read every word. In marketing parlance, the “brand” was “relevant” to me.

What I Disliked About the Postcard

That said, it was only because of the brand that I took the time to struggle through reading the message panel, a 6” x 6” turquoise square covered with minuscule reverse type. Granted, my eyes are not what they used to be. I’m 55. I had to struggle, and here’s why:

  1. Under a loupe the turquoise appeared to be a screen of cyan. Because of the halftone dots, the edges of all letterforms reversed out of the screen were jagged. Jagged edges composed of laser printer dots make for a slightly fuzzy appearance. On the plus side, at least the screen was not a build of two or more colors, which would have made the edges of the letterforms even less crisp.
  2. The type appeared to be set in 7 pt. Helvetica Light (really—I used my type guide to check). This is small even when printed in black ink on white paper. The thinness of the letterforms contributed to the lack of legibility. The thin letterforms also filled in occasionally due to dot gain on the uncoated paper stock. (Although there’s only minimal dot gain in digital laser printing–compared to offset printing–even a little can make thin letterforms unreadable.) On the plus side, at least the designer had not set the type in a small-sized serif face. Had this been the case, the serifs might have filled in.
  3. The Post Office had contributed to the problem. Granted, the designer could not foresee this, but the automation equipment at the Post Office had scuffed the cyan toner. There were horizontal scratch marks right through the type in the bottom half of the text panel. I know laser printing is durable, but I’m wondering whether the softness of the uncoated stock had contributed to the ink’s scuffing.

What You Can Learn from this Case Study


  1. Light type on a light background is hard to read. A lot of light type is even harder to read. So the best thing to do is use reverse type for smaller amounts of copy (for an accent, or for contrast, not for important editorial information) and reverse it out of a solid background. This will eliminate the jagged edges of the letterforms as well. If you can reverse the type out of a darker background, that’s even better (i.e., contrast between the reverse type and the background improves legibility).
  2. Use a readable point size for type in larger blocks of text. I’d start with 9 pt. and go up from there.
  3. Consider using a press sheet with a harder surface coating (gloss, dull, matte, or even a hard-surfaced uncoated sheet) to minimize scratching by the Post Office.

Larger Issues

  1. Readability is paramount. If you can’t read the text in a promotional postcard, you’ve missed an opportunity to interest a potential client. Most people have short attention spans and only skim promotional materials. You don’t want a prospect to throw the postcard away without having read it.
  2. The “brand” contains unbelievable power. (I realize this sounds overly dramatic.) Had another custom printing supplier sent me this postcard, I would not have taken the time to read the small type. I would have just thrown the postcard away. In my mind, the “equity” of this particular commercial printing “brand” is strong enough that I took the time and effort to read the postcard.
  3. This is exactly what you want your clients and prospective clients to feel about your brand: a sense of interest, loyalty, and forgiveness of design faux pas. So make it easy for new clients and prospects to read your materials. Legibility comes first. Keep in mind that your clients (and their eyes) may range in age from very young to very old.
  4. And, by the way, nothing beats a postcard for getting your message out. It’s cheap to produce, cheap to mail, and your prospect doesn’t have to open an envelope. So go for it.

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