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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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Archive for the ‘Cards’ Category

Custom Printing: Pick a Card, Any Card

Sunday, September 4th, 2022

Photo purchased from …

Pick a card, any card. Postcards, wedding invitations, invitations to your kid’s graduation. They’re a little like business cards only larger (they give a powerful first impression). Or perhaps they’re more like miniature billboards. You have your reader’s rapt attention and can communicate your message immediately and directly.

When I mentioned this concept to my fiancee, she went through the house and collected at least 25 cards we had received (in envelopes) from just about everybody. And I’ve spent the last few days taking some time to go through the pile to see what I can learn.

First of all, there are no postcards. We’ll treat that later in the blog article. Some marketing textbooks say that no promotional item gives you more bang for the buck than postcards, because (as noted above) you have the buyer’s attention, because postcards are cheap to produce and cheaper than letters to mail to prospects, and because you can even add business reply information and prepaid postage (an indicia) so your prospects can return them to you for free (free to them, not to you) to request more information (to continue the conversation, as they say).

Attributes/Qualities of My Fiancee’s Cards

The first thing I noticed is that all of the cards are different sizes. None of them are squares. All are rectangles (horizontal rather than vertical, but in your own work you may want to change things up and design vertical cards so they’ll stand out from the crowd).

They are also printed on very thick cover stock. In my online research, it looks like web-to-print vendors who sell these cards print them on 110# to 140# cover stock. As long as these weigh less than an ounce, you apparently don’t need to add extra postage when you mail them out in an envelope. In addition, on the plus side, thick cards provide a sense of gravitas. They feel important, certainly more important than 80# cover, which is what business cards used to be printed on.

Also, there are a variety of coatings: gloss, matte, satin, and even uncoated. When I run my fingers across their surfaces, the uncoated cards (and even the satin or dull ones) feel a bit more personal, while the gloss coated cards both look and feel more corporate, less inviting, more salesy.

Interestingly enough, one of the pieces of promotional collateral, a card selling naturally dyed clothing, has a more intimate feel even though it is sales literature.

Most of the cards bleed off the edges, making them seem larger than their trim size (none are larger than 6” x 8”, most are smaller).

One thing that all of the cards share is that they are completely covered with text, photos, and areas of solid ink coverage. This is because none of them are postcards. Hence there’s no need for addressing information, postage (stamp, meter imprint, or indicia), etc.

One of the cards is actually a magnet on one side. The other side includes text and family photos. All of this reminds me that the refrigerator is covered with magnets that are essentially advertisements for real estate agents. They have calendars on one side and a magnetic surface on the other. Every time we open the refrigerator, this particular sales agent gets our attention. Needless to say, we know her name now. That’s priceless advertising for the cost of a single magnet card.

Personal Printing (Web to Print)

As a commercial printing broker I would normally have cards like these printed for various clients. However, they would probably be businesses, not individuals. But if you look through the cards my fiancee gave me, at least half are from family members. These cards (if you look very closely) are branded through Minted, Shutterfly, TinyPrints, and Vistaprint. I’m sure there are many other vendors like these if you check online. My presumption is that all of these were also accessible through an online web-to-print portal.

Based on past research online, I found that you can upload items (like photos), and then add text and solid color blocks, almost as if you were using InDesign right on your own computer. But you’re creating your card online on the vendor’s website (hence web-to-print).

Then you can choose paper thickness, paper tint (presumably), cover coating (such as matte, satin, or gloss), and you’re ready to add shipping and tax and then pay by Visa. Push a button and the box comes to your door.

It used to be that you could do this with business cards (you probably still can), and the company would send them to you at a reduced price if you kept their logo in a prominent place on your business card. I think this is a similar idea. What’s so good about it is that regular people who know nothing about commercial printing can take their snapshots and turn them into holiday cards and event reminders. It’s very personal and very affordable.


Now, postcards. One thing all of the cards my fiancee gave me have in common is that they all came in envelopes, presumably standard envelopes (i.e., of a particular standard size) to avoid the cost of making a metal die to die cut a non-standard-sized envelope. None are square because that would incur a surcharge from the Post Office. All are smaller than 6 1/8” x 11 1/2”. That’s because letter rate at the Post Office is cheaper than “flat” rate (for anything larger than 6 1/8” x 11 ½”). This postage adds up when you’re doing a mailing for a company as opposed to sending out cards for your family (with graduation, holiday, or wedding information).

(According to USPS online information, “for a mailpiece to be eligible for First-Class Mail letter rates, it must be at least 3-1/2 inches by 5 inches by 0.007-inch thick, and no more than 6-1/8 inches by 11–1/2 inches by 1/4-inch thick.”)

So this explains the size and paper thickness of the cards from my fiancee, but the US Postal Service is a bit more strict with postcards (and other business mail). If your job involves designing such mail, you can either read all of the requirements online or presumably pick up a business reply mail preparation print book (which is what I used to do as a designer and art director). I think it’s also useful to find a business reply mail specialist at your Post Office, so you can show her/him printed mock-ups of your postcard designs to make sure they adhere to USPS requirements.

(One thing to keep in mind is why the USPS has these requirements. Everything is automated. Therefore, if the size, aspect ratio of length to width, thickness, and material of your individual mail product fits USPS requirements, everything will go through the machines smoothly. This will cost the Post Office less, and you will reap the benefits in lower costs.)

The same holds true for all of the markings on business reply mail (let’s say you want to include business reply barcodes and other markings on one panel of a two-panel postcard, so your potential client can return a portion of the card to request further information). These markings include not only your business address but also the indicia (postage paid by and your permit number), FIM (facing identification marks), horizontal bars (like zebra markings) and Intelligent Mail Barcode.

All of these printed bars pertain to sorting, tracking, and orienting mail in the automated machines at the Post Office and throughout the mail stream. They ensure that your postcard gets to the right place. All of this involves scanning hardware and software, so the size and placement of these marks is important. It’s also important to avoid putting any extraneous marks where they shouldn’t be. Hence, it helps to read the requirements online or in print book form (current versions, if you can get them), and make friends with the business reply mail specialist. Follow the rules and you will save money. More importantly, you won’t be in a panic when the Post Office refuses your bulk mail drop because it’s not “to spec.”

The Takeaway

  1. Printed cards are a good use of your money. If you’re a marketer, you can either print cards and send them out in an envelope, or you can print postcards. One benefit of the non-postcard cards is that you can leave stacks of cards in various locations for prospective clients. You can use them to build your brand.
  2. Postcards may be an even better use of your money, but they have US Postal Service requirements with which you must comply.

Custom Printing: A Unique Printer’s Holiday Card

Sunday, January 19th, 2020

A commercial printing supplier I work with producing jobs for a number of my clients sent me a unique holiday card recently. I was touched by the thought, but even more than that I was intrigued by the card’s production values. (more…)

Custom Printing: Hand-Printing Your Holiday Cards

Thursday, December 7th, 2017

It’s the holidays again, and whatever holiday you celebrate, it’s always nice to receive a physical, paper card with a handwritten note. It goes miles beyond a virtual card. I really do believe that.

I’ve given thought recently to ways you can produce individual works of art if your card list is manageably short. Some of these methods I’d like to try in the next year with the autistic students my fiancee and I work with, since they lend themselves to fine art printing as well as greeting card printing. (more…)

Printing Custom Playing Cards

Sunday, October 21st, 2012

When I started my research into the history and printing of custom playing cards to answer a query by a close friend, I expected to trace their origins to the 15th century Italian Tarot deck, used for centuries for fortune telling and rife with mystical, religious, and astrological symbolism. In fact, what I did find was a much older origin in 9th century China, in the Tang Dynasty. (more…)


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