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Archive for the ‘Direct Mail’ Category

3 Ways Direct Marketing Can Help You Over Email Marketing

Tuesday, August 31st, 2021

We’re at the point where technology has drastically changed how we communicate with people. Using an email client, a social media site, or even a smartphone, we can exchange messages to other people in just seconds. For companies, however, the success in which the recipient will respond to your inquiries may vary, even if you manage to obtain their email address via lead generation.

This is why direct mail is still relevant. While it takes much longer to get to your recipient’s address, a physical piece of mail comes with many benefits over an email, which can play a part in the recipient signing up or making that purchase you were hoping for. Here are three reasons to start a direct mail marketing campaign over one involving email.

Direct Mail Can’t Be “Deleted”

Many companies prefer to go with email because it takes less time to create and send. However, the recipient can also take as much time to disregard and delete the email from their inbox, never being read apart from perhaps the subject line. Many web users have been conditioned to ignore emails they feel are spam, even if companies are legitimate and serious with their inquiries.

Direct mail can’t be discarded in the same way. While it can be tossed in the trash, recipients can still find curiosity to open an envelope to find out who it’s from and what they are offering. At the very least, your potential customer can at least make an effort to read the message before they make a decision.

Direct Mail Is Convenient

Direct mail can contain one of many marketing materials you can order from online printing sites, such as stationary, brochures, business cards, postcards, and more. These things can contain important information like an address, phone number, or special code. Anything useful for your recipient to want to use later can be placed on a desk or nightstand or in a pocket, purse, wallet, or bag, and will be very handy when using a phone or computer at the same time.

While emails and other messages can be saved on a smartphone or computer, the access and convenience of a small piece of paper can’t be beat. Should your leads also recommend your business to others, this material can be easily passed on without needing to use the internet and looking for it on an inbox.

Direct Mail Can Be Personalized

Presentation is another reason direct mail is more appealing to leads. A printing company can be able to create a custom set of envelopes for you to invite people to open. You can include your brand colors, freebies, and even a personalized message as if you’re talking to the recipient directly.

Simply put, an envelope has much more to pitch than a subject line in an email. As subject lines only consist of one line of text, they’re not really flattering in the eyes of inbox owners. And even any attempt to try to be creative and attractive just makes the email resemble spam.

Though email is the dominant means of marketing to potential leads, the success that businesses experience is rather hit and miss. Direct mail, however, is still effective in making new customers and introducing them to your business while also giving them something appealing in terms of promotion and incentive.


While email marketing is the most common way of marketing to potential buyers, there is still an appeal to choosing direct mail. This physical mail can invite recipients to open it, is more convenient, and allows you to be more creative.


Custom Printing: The Primal Power of Scented Direct Mail

Monday, March 15th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

We used to call it “scratch-n-sniff” back in the day. It was probably back in the 1970s when I first discovered magazine ads that, when scratched, would release the aroma of perfume.

A number of years later, I read about one of John Waters’ films, Polyester. Moviegoers would receive scratch-n-sniff cards with sample scents to activate at key points in the film, adding to the overall sensory experience of the movie. He called this “Smell-O-Vision” or “Odorama.”

In both cases it is clear that the more physical senses you trigger in any virtual or real event or with any custom printing product, the more vivid the audience’s experience will be.

These days, with VR (virtual reality) headsets available even in the thrift stores my fiancee and I frequent, much of the novelty of John Waters’ Smell-O-Vision has been eclipsed. Once you put on a virtual reality headset (which I did for the first time a few years ago), you see that you can be completely transported from day-to-day reality into an alternate world by evoking internal (physical, mental, and emotional) responses.

And marketers have taken note.

Why Is It Effective?

Our sense of smell is even more powerful than our sense of hearing or sight. It brings back memories and evokes powerful emotions. It touches a very primitive part of our brain that is more involved with feelings and creativity than with logic.

That said, the more senses you can trigger (if you’re a marketer, a musician, or even someone telling a story to a friend), the more intense and realistic the experience will be for the audience. That’s why a Pop Art assemblage (perhaps with actual clocks, bicycle parts, or a mattress attached to the painter’s canvas) evokes a more visceral reaction than a flat painting of the same subject. You don’t expect it. And it engages the senses of both sight and touch (or at least imagined touch).

A savvy marketing executive can parlay this knowledge of brain functioning into an especially effective direct mail campaign or commercial printing piece. If she or he can tell a story about the product or service (let’s say a perfume) with emotionally charged language and images, and trigger the pre-rational part of the prospective buyer’s brain with scented items, the marketing initiative will be dramatically more effective.

Moreover, nothing intrigues a potential client like a “unique” direct mail piece. I receive almost 200 e-mails each day now, so I’m looking for any reason to delete each one quickly. In contrast, I get only a few direct mail pieces, and if one is especially unique, I’ll pay much closer attention to it. Think back, for instance, to the first time you opened a birthday card with a microchip that made it speak or sing to you. At the time, no one else had done anything like it. Because it was unique, it made an immediate impression.

Scented direct mail does the same thing. It not only touches the most primitive part of your brain, but it also makes a direct mail piece stand out and pique the reader’s interest.

How Does It Work?

This question addresses the physics and chemistry of scratch-n-sniff, Smell-O-Vision, and scented direct mail. How do manufacturers make this work?

First of all, the scent is created in the lab. This involves chemistry. If you have ever eaten a bag of jellybeans that mimic the taste of everything from watermelon to chocolate, you appreciate the marvels of science. (Also, keep in mind that the senses of taste and smell are closely related.)

The scented liquid created in the lab is then “microencapsulated.” This means that fragrance liquid is sealed inside tiny polymer cells (very tiny: from perhaps one micron to a hundred microns in size). The polymer cells protect the liquid fragrance until the time of its release. (One company I researched says the shelf life is 3 to 5 months or until activated; others say years or until activated.) And all that is needed to release the fragrance is to scratch the polymer.

How Might You Use This Technology?

If you’re selling perfume, you could always key specific scents to specific locations on your direct mail card. Or you can send follow-up direct mail pieces, each with a different signature scent.

In addition to the power of the scents and the uniqueness of the experience, such scratch-off fragrances act as an “engagement tool.” Your prospective clients interact with the direct mail piece, and this increases the chance of their “conversion” (which means clients will be more likely to contact you for more information or to buy your product or service).

But what if you’re selling gardening equipment? Perhaps you can simulate the smell of a freshly cut lawn.

If you’re selling new cars, you can even simulate the smell of a new automobile. Or you can simulate the smell of tires to encourage recipients to bring their cars in for scheduled maintenance.

You might even want to add a specific smell that shows what will happen if you don’t buy the product.

Whatever you choose, tying the smell (and the graphics the reader will see) to the message of the direct mail piece will increase its impact.

The final and most important step will be to note what you want the prospect to do. This might include visiting your website, using a cell phone to trigger a QR code on the direct mail piece, or returning a business reply mail card for more information or a sample product.

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  1. You can include a scent in flyers, postcards, brochures, letters, or just about any other direct mail commercial printing piece.
  2. Scents can be included in the custom printing inks, paper coatings, or glues used to attach items within the mailing package.
  3. The US Post Office allows use of these custom printing inks and glues as long as the fragrance is not released during the delivery process. (The microencapsulation process mentioned above protects the scented ink, and many printers will also add a top coating to seal the ink.)
  4. Commercial printing suppliers can coat most papers to work with scented ink and glue products, so you have a lot of substrate flexibility in designing your direct mail piece.

The Takeaway

  1. Always think about the emotions you wish to elicit and what specific scents will trigger these emotions. Smells evoke emotions in the limbic region of the brain. They also bring back memories. They are extraordinarily powerful motivators.
  2. Consider your audience and what scents would be most evocative to them (and most pertinent to the message of your direct mail campaign).
  3. Think about the goal of your marketing campaign and what action you want your prospective buyers to take (more than likely this goal would be for them to visit your website).
  4. Then research commercial printing suppliers who do this kind of work. The Printing Industry Exchange (PIE) website would be a great venue to find printers who can help you develop the scents you need.
  5. Then, as you would do in vetting any new printer, request samples of direct mail packages the custom printing vendors have created that incorporate fragrance into the printed products.

Commercial Printing: Direct Mail Is Alive and Well

Monday, March 8th, 2021

Photo purchased from …

I don’t know about you, but I’m beginning to get my fill of email advertising. Since the onset of Covid, my daily allotment of email has risen from about 100 per day to close to 160 emails. Through this miasma, I have to search for relevant emails from clients as well as educational emails referencing commercial printing.

So going down to the mailbox each day and finding only a handful of letters and maybe a few direct mail pieces is a relief. Chances are, I’ll even skim most of the direct mail since it usually pertains to custom printing. Someone has been paying attention. They know what I do and don’t want to read, and the overall mail volume is manageable.

In light of this I recently read a handful of articles from Ironmark ( regarding the blessings (and prudent use of) direct mail in current times. You may want to look up these articles: “Direct Mail Drops: How Many and How Often Yield Best Results?” by Reid Broendel, 04/28/20; “Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20; “How to Raise Engagement with Super-Personalized Print Pieces,” Lynne Kingsley, 01/23/19; “Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19; and “How to Get Extremely Targeted with Your Direct Mail Campaign,” Chris McCready, 08/02/19). Together with other direct mail articles on this website, Ironmark provides a great survey of why direct mail is effective in general, and how you can reap its benefits, particularly in a digital age.

Why Direct Mail Is So Effective

To paraphrase these articles from Ironmark, here are some observations:

  1. People love to get mail. It’s a break in their day, and it often promises something new and special.
  2. People love the tactile nature of direct mail, particularly when it takes advantage of interesting paper stocks, coatings, and other design elements that can’t be replicated online.
  3. People particularly like receiving mail directed specifically to them.
  4. According to market research, this is true for all recent generations, including Baby Boomers, Gen-X, Millennials, etc.
  5. If the mail directly addresses the interests (and past buying history) of recipients, you’ve got their attention.
  6. “Customers who receive a direct mail piece, on average, spend about 30 percent more than those who didn’t” (“Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20).
  7. People like direct mail because they can carry it around and read it anywhere, anytime (presumably because it doesn’t require an electronic reading device) (“Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20).
  8. “More than 60 percent of consumers who get catalogs in the mail visit the website of the business that sent it” (“Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20).

So learning about direct mail and deploying it to the benefit for your business is a prudent investment of time and money, both in terms of gaining new clients and holding onto the ones you already have. If you collect relevant demographic data (everything from names and addresses to personal shopping history and personal interests), direct mail will allow you to maintain a connection with your customers, keep them interested, and keep them updated regarding your new and current offerings.

What Works?

All of the Ironmark articles I read encouraged direct mail marketers to do the following to ensure success:

  1. Consider your goal. Is it to “thank clients for their purchases,” “welcome them to a select event,” “send a company update”? (Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19).
  2. Collect good data. You may want to research CRM (customer relations management). CRM software helps you to target those prospective customers who may benefit from your product or service. At the same time, it filters out those who probably would not (based on your specifications fed into the CRM software). This way you don’t waste money sending direct mail pieces to those less likely to be interested.
  3. CRM software allows you to collect names and addresses of potential clients, as well as trace their interests, buying habits, and levels of education. Using variable data printing (a powerful feature of digital commercial printing that allows you to vary each direct mail item you print), you can speak directly to each current or potential client. People prefer to read direct mail that addresses them by name and provides information of interest to them.
  4. Include your prospect’s name numerous times in the direct mail piece.
  5. Ironmark’s articles (in particular, “Direct Mail: Stronger Than Ever in the Digital Age,” Blake Leppert, 11/03/20) encourage you to not forget current clients. Yes, go after new ones, but remember that it takes a lot less time and money to keep your current clients happy than to interest, qualify, and begin to work with new ones.
  6. Plan on sending out direct mail in batches (Ironmark suggests three separate “roll outs”). This is because repeated exposure to the same offer can have exponentially positive results. Sometimes, in fact, people need to see a message up to eleven times before they become interested in working with you.
  7. In particular, sending out direct mail in batches and then following up with emails, connections to PURLs (personal URLs), surveys, and such, can keep your brand “top of mind” (as the marketers say). Without becoming annoying, you want to keep as close a connection as possible with your clients and prospects. This allows you to cultivate more leads, attract new customers, keep current ones, and drive traffic to your website.
  8. If you want to follow the aforementioned rule of sending out direct mail in batches, “Direct Mail Drops: How Many and How Often Yield Best Results” suggests doing this at approximately 21-day intervals.
  9. Since digital commercial printing allows you to alter every single piece of direct mail you send, start with an awareness of your potential client (buyer persona) based on the demographic data you will have collected with your CRM software. (You may want to research “segmenting.”) Then, decide what portion of your direct mail piece will be static (common to all pieces) and what elements (name, address, past buying history, expressed interests, and such) you will want to directly personalize. Collect the InDesign files and address data files (and other variable data files), and share these with your custom printing supplier early in the process to determine the best way to prepare for the three, 21-day-apart direct mail roll-outs.
  10. Use new and old media in tandem. A thought-provoking direct mail piece that catches the interest of a prospect can send her/him to a website that will initiate a two-way exchange. The potential client can use a URL printed in the direct mail piece to link to a PURL, or scan a QR Code to link a special web page. There he or she can get more information on what you offer. It’s not about whether direct mail or online marketing is better. It’s about how you can use both to reinforce your marketing message. Projecting your brand across all channels (print, electronic, signage) can have a profound, synergistic effect.
  11. Incorporate into your direct mail campaigns those materials and processes that can’t be replicated in email marketing, such as special paper stocks, foil stamping, special paper coatings, die cutting, and such.
  12. Engage the reader’s intelligence. (This is called an “involvement device.”) This may include a contest or puzzle (as suggested by “How to Raise Engagement with Super-Personalized Print Pieces,” Lynne Kingsley, 01/23/19).

Applying these suggestions will significantly increase your response rates. Your goal is to have your direct mail piece land in front of your client, or prospective client, at the very moment they need it and are ready to receive and absorb its message.

The Takeaway

I’d like to leave you with three quotes from Ironmark’s articles that you may find interesting:

  1. “Accorrding to Infosys, 59 percent of shoppers who have experienced personalization believe it has a noticeable impact on purchasing” (“Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19).
  2. “Ninety-one percent of customers are more likely to shop with brands who recognize, remember, and provide relevant offers and recommendations” (“Setting Up Variable Data Printing for Personalization Perfection,” Garner Leidy, 07/25/19).
  3. “According to Forbes, ‘Companies who adopt data-driven marketing are more likely to have an advantage over the competition and increase profitability. In fact they are six times more likely to be profitable year-over-year’” (“How to Get Extremely Targeted with Your Direct Mail Campaign,” Chris McCready, 08/02/19).

Commercial Printing: A Thoughtful Approach to Direct Mail

Tuesday, October 27th, 2020

By mid-morning I have upwards of sixty emails to read. In contrast, when I go out to my physical mailbox, I only find a few, well-designed mail pieces. In the first case, I do whatever I can to delete the emails without missing anything important. In the second case, I find it relaxing to look through the physical mail.

It looks like I’m not alone. I just read “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” written by Lynne Kingsley and published as an Ironmark blog. What it says about direct mail portends well for self-mailers, postcards, and other such commercial printing products. According to the research she includes, people tend to trust the permanent, physical nature of direct mail. It seems to stick in people’s memories better than email. They like its tactile qualities. And there’s a manageable amount to absorb, unlike online email.

So the hue and cry of several years ago that direct mail was ever so “yesterday” seems to be fading as direct mail printing makes a comeback.

What We Can Learn from Lynne Kingsley’s Article

(First of all, it bears reading, and it can be easily found online.)

What I found most helpful about “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost” was the mental to-do list it offers for planning and budgeting for direct mail products, as well as these two caveats:

  1. Direct-mail campaigns are recurrent, so plan for follow-up mailings.
  2. Direct-mail campaigns are incredibly effective, so consider direct mail an investment rather than a cost.

Here are some of the talking points from Kingsley’s article:

Consider your options. These include postcards, self-mailers, marketing letters, invitations, booklets, brochures, and catalogs, to name a few. Postcards have the benefit of a lower postage cost, plus they can be read without opening an envelope. If they are well designed, they can stand out from among the other mail and grab a prospect’s interest.

Things to consider include mailpiece size and thickness. Kingsley includes a chart, but what I would suggest is that you either research bulk mail online or visit a USPS branch and request a business reply mail book. Meeting the Post Office size requirements will save you lots of money, so consider the time spent learning about direct mail requirements to be a worthy investment.

Also, decide how you’ll be paying for postage. Research stamps, postage metering, and bulk mail permits (the mail “indicia”), as well as business reply mail permits in general.

Self-mailers go into the mail without an envelope. You start with a large, flat printed sheet, and you fold it down to mailing size. (Research this size. Too large, and you’ll pay a premium. The wrong aspect ratio of height to width, and you’ll pay a premium.) Heavy stock feels opulent. However, a mailer produced on cover stock will require more postage than a folded self-mailer printed on a commercial printing text stock.

Like postcards, self-mailers broadcast the mailer’s brand immediately, without the need to tear open an envelope. These days self-mailers are sealed shut with removable fugitive glue (a little like rubber cement). Unlike wafer seals (the prior method), removing fugitive glue doesn’t damage the printing.

Having designed a lot of these when I was an art director, I’d encourage you to follow size and paper weight specifications from the Post Office, and to make sure you’re not printing on areas of the self-mailer that should be left blank. This also pertains to wafer seal placement (if you use them instead of fugitive glue). (Research machinability and automated mail.)

If your self-mailer can go through all the automated mailshop machinery without causing problems, and if you have sorted and addressed the self-mailers correctly, you will reap postal discounts. It’s worth the research. (In fact, it’s also worth making friends with the Business Mail Specialist at your local Post Office branch. Show her/him your printed mock-ups for self-mailers, and ask for feedback.)

Kingsley’s article, “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” then goes on to discuss letters in envelopes. The only downside is this involves printing both the promotional letters and the envelopes. Plus it involves addressing the envelopes. One way around addressing the envelopes, however, is to buy window envelopes. If the address on the mailing letter shows through the window on the envelope, you don’t have to separately address the envelopes. This saves money.

(Research #9 and #10 envelopes. Your outgoing envelope will be a #10 envelope, and it can contain a #9 business reply mail envelope along with your marketing letter. Don’t rule these out. These are very effective, even if they involve printing the mailing letter and also buying envelopes. A few other things to consider are the size of standard vs. custom envelopes and the products they contain, how thick the envelope paper should be, and how many inserts the envelopes will hold.)

Kingsley then goes on to discuss invitations. Consider whether you want flat cards or fold-over cards. Make sure you’ll have room for the invitation, the reply card, the envelope for the reply card, and any inserts you want to include. Also, I’d encourage you to consider paper weight (24#, which is comparable to 60# text stock, or 28#, which is comparable to 70# text stock). When I used to design these, I’d make paper dummies of all inserts, make sure everything (based on size and thickness) fit in the envelope, and then hand off the mock up to the printer to make sure everything was printed and then inserted (mailshop work) as intended.

I’d also consider paper color and texture. There are some elegant or fanciful paper stocks out there to choose from.

Booklets, brochures, and catalogs! These days, intriguing design, including creative paper choices and unique use of gloss, satin, and dull coatings, can make booklets, brochures, and catalogs a real knock out. People can carry them anywhere and page through them at their leisure. You can even use these printed materials to direct clients to your website to further the marketing conversation. People trust the permanence of print. Take advantage of this, and also use the tactile benefits of these three sales tools to your benefit. (Play to the strengths of print: those qualities that set print apart from digital media.)

But, again, be conscious of size, thickness, and weight requirements of the Post Office. (Research postcard, letter, and flat.) If you keep to the size constraints, you’ll save money. If not, you might wind up sending a “package” or “parcel” by accident, which will cost you more (particularly over the course of a large mailing). Check these requirements online and/or discuss them with your USPS Business Reply Mail Specialist.

(Most printers now have not only mailshops in house but also postal employees right in the commercial printing plant preparing the mail for drop shipping. So you may do well to ask your printer about all these issues as well.)

Overall Costs to Consider

Finally, Lynne Kingsley discusses production costs. I found this most useful as a mental checklist:

  1. Creative (writing and design): Assume $75 to $125 an hour, and plan for one hour per page of anything your designer creates. This is just a starting point. If you make lots of changes to the design and copy, the price will go up. (I personally would not skimp on this. You can pay less, but how your printed product looks and how dynamic the copy is will determine the success rate of the marketing initiative.) Remember, this is an investment, not an expense. Personally, I’d base my choices of writers and designers on references from people I trust.
  2. Printing: Kingsley’s article, “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” notes $.10 to $2.00 per piece as a starting point for your budget. The cost will depend on everything from paper choice (consider printer’s house stocks) to number of inks printed, from page count to special bindings and paper coatings. I’d select a few printed pieces you like and find out what one or two printers you trust would charge to produce the number of copies you need. Then draft a specification sheet and share this with a few more custom printing suppliers, and you’ll get an idea of the total cost of producing your direct mail package. This is the time to find out whether your printer can perform all of the mailshop activities and then enter the final promotional pieces into the mailstream.
  3. Mailing Lists: Kingsley suggests that you assume up to $.30 per record (per potential client name/address). But if you use your own list, it’s free. Either way, make sure the mailing list has been cleaned (bad addresses removed), sorted, and CASS Certified (i.e., everything has been done to ensure accuracy and USPS formatting requirements). If you rent the list for multiple uses, the price (i.e., the average cost per record that you pay) will go down.
  4. Envelopes, Labels, Postage, and Fulfillment: “How Much Does Direct Mail Cost,” assumes $.25 to $2.00 per piece. You should get estimates, but this is a good starting point (a good list of necessary processes to consider when budgeting). Personally, I’ve used both dedicated mailshops and mailshops in commercial printing establishments. So I’d encourage you to shop around. In all cases, finding a knowledgeable, responsive advocate is more important than saving a few dollars.

The Takeaway

Here are some thoughts:

  1. Direct mail is making a comeback. People increasingly prefer printed mail to the overabundance of digital marketing mail they receive.
  2. Direct mail drives sales. It is an investment, not an expense.
  3. Don’t fight the US Post Office. Learn their requirements for size, weight, sortation, and mailability, and you will reap postal discounts.
  4. Find someone more knowledgeable than you to help with the process (a commercial printing sales rep, Business Mail Specialist at the USPS, etc.). But also research the intricacies yourself online and/or through USPS publications. Take the time to study, and you will reap postal savings.

Commercial Printing: Paper Choices for Direct Mail

Thursday, February 1st, 2018

I received two pieces of direct mail this week that piqued my interest. In fact, I decided to keep them, and not just for this article. I wanted to think about why I found them unique.

Ironically, as more and more people have moved their marketing efforts from physical, paper based commercial printing to the more ephemeral Internet, those direct mail marketers who have stayed the course have found less competition for the reader’s attention.

In many cases, there’s less mail in the mailbox. What this means is that you have fewer pieces to review. But studies have shown that people still do take time to read their physical direct mail. In contrast, emails seem to be increasing every day, so I personally find myself reading fewer and fewer of the promotional ones. I look for a reason to delete them since there are always so many.

In light of this situation, I received the two physical mail pieces this week, and it was actually the paper choices more than the design that caught my attention.

Again, ironically, it was one of the major differences between email marketing and physical, print marketing that made these two pieces stand out. After all, you can’t touch a website or an email.

Paper Choices: The First Fold-over Card

The first piece is marketing collateral for a bank. The folded size is 6” x 9”, but it opens up into a 6”x 18” flat size, which in itself is unique. It feels big, and its dramatically lit images and ink solids with reversed type echo the feeling of space and abundance.

But what makes it really memorable is the feel of the custom printing paper stock.

Keep in mind that two functional (and useful) characteristics of paper are its weight and its surface. In this case the paper feels heavy (probably 80# cover), but this weight is doubled, since it is a fold-over card. The first thing you feel is the double thickness of the paper before you open the front flap upward to reveal the tall and narrow format.

Secondly, the commercial printing vendor coated the entire card–both sides—with soft-touch UV (or possibly reticulated varnish). It has a rough but consistent pattern, and this makes it feel soft as I run my finger across its surface. Combined with the thickness of the custom printing stock, the slightly uneven surface of the paper makes holding the marketing piece a tactile experience. The designer used one of the main benefits of paper—its physical, tactile nature—to its best advantage.

One reason I would probably guess that this is soft-touch UV coating (in addition to the soft feel) is the contrast between the soft background and a few items highlighted with a spot gloss effect (also probably a UV coating). The gloss coating covers the logo and some of the reversed type. Under a bright light, the contrast between the matte, pebbly finish covering most of the printed product and the smooth gloss effect over selected large headlines and the logo makes the display type and logo stand out more than usual. Under bright light they have a high-gloss reflective sheen.

All of this affects the viewer long before the large photos, page design, and text of the marketing piece. These qualities happen to be stellar as well (a simple but bold design reflected in the typeface, reversed type, and dramatically lit and well-balanced images). However, the very first thing the reader notices, upon pulling this marketing piece out of the envelope, is the texture and feel of the paper, a subtle element of design that works on a subconscious level. The reader may not consciously know what is going on, but the feel and weight of the paper are working their magic upon her or him.

Paper Choices: The Second Fold-over Card

Interestingly enough, this is a fold-over card, too. But it opens from side to side. (It is horizontal rather than vertical.) So the effect is more traditional. However, the paper is a very thick, uncoated and blue white stock. So before you open the fold-over card, the paper feels especially heavy. And this registers as “important information” when you pull it out of the envelope. It’s “weighty,” so to speak.

The uncoated surface of the paper combined with the full-bleed photos on all four panels gives a soft, subdued feel to this marketing piece, which is an introduction to a new series of town homes near my fiancee’s and my house.

The front panel shows about ten of the townhouses, all touching, at dusk. The sky is a subdued blue (as is the headline type, which is slightly darker), but you can see the reflection of the sunset in the windows, and some of the house lights have been turned on. The touches of orange sunlight in the cover image provide a nice warm contrast to the predominantly cool colors of the overall image. And the softness of the image at day’s end is consistent with both the soft feel of the uncoated paper and the softness of the printed image (in contrast to an image printed on a gloss or even a dull coated commercial printing sheet).

Inside the fold-over card the solid ink areas and reverse type provide an austere counterpoint to the large image of a kitchen in one of the row houses.

Overall, the effect of the marketing piece is one of substance (due to the thickness of the paper) with a casual, relaxed flair (due to the soft, uncoated paper surface).

Paper Choices: A Thick Business Card

My fiancee just handed me a business card from a fine artist. It’s actually perfect to round out this series of marketing pieces enhanced by shrewd custom printing paper choices.

There are three elements that distinguish this business card from its peers. First, it is thicker than usual. It is 14pt. For comparison, that’s just under 120# cover stock. To put this in perspective, when I was a graphic designer I used to specify 80# cover stock for business cards. So this paper feels much heavier and rigid. Like the two fold-over cards noted above, this business card has substance and (psychological as well as physical) weight.

One side of the card is a montage of the artist’s paintings, many of which are at sunset, so the contrast between the oranges and reds of the sun in the clouds works nicely against the dark silhouettes of the buildings. The colors are dramatic even in this small size with this many images in the montage. You don’t really see the individual paintings as much as their unifying color scheme.

On the front of the card is the artist’s website URL, hand-written in three lines (white reversed out of a black background that bleeds on all sides). So it’s simple. One side has the web contact information, and one side has a smattering of the artist’s images.

And because of the thickness of the commercial printing paper stock (and its rigidity), the overall effect is one of importance: an importance conveyed by the paper choice even before the reader can consciously address the graphic design or the marketing message.

Booklet Printing: Considering Options for Nested Booklets

Friday, July 26th, 2013

When I receive bids for a print job, the pricing from the various custom printing suppliers usually falls within a narrow range. Some prices are lower, and some are higher, but it is unusual for one book printer to be twenty or thirty percent higher than all the others. If this happens, it is usually because of a miscommunication of some sort.

A few blog posts ago, I mentioned a smaller print booklet (6” x 9”) bound within a larger booklet (7” x 10”) that a print brokering client of mine has been designing. It is a 4-color self-mailer (i.e., it will not mail in an envelope). The job will include a folded letter inserted in the back of the larger book, and the mailer will be closed with three wafer seals to meet US Postal requirements for self-mailers.

Vastly Different Pricing from the Vendors

One printer bid $470.00 to insert the smaller print book into the larger print book, while another printer bid $2,400.00 for the same work. If the vendor with the higher insertion cost had not offered such a low price to print the two booklets (comparable to the lowest bid), I would have assumed that the high bidder was just not competitive for this kind of work. But the custom printing price was low, so I looked deeper.

My first thought was that the printer with the low bid had just priced the job with two stitches affixing one print book into the other. This would have been problematic. After all, my client wanted to be able to remove the inner book and keep it intact (i.e., the inner book had to still have two staples once it had been removed from the outer book). To do this, one additional staple would need to be added, binding the two separate, previously stitched books together.

But had the first printer (with the low bid) understood the complexity of the job? That was my question. Clearly the bidder with the higher price had understood, hence the higher price. I called the first bidder to confirm absolutely that he had understood. The inner book would need to be removed by the recipient. He agreed to hold the price. He had understood, and I had given him a chance to make a price change if he had not understood.

A New Option for Mailing the Promotional Piece

The high bidder could not bind the job for anywhere near the price the low bidder had provided. (My assumption was that the equipment on the pressroom floor of the two book printers had differed enough to account for the price discrepancy.)

However, since the high bidder’s prices for the custom printing component of the job were competitive, he suggested an alternative. He would produce the two print books and the accompanying letter (keeping them separate) and insert them into a 4-color printed envelope.

The Basis for the Change in Job Specifications

I considered the change in job specifications because the book printer offered an interesting rationale:

  1. A self-mailer would get banged up in the mail.
  2. Wafer seals, which would be required by the Post Office, might tear the cover stock of the outer booklet when the recipient of the mailer slit them to open the print book.
  3. The fifth stitch (the one used to bind the two print books together) would be opened when the inner book was removed from the outer book. This extra staple might accidentally prick the finger of the reader, since the staple would still be open and would extend into the center of the book once the smaller book had been removed.
  4. Most notably, the envelope would protect the entire package (all elements: the two books and the letter) from damage.

All of this seemed prudent, so I asked the book printer to revise the bid, deleting the costs for binding the books together and adding a price for a 4-color printed envelope.

This new price was quite good, so I submitted it to my client as an alternative to the self-mailer. I also explained why this might be a good option to consider.

The One Downside I Could See

I could see only one reason not to choose the envelope option (although clearly I would defer to my client’s wishes, regardless). When you find a 4-color self-mailer in your mail box, it stands out from all the other mail. You don’t need to open the envelope. You get an immediate recognition of the image and message.

In contrast, you have to open a sealed envelope. Granted, you can put teaser copy on the envelope, but it still may not be as dramatic as a 4-color self-mailer. I explained this to my client so she would understand the pros and cons of both options.

A Final Thought on Adding Wafer Seals

Over the years I’ve received numerous self-mailers closed not with wafer seals but with fugitive glue. Granted, neither option is as user friendly as an open self-mailer, but this is not an option given the requirements for US Postal Service automated processing. The mailer needs to be securely closed.

That said, I’ve never torn a self-mailer sealed with fugitive glue, while I have inadvertently torn self-mailers sealed with wafer tabs.

It was just a thought. I presented it to my client as an option to consider.

The jury is still out. We’ll see what my client says.

Brochure Printing: Revising Jobs from Prior Years

Wednesday, July 24th, 2013

One of my print brokering clients is a designer. Last year she made one of her clients very happy with two self-mailers. I wrote about them last summer, and this year her client wants to update the two jobs without changing their format.

The Back-Story of the Z-Fold Brochure

One of the jobs is a Z-fold (or accordion-fold) piece. Each of the 12 panels (six on each side) folds back and forth in the opposite direction of one another (like the letter “Z”). The self-mailer folds to a final size of 10.2″ high and 4.5″ wide. The 4-color custom printing project will be produced on 80# white gloss cover.

Here’s the Catch: Postal Regulations

In January I received an update from the Post Office listing new requirements for automatable discounts on self-mailers. These changes included acceptable self-mailer size and format, paper weight, address placement, folding restrictions, and tabbing positions for wafer seals.

Fortunately, my client’s Z-fold self-mailer from last year met all of the requirements without any significant changes. However, a different job with different specifications might not have passed muster. And in this case, without corrections to meet the USPS restrictions, the job might have incurred a significant surcharge—or it might have been rejected outright by the Post Office.

How to Avoid Mailing Problems

This is what I suggested to my client, and I would offer the same advice to you:

  1. Keep abreast of developments in the US Postal Service. Google Alerts can give you daily updates of relevant articles. Foreknowledge can save you money. These updates can come at any time. The USPS update that pertained to my client arrived this January.
  2. Show a mock-up of your brochure printing job to a business mail service specialist at the Post Office (or send him/her a PDF of your project). Make it clear that you want your piece to be machinable and automatable, that you want to receive the best postage discount possible. And then ask for his/her suggestions. Ask how you need to change the size, design, paper specification, address placement, or any other elements of the self-mailer to ensure compliance.

Another Piece: A Step-Down Print Booklet

Last year my client also created a step-down print booklet with diagonal thumb tabs. Each successive right-hand page was cut slightly less deep than the one in front of it. Thumb tabs had type reversed out of five different solid colors (one for each tab, with all being process color builds). It was beautiful, but it required precise cutting to make all tabs parallel to one another—with all of them on the same 45 degree angle.

The outer cover of the print booklet extended across the full 6” x 9” dimension (folded down from 12” x 9”), and the booklet was closed and tabbed for mailing. It also included a folded flyer, printed on 50# white offset and inserted into the direct mail package prior to tabbing.

The custom printing supplier had initially planned to cut the pages without using a die. He had expected to do extra hand-work, so the price included a surcharge. However, as the job progressed, it became clear that due to the precision needed in cutting the diagonal thumb tabs, the printer’s hand-cutting would take forever, might not be parallel, and might leave white lines between each of the differently colored tabs.

Therefore, the printer had steel die-cutting dies made and lost money on the job. If I recall correctly, he passed a small portion of the cost on to my client, but since the printer had initially priced the job for hand-cutting, he stepped up and bore the lion’s share of the cost of the dies.

A New Year, but the Same Step-Down Print Booklet

So now it’s a new year, and the custom printing job is essentially the same. The graphics will change completely, but the size and format of the step-down self-mailer will match last year’s job.

The good news is that the dies have already been made. So the overall cost of the job may be quite reasonable (even with a slightly higher initial price than last year’s job, due to the complexity of the work, offset by a discount, since the dies have already been made).

What You Can Learn

If you’re doing a job that is essentially the same one you did last year, particularly if it involves preparatory work such as steel-die-making, consider going back to the same custom printing supplier that did the work the preceding year, and ask about using the old dies.

Conversely, even if it’s a new job (a pocket folder for instance), ask about using a die that has already been created. If you’re willing to adjust your design a little to match an existing die, you may reap a savings, upwards of $500.00, since die-making can be pricey as well as time consuming.

Book Printing: Thoughts on Creating Nested Booklets

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

A print brokering client of mine came to me with an idea for a marketing promotion. It involved custom printing a 7” x 10” booklet that included a smaller, 6” x 9” booklet tipped into the print book.

She planned to produce the larger booklet as a 12-page self-cover, saddle-stitched item and the smaller booklet as an 8-page self-cover, saddle-stitched item. Both would be printed on cover stock.

My client wanted my suggestions on what paper to use, how large to make the books, and how to tip the smaller book into the larger book.

Choosing Paper and a Page Size

I contacted a high-end commercial printing vendor to discuss the job. Based on the amount of information my client wanted to include on each page, the printer and I agreed that the 6” x 9” and 7” x 10” formats would be ideal. In addition, the size difference would be just enough for the smaller book to stand out from the larger book (too close in size, or paper stock, and the reader would not immediately know where one book ended and the other began).

Furthermore, the printer and I agreed that an 80# white satin cover stock would be ideal for the outer book and a 65# white satin cover stock would be best for the inner book (my client wanted a paper finish between gloss and matte). Again, the contrast between the two paper weights would immediately confirm where one print book ended and the other began.

In addition to immediately identifying the shift from one book to the next, the thinner paper for the interior print book book would have a few other advantages. First, the marketing piece would be lighter than one created entirely on 80# stock. Therefore, the cost to mail the job would be less than for a book printed on 80# cover stock throughout. Finally, the bulk of the combined print books would be less, so there would be more likelihood that the nested booklets would lie flat and not curl.

Binding One Print Book Into the Other (or Tipping One Book Onto Another)

I told the printer about the tip-on, and we agreed that there were three options.

  1. The smaller booklet could be bound into the center of the larger book. It could jog to the top or bottom of the book.
  2. The smaller book could be tipped onto cover #3 (the inside back cover of the larger book). The book printer could run a thin bead of fugitive glue (like rubber cement) parallel to the spine of the larger book and then position the smaller booklet on this easily-removable glue.
  3. The printer could insert a “hanger” between signatures in the larger book, and tip-on (affix with the fugitive glue) the smaller book. One side of the hanger would be visible in the front of the larger book (and could be printed or unprinted), and the other side would extend through the saddle stitches to the back of the book. The high-folio side of the hanger (the side after the center of the book) would provide a base to which the smaller book could be glued.

I asked the printer if there were other options, and he said there were none. I also asked which he preferred and why. The printer said that inserting the smaller print book into the center of the larger one would not require tabbing, but tipping the smaller booklet onto the back inside cover of the larger book would require tabbing.

Since the job would be a self-mailer, I noted that three wafer seal tabs would need to be applied by the mailshop—either way–for the Post Office to accept the job and process it on its automated equipment (i.e., the self-mailer would then be machinable and automatable and would receive relevant postage discounts).

The printer agreed and said that under these circumstances there would be no reason to choose one option over the other. If the client wanted the smaller booklet either tipped onto the inside back cover or bound into the center of the book, either would be fine.

Stitching Both Books and Then Attaching Them to One Another

In order to ensure that both the smaller and larger print books would be intact when the smaller book had been removed from the larger, we agreed on the following. The smaller book would be bound with two staples, the larger book would be bound with two staples, and then the smaller book would be bound into the larger book with one staple.

The printer did voice one concern. Since pulling the smaller book out of the center spread of the larger book would open the central binding staple, this could be awkward. Instead, he suggested wrapping an elastic band around the spine of both books to hold them together in the center of each. This elastic band could be white, black, or a color. He would see whether this would be acceptable to the Post Office.

Discussing My Findings with My Client

I presented all of these options and insights to my client. She wasn’t sure she liked the idea of an elastic band holding both books together. She might still opt for the staple, or she might prefer tipping the smaller book onto the back inside cover of the larger book. She would need to present all options and pricing to her client for review.

Pursuing Next Steps

Therefore, my next step was to set out in writing all specifications for the booklets, with all options noted for binding and tip-ons. I then sent the spec sheet to the printer I had contacted as well as two other vendors and requested pricing.

What You Can Learn from This

  1. Involve your custom printing supplier early. Describe your goals, and then ask for his suggestions for improving the product and making it cost-effective.
  2. Keep a detailed specification sheet, and update it as you adjust your goals.
  3. Share the specs with a number of printers. Some may have more knowledge in the area of your particular printed piece, or more appropriate equipment, or better pricing.

Commercial Printing: Five-Day USPS Delivery–Ouch

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

I have concerns and questions about the effects of the upcoming change in postal service deliveries. On August 5, 2013, mail delivery will be cut from six days a week to five.

I understand the congressional mandate to pre-fund healthcare benefits for future retirees (although I also believe this requirement does not pertain to any other government, or quasi-government, organization).

I also understand the need for the Post Office to be solvent (although I personally would pay more for services). But overall, this reduction in delivery days scares me. Here are a few reasons why.

Magazine Printing Schedules May Be Compromised

I spent over a decade consulting for an organization that publishes news magazines. Over this time, I became acutely aware of how magazine content stays in flux as long as possible to keep the news current (and keep the print advertisements coming in). But, for many periodicals, once the editorial and ad deadlines have closed, the magazine printing schedule runs like clockwork to ensure magazine delivery on Friday or Saturday, when the subscribers will have time to comfortably read and digest the material. Pushing delivery to Monday may change how the news content is taken in. Instead of being embraced as a recap of the prior week’s news, a magazine that arrives on Monday may be greeted by readers who have already moved on to the new week.

So the magazine printing businesses will need to close their issues earlier to complete production and get the magazines into the mail earlier (compromising coverage of the news), or they will need to deliver the periodicals on Monday or Tuesday.

Granted, a lot of magazines will move from Post Office delivery to private delivery firms. This will keep delivery schedules intact, but it may also raise costs, which could damage the viability of the periodicals.

Omitting weekend delivery of magazines may also affect shopping trips by readers interested in print advertising in these very magazines, and this may cause further erosion of print magazine advertising and a move toward Internet ads.

Will Magazines Be Processed Over the Weekend?

Here’s another concern. Will magazines entered into the mail stream over the weekend even be processed over the weekend, or will they be processed on Monday? Or, will there be slippage of extra processing work into Monday, as there often is over a holiday weekend? These are relevant questions that the USPS has not yet answered.

Will This Encourage More Magazines to Produce Online Issues Only?

In many cases print magazines have embraced digital technology to remain solvent. Having both print copies and digital distribution has made sense. But with a shift from six-day to five-day delivery, the digital edition of a magazine may be available a number of days before the print version lands on your door stoop. Will this further erode the distribution of print magazines? Will advertisers opt for the quickest distribution route and pull ads from print issues to place them in online news venues?

How Will This Affect Direct Mail Advertising?

Moving from six-day delivery to five-day delivery is a 16 percent decline. That’s simple math. However, the big question is whether this decline will affect direct mail package production and delivery. Will more businesses advertise online? Will direct mail packages disappear?

I’m actually quite hopeful in this area. Everything I’ve read recently has emphasized the effectiveness of printed marketing collateral. People seem to like its tangible nature. They often have so much junk mail in their email boxes that a few dramatic direct mail pieces can interest them far more than all of their email newsletters and ads.

But I’m not absolutely certain. This remains to be seen.

What About First Class Mail?

People seldom write letters by hand. In fact, if you want to show respect and appreciation after a job interview, send a hand-written thank-you note. So few people do this that it will set you apart from your competition. It shows class.

Will five-day delivery affect First Class Mail delivery? And if so, how?

Private Delivery Services

I had lunch today with the VP of a local, private delivery services, a friend of many years (we’ll call him George). We discussed this issue. Although his organization stands to benefit from the shift away from six-day delivery to five-day delivery, George made a good point. Private delivery firms such as his keep their prices low by delivering only to certain ZIP Codes. George delivers multiple bundled copies of a number of magazines, tabloids, and broadsheets to downtown locations (i.e., saturation-level), and then delivers fewer individual copies (one at a time), to selected suburban subscribers within a limited distance from the center of town. “We’re not the Post Office,” George said. “They can’t even do it for what they charge.” He made a good point.

The Rise of FedEx and UPS

FedEx and UPS are great. But I’m always surprised at how expensive they are. USPS prices almost always seem to be more reasonable. Will privatizing delivery services cause prices to rise further? Will this increased cost of doing business be the death knell for magazines and newspapers? Will it be so cheap to have only an online news presence that printed copies cease altogether?

The Business Case for Five-Day Delivery

The Post Office has been losing money for a long time. I can understand the push toward reduction of services or even privatization. I can even understand the push toward letting more efficient companies step in and fill the void. That’s the basis of capitalism. However, I’m just concerned about the magazines and newspapers.

Direct Mail Packages: Your Brain Actually Prefers Them

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

I have to be honest. I want print media to prosper, so I’m pleased when I read about the success of ink or toner on paper.

I recently read a synopsis of a study by Millward Brown, in collaboration with the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology at Bangor University, regarding the use of brain scans to judge the effect of physical print media in direct marketing. The article is “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail.” It’s not new. In fact, the study is more than three years old.

The study compared the effect on the brain of exposure to both physical print materials and virtual media presented on a video screen, using functional Magnetic Resonance Imagery (fMRI) to visually indicate the areas of the human brain affected by each. The fMRI technology actually demonstrates how the brain processes these different stimuli. Presumably, if emotional responses drive the success of a marketing initiative, then understanding the emotional processing of stimuli will provide valuable insight. This was the premise of the study.

The findings of the study suggest “that greater emotional processing is facilitated by the physical material than the virtual.”

The Protocol for the Study

During the study, the 20 participants viewed ads that had already been exposed to the public marketplace along with an equal number of “scrambled” images. The scrambled images acted as a control to account for the fact that test subjects respond to the physical materials using more than one physical sense (i.e., both sight and touch, in contrast to virtual materials that affect only the sense of sight).

The experimenters presented the same materials online and on printed cards, and while the participants interacted with the materials, the experimenters ran fMRI scans to assess the effects. Within the fMRIs, greater oxygenated blood flow, reflected in color changes, indicated greater stimulation by the physical or virtual materials presented.

What The Researchers Found

Millward Brown and the Centre for Experimental Consumer Psychology identified the following (as noted in the article, “Using Neuroscience to Understand the Role of Direct Mail”):

“Material shown on cards generated more activity within the area of the brain associated with the integration of visual and spatial information (the left and right parietal).”

“This suggests that physical material is more ‘real’ to the brain. It has a meaning and a place. It is better connected to memory because it engages with its spacial memory networks.”

“More processing is taking place in the right retrosplenial cortex when physical material is presented. This is involved in the processing of emotionally powerful stimuli and memory.”

“The medial PFC and cingulate are parts of the brain associated with emotional engagement. They are activated more by physical materials.”

“The brain’s ‘default network’ appeared to remain more active when viewing direct mail. Activity in this brain network has been associated with a greater focus on a person’s internal emotional response to outside stimuli. This suggests that the individuals were relating information to their own thoughts and feelings.”

What This Means in Simple Terms

  1. Direct mail packages affect more areas of the brain than online marketing messages, leaving a deeper impression.
  2. The brain gives greater credence to physical print materials. They are more “real,” having existence in time and physical space.
  3. Direct mail packages promote memory retention more than online marketing messages.
  4. Direct mail packages promote greater emotional engagement than online marketing messages, encouraging greater brand affiliation.
  5. Custom printing materials involve the viewer in a more complex internal thought pattern including associations with past personal experience.

The Implications for Neuroscience

  1. Such tools of neuroscience as EEG, eye tracking, and fMRI can be most useful in understanding the psychology of marketing and advertising.

The Implications for Marketing Professionals

  1. Don’t dismiss the power of ink and toner on paper.
  2. Conversely, don’t dismiss virtual marketing. A savvy blending of physical and virtual marketing materials can affect potential clients emotionally, improve their retention of marketing messages, and make their experience more personal, increasing their affiliation with the brand and their motivation to act.
  3. The key is the integration of marketing technologies: the use of the right tool at the right time.

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