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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 ‘Postcard Printing’ Category

Tip to Use Postcards Like a Marketing Pro

Friday, July 10th, 2020

Being able to see and feel benefits from your postcard marketing campaign requires planning. Vetting your graphic designer in creating the perfect message is critical.

Providing accurate and error free graphic files is very important regarding any pre-press department within postcard printing companies when opening up your postcard files.

Thus, here are some great tips in becoming a Postcard Pro.

Impress with The Front Picture

Here is why you should carefully choose the postcard printing companies. The first impression is very important. When the recipient pulls out that card, the picture should be appealing and entice them to open the card. Picture quality is important. The right printer will be vital in making that first impression.

Choose a Catchy Headline

Writing headlines are plenty harder than you may think. A headline needs to grab attention.This headline should drive home your primary message with clarity and accuracy even if the reader does not go beyond your creative headline.

This means you should do the following.

  • Make if concise
  • Offer a solution to their problem
  • Include a benefit Make it Easy to Read

Make It Easier to Read

When one digests your message, they need ease in performing or an easy read. Postcards messages need to be short and sweet. Every new idea should be placed using precise wording in sequential order as the reader then can quickly review. Within any postcard, your messages should complement it’s headline.

Always Have a Call to Action

Without a Call To Action, your not marketing properly. The purpose of your postcard should be targeting the recipient in taking a particular action. Your message clarity is important for the reader in taking action. The Call To Action should also restate whatever offer is being provided.

Highlight Benefits

People will take action if they know what’s in it for them. This is why you need to highlight benefits. The headline may have enticed them to open the card, but now you need to channel that interest towards the call to action.

Concisely listing benefits will ensure that the recipient clearly understands what they will gain from taking action.

Make an Offer

When one absorbs offered benefits, they may still need more convincing with your Call To Action. Presenting simple and clear offers will help them in deciding to move on your Call To Action. In offering a discount or a FREE coupon service gift, by stating an expiring date will help your Call To Action. By customize your marketing postcard design directly to the recipient personality ( name, gender, age ) traits will help one directly relating to a post cat Call To Action. This type of postcard marketing strategy is called ” Personalized Marketing. ”

Present them with an offer that makes it seem like it is much easier to get those benefits by taking action. Usually a discount, free coupon, or a sample will be enticing. Offers, however, need to have a time frame attached to them so that people will act with a degree of urgency. Adding something like “offer valid while stock lasts” may do the trick, or you could try something more original.

Customize your postcard to suit your audience. Everything in there should be attractive to the kind of person you are sending it to and add a personal touch by referring to them by name.

Reasons to Get Postcards for your Business

Friday, May 15th, 2020

From cost-effectiveness to versatility to efficiency to tangibility, there are plenty of reasons why postcards are the best marketing tools. However, to realize all these benefits, you have to work with the best postcard printing services.

One technology advancement example within the digital press arena in printing postcards. In creating a provided your mailing list, the use of Personalization Printing. Thus, adding the recipients full name or gender images in having the postcard creating a better bonding effect.

The advancements in technology have seen a transformation in the way businesses do marketing. Today, there are ten times as many platforms as there were decades ago – and that’s a good thing. However, some things never go out of fashion, and that includes postcards. Postcards have been around for ages, and they are not going anywhere anytime soon. If anything, they are widely embraced for the incredible benefits they offer to businesses today. In case you are new to the concept of postcards, then here are reasons why you should try them out.

Affordable marketing

One of the main problems that most startups, small and mid-sized businesses face are marketing costs. Postcards provide excellent marketing at low rates. It’s safe to say that they are the most affordable form of targeted marketing today. In addition to the affordability of best postcard printing services, you get to enjoy lower postage rates.

Campaigns are easy to track

Tracking is an essential component of any marketing strategy. If you cannot measure results, then you won’t know whether you are making progress or not. The good thing about postcards is that you will have a clear picture of the number of cards you’ve mailed out, as well as the resulting inquiries, leads, and sales.

They are as versatile as your imagination allows

With postcards, the limit lies within your head. We say this because postcards can be used for any reason. Whether it is to announce a special offer or sale, launch new solutions, drive traffic to a website, invite prospects to an event, seminar or tradeshow, serve a coupon, and so on.

They are efficient

One thing that sets postcards apart from other marketing platforms like direct mail is the fact that they aren’t enclosed in a packet or envelop. So the recipient can quickly get the message as they browse through their daily mail.

Keep competition in the dark

Unlike newspapers and other marketing platforms, postcards allow you to market in secrecy, without giving your competitors a heads up. This is an excellent thing because you can overtake it without them even seeing it coming.

Better branding experience

Postcards can brand your company in ways that other marketing strategies can’t. For example, if you become a regular on a specific postcard-mailing program, your customers will start associating you and your brand with the postcards. This may give your company a particular reputation in the market.

They are time savers

In the world where things are moving so fast, there is just no time for marketing strategies that consume a lot of client’s time. Otherwise, you will end up losing out. According to recent research by the US Postal Service, only 14% of letters get read. But postcards enjoy a whopping 94% read through ration.


In addition to the benefits above, postcards are easy, space-saving, and effective. If you were thinking of ways to boost your marketing strategy, then you should consider printing postcards.

Postcard Printing on Clear Acetate Sheets

Sunday, August 16th, 2015

I received a 6” x 11” piece of marketing collateral today. I get a lot of marketing collateral, but I’ve never received anything quite like this. Obviously I took note—just as the marketers who had designed the piece had intended for me to do.

The single sheet (double sided) postcard is printed on clear acetate. The design is a mountain with silhouettes of three climbers connected by a rope. Over the brilliant, opaque-white background the designer printed all marketing copy in process color builds. The mountain climber who has reached the mountain top has his arms outstretched, and he slightly overlaps a yellow banner over which the title of the conference and the conference logo have been printed.

Why This Postcard Is So Unique

I have seen this kind of work before, but not in a marketing flyer. Rather, it was a technique used in several large format print movie standees my fiancee and I installed. In all cases, the standee designers had painted the background (under the actual art) with opaque white, and then over the white the designer had printed the imagery.

On its own, opaque white is a brilliant ultra-white color. Light travels through the transparent process color films of toner or inkjet ink printed on top of the white, then bounces off the white background and travels back to the viewer’s eye. The background makes the overprinted process colors and builds really “pop.” Not printing the white background would significantly dull down the colors. The light would travel through the film of process colors and not have anything to bounce off of (the way light bounces off a mirror).

So the bottom line is that inkjet ink or laser printed toner looks dramatic when printed on a ground of opaque white. On this 6” x 11” postcard, all information jumps right off the page.

Furthermore, since the brilliant white (probably based on titanium or zinc) is so bright, the designer’s having used it as a color (rather than just as a background behind the process colors), and his/her covering about 60 percent of the sheet with the white, make the marketing postcard look as bright as a lightbulb.

The postcard also has a simple design, with all text (except for the header) grouped together and printed on the side of the white, silhouetted mountain. Your eye knows exactly how to travel through the design,

And the silhouette of the mountain and mountain climbers is dramatic in its simplicity, as are the simple gestures of the three climbers (their body positions and outstretched arms).

On the back of the postcard is the mirror image of the mountain, climbers, and banner headline. Obviously this was necessary since the acetate card is transparent. Otherwise, you would see the imagery on the front of the postcard through the back of the postcard (and vice versa), creating visual chaos. As is the case on the front of the postcard, the large white area on the back of the card affords ample space for marketing content as well as all postal data and address information.

Its Single, Most Dramatic Quality

Let’s return to the most obviously unique portion of the card: its transparent acetate substrate. Probably nothing else in the mailbox is printed on clear plastic. This is a marketer’s dream. Because of its uniqueness (at least until other marketers start doing it), this piece will stand apart from all other mail in the box.

How The Postcard Was Printed

How did they do this? How was it printed?

I pulled out my loupe and checked a series of photos I found in a textbook on custom printing. These photos show enlarged views of the various halftone image treatments produced via flexography, offset litho, laser printing, inkjet printing, screen printing, and gravure. The samples in the print book also show text that was produced with these technologies. All images are enlarged dramatically, so you can see the dot patterns of the photos (as well as the screen angles) and the body of the letterforms as well as their outlines.

I would encourage you, as designers and print buyers, to search for similar images online using Google Images. For any and all custom printing jobs, it will go a long way to answering questions like, “How did they do that?”

This was my thought process:

  1. You can print on acetate via flexography, screen printing, inkjet printing, and laser printing (and possibly other technologies, such as gravure, as well).
  2. Gravure is made up of little dots (from wells of color on the press cylinder). Under a loupe I did not see any evidence of this pattern of dots (since even the edges of the type would reflect this dot pattern).
  3. The black-only text is crisp, with defined outlines and a little dust surrounding the letterforms. There is no sense of the letterforms’ having been composed of minuscule round dots (indicative of inkjet printing). Therefore, it is more likely that laser printing was used rather than inkjet technology.
  4. The images (and color builds for some text elements) have a recognizable dot pattern (although not the rosette pattern of offset lithography). Images are not made up of an almost continuous-tone spray of minuscule round dots. Therefore, it is more likely that laser printing was used rather than inkjet technology.
  5. The spray of tiny particles around some of the letters suggests laser printing. (The dust is from particles of toner that didn’t land where they should have before being fused to the substrate with heat and pressure.)
  6. The crisp outlines of the letterforms suggest that flexography was not used to print the postcard. (If it had been, there would have been lighter outlines around the perimeter of the letterforms and denser solids within the letterforms).

Therefore, my educated guess at this point would be that acetate specially formulated to tolerate the high heat of laser printing was the substrate, and electrophotography was the technology that printed these oversized postcards.

Printing Postcard Decks: Specifications

Thursday, July 30th, 2015

As strange as this may sound, a postcard is one of the more effective direct marketing tools. It may not be flashy. It may not always be elegantly designed to impress you. But it gets your attention. Particularly with less mail these days. All the surveys I’ve read say that people like going to the mailbox, and they spend at least a little time looking at every piece of mail, from checks to bills to direct marketing pieces. And unlike a lot of direct mail, a postcard is already open. You don’t need to remove it from an envelope. You just have to look at it.

My Client’s Postcard Job

With this in mind, a commercial printing client came to me recently wanting to produce a card set for her client (my client is a freelance graphic designer). These were the specifications that we agreed upon, and that I submitted to a printer I considered appropriate for the job.

The first thing we had to determine was the flat size of the postcards. Since they will have to meet international mailing standards, my client chose the A6 format: 5.8″ x 4.1″. Normally, if the postcards were to mail in the United States only, the US Postal Service regulations would stipulate the following:

For First Class and Presort Standard postcards up to 4.25” x 6”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 7pt. (.007”). For larger sized Presort Standard postcards from 4.25” x 6” through 6.125” x 11.5”, the paper thickness must be a minimum of 9pt. (.009”).

Based on the specifications above, I suggested a C1S (coated one side) sheet that mics to 10pt. (in thickness), just to be safe. The custom printing vendor confirmed this and noted that the C1S designation would be appropriate, since the postcards would have only black ink, or no ink, on the back and a 4-color image on the front.

So at this point my client and I agreed on the following specifications:

  1. The postcards would be 5.8″ x 4.1″ in size to conform to international postcard standard specs.
  2. The postcards would be 10pt. in thickness to be stiff enough for the particular format/size (I have seen thicker postcards, perhaps 12pt., specified to provide a more opulent feel, but the 10pt. stock would be adequate). The printer suggested Carolina coated stock, not an expensive paper. For postcards that would be read once and then discarded, this would be fine.
  3. The cards would be either 4/0 or 4/1 (four color on the front, and either not printed or printed in black-only on the back), depending on the particular card, since there would be a total of six originals.
  4. Due to the exceptionally quick turn-around for the commercial printing job, I encouraged my client to request virtual proofs (PDF soft proofs). This would eliminate the time needed for sending hard-copy proofs back and forth to the printer.
  5. My client requested that each set of six postcards be shrink wrapped. I had seen three varieties of shrink wrapping. The first was thin and not durable, more like plastic wrap for food. This I had seen used for grouping multiple copies of a commercial printing job before packaging. I had also seen heat-welded plastic used for postcard decks that had come to me in the mail. Finally, I had seen polybags used to ship annual reports and other magazines. I asked the printer for suggestions. I also found out from my client that the postcard decks would only be handed out (not mailed). Therefore, the packaging would not need to conform to any US Postal regulations. I requested the cheapest shrink-wrap-like packaging the printer could offer that would be durable. If the package had mailed, I would have done more homework, researching US Postal Service requirements for postcard decks on the USPS website.
  6. The printer and I discussed schedules, shipping destinations, and the fact that he was competing against an online postcard vendor. Fortunately this particular printer gave me a low price.
  7. Finally, my client noted the overall press run of 750 sets of six cards.

What You Can Learn from My Client’s Experience

  1. This is a very simple job. As a marketing vehicle, it is also a very efficient and cost-effective product. It may not be sexy, but consider it for your own design work anyway, since it can effectively interest new clients in your product or service—and for very little expense.
  2. Consider size and thickness from a design point of view (how you want the cards to feel and look), but make sure you also do the online research at the US Postal Service website. Make sure you comply with all automation standards (particularly size and paper thickness) to receive the best postal rates. If you don’t find what you need online, contact a business mail specialist in person. Not all branches of the Post Office have such a specialist, but the employees at your particular branch will know where to send you. That’s how I found mine.
  3. Discuss with the Post Office what their requirements are for the plastic packaging of the postcard decks. To get a head start on this, you might want to look closely at postcard decks you receive in your own mailbox. There are a lot of different wrapping options. Just because your printer can provide one, you still need to make sure the Post Office will accept it. If you’re just handing out the packages, as my client’s client was, you can forgo this step.

Postcard Printing: Analysis of a Sample Postcard

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

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.

Postcard Printing: The Workhorse of Direct Mail

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

Here are some things to think about when designing and printing postcards. A print brokering client of mine just ordered some, and as I reviewed the specifications, I thought you might find this list useful as well.

Why Send a Postcard?

Postcards may just be the most efficient, cost-effective workhorses of the ink-on-paper marketing set. Here’s why?

  1. Postcards are cheaper to mail than letters. The US Post Office website lists a postage rate of $.32 for a postcard up to 6” wide by 4.25” high. A one ounce letter starts at $.45. The difference in price between a postcard and a letter can add up quickly for a large mailing.
  2. Even large postcards are inexpensive. An 11.5” x 6.125” postcard, according to the same USPS website, costs $.45 to mail (the same as a letter).
  3. Unlike a letter, a postcard is already open when your prospect receives it. This can give you immediate access to his or her attention. Think of the postcard as a small billboard.
  4. If you want to collect information from your prospects, a fold-over postcard may be an efficient way to do so. When your prospect receives a fold-over postcard (which, depending on the weight, might cost a little more to mail), he or she can tear off one of the panels, fill in the requested information, and mail it back to you.
  5. Given the myriad ways you can design your postcard, you can take advantage of its size and your use of color to make the direct mail piece stand out from the other mail your prospect receives. Think “big” and “bright.” Inspire a sense of urgency, and include a call to action. This is your opportunity to present a professional image and reinforce the credibility of your company. To do this, choose readable and dynamic typefaces. Use bold headlines and simple bullet points to maintain a good flow in the text and design.
  6. You can also tie your postcard into an online marketing effort. Print the personalized URL (PURL) you want your prospect to access right on the postcard. Or use a QR code and have your prospect access your website (perhaps a video of your product or service) using a smartphone and QR app.

Some Things to Consider When Printing Postcards

Here are the US Post Office regulations for a postcard:

  1. To qualify for mailing at the First-Class Mail postcard price, your piece must be:
  2. Rectangular
    At least 3.5” high by 5” long by 0.007” thick
    Not more than 4.25” high by 6” long by 0.016” thick
    Otherwise, it will be priced at the “letter rate.”

  3. If you mail the postcards via Standard Rate Postage, there’s no discount for postcards vs. letters. You only get this discount with First Class Mail.
  4. Make sure your postcard does not exceed 6.125” high by 11.5” wide by 1/4” thick. Otherwise, you’ll pay the “flat” rate (the rate for larger letters).
  5. Make sure your postcard is not too thin (note the thicknesses above). Too thin a postcard will get caught in the postage equipment and will be torn up. Your message will never reach your prospect.

Here are some postcard printing considerations:

  1. If your postcard printing run is short (let’s say up to 500 copies), you may consider a digital printing run. Choose a good piece of digital printing equipment, though, to make sure you get a stellar printed product. I’d suggest a HP Indigo or Kodak NexPress. The NexPress can even print a textured coating on the front of the postcard.
  2. Remember that on a digital press, you may not be able to coat the postcard (depending on the technology used). You needn’t worry, though. Most digital printing can withstand the abuses of going through the mail unprotected. In contrast, if your press run is longer and you opt for offset custom printing, you will probably need to pay extra for a UV coating or aqueous coating on the front of the postcard to keep the ink from scuffing in transit. In either case, discuss this with your commercial printing supplier.
  3. Remember to talk with both your printer and the US Postal Service “mailpiece design analyst” to make sure the paper stock you have chosen is thick enough to travel through the mail machines.
  4. If you will be producing a variable data marketing initiative, discuss with your custom printing vendor the format in which your database should be provided (i.e., Excel, comma or tab delimited, etc.).

Direct Mail Packages: Postage Costs Will Rise in January

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

It’s coming. You can almost set your clock by the postage rate increases. Every year, the US Postal Service can raise rates. As long as these increases do not exceed the rate of inflation, the Post Office does not need the approval of the US Congress.

It is interesting to note that in spite of the rapid growth of Internet marketing initiatives, the majority of US Postal Service revenue comes from direct mail packages. As justified as these rate increases are, it’s unfortunate as well, since those who use the Post Office the most are gradually being motivated to change their methods of communicating with clients, prospective clients, and donating organizations.

Specifics of the Rate Increase

Not all rate changes will be the same. The overall postage rate increase on January 27, 2013, will be 2.57 percent, but various classes of mail will incur different increases.

First-Class Letter Mail

The US Postal Service defines letter mail as:

  • Rectangular
  • At least 3.5″ high x 5” long x 0.007” thick
  • Not more than 6.125” high x 11.5” long x .25” thick

Postage for letters weighing one ounce or less will increase from 45 cents to 46 cents. Postage for First Class postcards will rise from 32 to 33 cents.

If you mail individual pieces rather than bulk First Class mail, you can buy “forever stamps” with no printed face value. If you buy the forever stamps before the rate increase at the current rate, they will be usable after the rate increase at the new rate. Unfortunately these stamps cannot be used for bulk mail.

Presort First Class Letter Mail

This postage classification includes discounted bulk mail that receives first class handling. To receive this discounted rate, your mailing must consist of 500 or more pieces. At present, the per-unit postage is 10 cents less than regular letter mail. In January, the rate will increase approximately 2.7 to 2.9 percent (or about 1 cent per unit).

Presort Standard Letter Mail

Unless your direct mail packages exceed the requirements for letter mail (and unless your mailing qualifies for nonprofit rates), this is the classification for most bulk mail. Rates for Presort Standard Letter Mail will increase in January between 1.4 percent and 2.1 percent, or about half a cent per unit.

Nonprofit Letter Mail

Nonprofit mailings that fit the letter-sized requirements will cost 3.25 percent more to mail after the January increase.

Every Door Direct Mail

This pertains to postcards your retail business delivers into a particular geographic area targeting every resident, as the name implies. You don’t even need to have a mailing address to take advantage of this new mailing program. The current rate is 14.5 cents per postcard. This will rise to 16 cents in January, slightly more than a 10 percent increase.

How You Can Save Money

Here are a few things you can do to save money on postage:

  1. Clean your mailing lists. Make sure that all the addresses are complete, accurate, and current.
  2. Consider reducing the trim size of the elements of your direct mail package. Talk with your postal service representative about reduced postage costs that might result from smaller (i.e., lighter) mail.
  3. Specify a lighter paper stock. Asking your custom printing supplier to use a 65# cover stock rather than an 80# cover stock, or an 80# cover stock instead of a 100# cover stock, will reduce the weight of your mail piece. Lighter mail requires less postage.
  4. Make the most of the newer technologies. Personalized mail gets higher response rates than non-personalized mail. Use variable data custom printing to make your direct mail packages specific to your target audience. In addition, pair direct mail with Internet-based vehicles such as PURLs.
  5. Fold creatively. For instance, instead of sending an 8.5” x 11” piece at a “flats” rate (that is, a non-letter rate), fold the piece to 5.5” x 8.5” and benefit from the much lower “letter” rate. Or mail a 6” x 11” piece for the same (letter rate) cost savings.
  6. Ask your Post Office about comingling mail (sending out your direct mail with other pieces from other mailers) and drop shipping (shipping your mail directly to a Bulk Mail Facility). This may reduce the postage cost for your direct mail packages.

Custom Printing of Photo Notecards: A Case Study

Monday, December 5th, 2011

A client of mine is a professional photographer. Among other items, she sells gorgeous, full-color photo notecards of a myriad of multicolored flower species.

Quality is paramount with this client—understandably.

She recently received digital (inkjet) proofs of eight of her cards from a commercial printer with a small-format 4-color press. The contract proofer had been “fingerprinted” to the vendor’s press, so the digital output my client saw would very closely resemble the final offset custom printing of her cards.

She was unhappy with six of the eight prints. “Too dark,” she said.

Fortunately, this client is a consummate professional. She had submitted 8-bit TIFF images in CMYK color space, which I had placed in InDesign files and then distilled into “press-quality” PDFs. My client took responsibility for the error and requested second proofs prior to printing. She looked closely into the process to determine exactly what had happened, prior to adjusting the files and resubmitting them to the custom printing vendor.

Possible Causes of the Problem

First of all, the highlights and mid-tones were acceptable. Only the shadows of the photos concerned my client.

My client works in her basement, so she can control the ambient light in the room (i.e., the room light does not change as the sun rises and sets). She also calibrates her monitor regularly to ensure color fidelity. Both of these steps are essential, but most people (I would venture to guess) do not do either with the necessary frequency and precision.

As an additional consideration, LCD monitors, which most designers possess, “run hot.” This term, provided by a commercial printer with whom I used to work, means that colors on an LCD monitor appear lighter and brighter than they will appear in an actual custom printing job. It is all too easy to forget that an image on a computer monitor created with red, green, and blue light will not exactly match the image printed with ink—or even toner—on paper. However, knowing that images on an LCD monitor will print darker than they appear will help you avoid mistakes.

Using her knowledge of color and light, my client determined that the problem had occurred in the conversion from the RGB color space to the CMYK color space prior to her sending me the photos. For whatever reason, the color shift appeared most intensely in the shadows during the translation from RGB to CMYK. It is good to keep in mind that scanners usually capture images within a Red/Green/Blue (light-based rather than ink-based) color space. This is not as large a color space (does not include as many distinct colors) as “all visible color,” but is is larger than the Cyan/Magenta/Yellow/Black color space. It has a larger color gamut (number of reproducible colors).

For the most part, designers and photographers work within the RGB color space up until the last possible moment, and then convert the image to CMYK just prior to sending the job to the commercial printer. Colors that exist within the RGB color space and the CMYK color space transition without a problem. Colors that exist within the RGB color space but not within the CMYK color space shift to the nearest color match. This often causes a visible color shift.

Color Corrections and Final Proofs

My client determined that the problem had occurred during the color conversion. Therefore, she lightened the shadows in the RGB color space, converted the images to CMYK, and re-checked them to make sure the final CMYK output would be acceptable (accounting for the tendency of the monitor to lighten colors, and having confirmed the accuracy of the calibration of the monitor).

I received the amended 8-bit TIFF CMYK photo files and repositioned them within the InDesign art files for the photo notecards. The difference was dramatic. The images were lighter—but only in the shadows.

When the second set of proofs arrived, my client was happy. She approved them and released the job to the custom printing vendor for final production.

What We Can Learn from This

  1. Always color calibrate your monitor. Do this regularly.
  2. Control the ambient light in your computer room. The surrounding light will alter your perception of the color on the monitor.
  3. Assume that the final image will print darker than the image on the monitor. Ask your prepress provider at your commercial printer how to compensate for this using Photoshop’s “levels” and “curves” commands.
  4. Make your own inkjet proofs. Then, if these are ok, have your commercial printer make proofs. Adjust your files as necessary. It’s better to make—and pay for–multiple proofs than print the job too dark, too light, or with a color cast.

Postcard Printers Mix Postcards with PURL’s for Maximum Effect

Monday, October 24th, 2011

People say that print is dead, but I know better. Every time I look in the mailbox, I have a stack of mail.

From what I have read in trade journals, direct mail magazines, on-line news, and Post Office publications, although the stream of First Class mail has slowed down (due to online banking and email), direct mail marketing has actually increased its scope. And what better, cheaper, and more effective mode of direct mail can you choose than marketing postcards? Particularly when combined with Internet landing pages.

Benefits of Business Postcards

Business postcards are cheap to print: Printing one page of anything is probably within your budget. You don’t need to choose the best paper. If you can’t afford process color, select a tinted paper stock and add one or two inks. A creative presentation in a few colors will grab the reader’s attention. (Think of Chipotle’s marketing materials: black only on a light brown card stock. These marketing materials work because the concepts are clever, direct, and relevant.)

Business postcards Postcards cost less to mail than letters or flats. If you have multiple copies (500 copies or more of the same postcard), you get a further discount. are cheap to mail:

Business postcards get an immediate response: Unlike a letter, which has to be opened, a postcard is already open. Your potential client sees your message immediately.

Marketing studies have shown that people read their mail. In fact, with the barrage of on-line advertising, people seem to relish the quiet experience of reading their US Postal Service mail. It gets them away from the computer monitor and gives them a tactile experience. This is particularly true for catalogs, but it’s also true for business postcards.

Mix Your Marketing Postcards with an Internet Landing Page

The current buzzword is “multi-channel marketing.” It means combining multiple avenues for targeting your prospects. That may include signage, email marketing, direct mail, and even vehicle wraps on buses and cars. When you can touch your prospect, or client, in a number of ways, you can strengthen your brand message. Your logo and the values it represents become more immediately recognizable to your clients. The repetition of similar images and presentations across multiple channels reinforces your message.

Other important marketing concepts include “personalization” and “relevancy.” When I was young, we knew our neighborhood vendors: the grocer, the dry cleaner, the pharmacist. And they knew us. Shopping was a personal experience. Over the past forty years, shopping has become somewhat impersonal. Combining marketing postcards with Internet landing pages can make a sales call a more personal experience tailored to the individual buyer.

If you do your homework and identify a list of people who might want your product or service, and you target these people offering relevant information that will lead them to your product or service, you will increase the likelihood of making the sale. If your business postcards grab the attention of your prospect, and if a “call to action” comment leads her or him to a version of your website tailored exclusively to them, one that offers something of value (information about your particular industry, a white paper providing a solution to a specific problem, or more information about your product or service), the chances of their buying what you are selling increase significantly.

The targeted Internet landing page of which I speak is the “PURL” (personalized uniform resource locator). Using the information from your database, it creates a personalized Internet experience for your prospect. As your prospect interacts with your web page, the database further tailors the experience in order to deliver the exact information the prospect needs. As it gathers more information from the prospect, the database can even initiate future interactions through both direct mail (for example, it might trigger the mailing of a catalog) and the Internet.

Why Would Your Prospect Participate?

If your prospective client is interested in what you have to offer, as stated in your marketing postcards, a PURL is a less time consuming way to ask for more information. It is quicker and it offers the client more control than calling your office or filling out and mailing a business reply form.

Why Would You Participate?

Working with IT staff and printers to create a PURL campaign integrated with printed marketing postcards allows you to collect data (everything from names and addresses to buying patterns) that will help you serve your clients while making all future contacts more personal and relevant. And this will increase your sales. Pure and simple.

How do you begin? Ask printing companies you know and trust about the following terms: multi-touch marketing, multi-channel marketing, integrated marketing, cross-channel marketing, and PURL’s. These are all buzzwords in the new marketing lexicon. You may also want to do an online search using these terms.

The field is new, and not all printing companies will know what you’re talking about, so persist. I would venture to say that all printing companies can help you initiate a campaign based on marketing postcards, but it will be more challenging to find a proven IT professional to manage the PURL landing pages. So start your research with business printing vendors you trust.


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