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My Postcard has Marks on It… How did This Happen?

Have you ever received a postcard in the mail with marks, smudges, or scratches? These marks aren’t printing defects, they’re actually an occasional reminder of the incredible journey that direct mail pieces take as they travel through the postal system to your mailbox.

On its journey, your mailer passes through rollers, rubber wheels, belts, and metal gates at extremely high speeds during machine sorting at the Post Office. It may go through as many as five passes on various pieces of processing and sorting equipment before it’s finally handed off to your local postal carrier for delivery. It’s a lot like traveling with checked luggage and occasionally finding that new scuff or ding on your suitcase.

Check out this footage of USPS sorting mail: watch video

Reducing the Likelihood for Damage

You can use two strategies to reduce the possibility of damage to your next direct mail project: First, protect the piece by making it more durable. Second, take steps to reduce the amount of handling/sorting required at the Post Office.

1. Designing for Durability

A few minor tweaks during the design and print production stages can really help mitigate wear and tear:

a.) Don a Good Coat
Apply a protective coating over the ink on postcards and self-mailers. Coatings are particularly important for digitally printed products (where toner is much more susceptible to scratching than traditional offset inks.) We’ve found that flood UV matte is the best option for these pieces, while UV gloss is the next best alternative. Protective coating only adds a small fraction to the overall cost and is a wise investment.

b.) See You on the Flip Side
Belt and roller marks are more likely to occur on the front of a postcard, so keep critical, highly specified information on the address side of self-mailers. Marking usually occurs 1 to 3 inches from the bottom edge since this is where the friction roller touches each piece as it’s fed into the sorters. Try to avoid heavy ink coverage or large solids in this area. Scratches and scuffs are much less noticeable with lighter images and backgrounds.

c.) Closed Gate
Envelopes provide the greatest level of protection to ensure the integrity of your piece. Consider testing an envelope package as part of your overall direct mail strategy. Note that heavy laminates or clear poly wraps are often subject to non-automation postage penalties. The wrong option can blow up your budget in a hurry, so work with your Smartpress partner to ensure any clear envelopes or wraps are USPS automation compatible. We offer a variety of options depending on project volume.

2. Mitigating the Impact of Postal Handling

The Postal Service remains the only organization in the country that has the resources, network infrastructure, and logistical capability to physically deliver to every residential and business address in the nation six days a week. USPS’ Presorting and Drop Shipping operations result in less handling and, when used together, reduce the time it takes to process your mail. We recommend working with one of our Smartpress direct mail experts to help you take advantage of the best rates, processes, and delivery times for your projects. This will help you manage costs, improve delivery time, and mitigate damage to your piece.

a.) Manage Cost via Presorting
With Presorting, your mail file is sorted into the delivery order, which will be used by the postal carriers, and an Intelligent Mail Barcode (IMB) is applied to each piece. This process determines postage rates for orders over 200 pieces for Marketing Mail or 500 pieces for First-Class. Discounts depend on how much mail you have going to local or regional areas. Saturation Mailings provide the largest presort discount, as these localized mailings go to every house on a carrier route. More targeted mailings still get substantial discounts if you mail enough pieces to a single 5-digit ZIP code or 3-digit area.

b.) Reduce Cost & Time via Drop Shipping
A second discount is available for Drop Shipping, also known as Destination Entry, as it allows you to skip right to the closest feasible destination facility, thus reducing handling and providing better target in-home dates. The closer you initially ship the mail to its final destination, the more money you save on postage. Destination entry discounts are only available for Marketing Mail and do not apply to First-Class mailings.

Make an Impact

Direct mail offers a compelling, tactile way to reach prospects and customers. There are no ad blockers or spam filters between you and the recipient. They will touch and review every piece of direct mail they receive, making it one of the most effective marketing channels you can use.

The United States Postal Service delivers more than 400 million pieces of mail each day. Yours may occasionally show up with a few dings – but it gets there and it gets results. Planning ahead, and working with a dedicated Smartpress direct mail expert, helps maintain quality integrity, reduces delivery time, and drives savings.

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