Following USPS® design guide will ensure your mail will be accepted without problem and will get the maximum possible postage discount.
Even though to design for direct mail is not a lot
different from creating any other print ready design, there are simple rules
and guidelines one should follow in order to maximize the available postage
discount. You can download the latest postal rates from our resource page under the current postal rates tab.
The postal rules and manuals can be frustrating and hard to
So, here is a very easy “how to” guide to help you pick the
right size, design and prepare for maximum postage savings.
In order to qualify for the maximum postage discount your
mailipiece must be automation compatible. First component which plays major
role in the said qualification is the physical attributes of the mailpiece, or
in other words the piece you intend to send out must comply with the USPS®
regulations for the physical standards for automation letters, flats or
Generally USPS® marketing mail, prevously known as
“standard mail” or “bulk mail”, has two major size groups LETTERS and FLATS and
one, I will call it “special” group - POSTCARDS. I agree that the names are
pretty misleading, that is the reason sometimes is hard to explain to the
marketers that a postcard 9" x 6" is actually a LETTER-size
mailpiece. By the way all the rules for physical dimensions are exactly the
same whether you mail at first-class, marketing (standard) mail or non-profit
Second component to be considered is the addressing and
barcode. How to address and apply the barcode is responsibility of your mailing
house, but in order for them to comply you need to do the design with the precise
size and placement of the space for the address block and imprint the right
For a mailpiece to be automation compatible and consider for
the letter-size postage discounts it must be:
- rectangular in shape
- minimum 3 1/2" and maximum 6 1/8" high
- minimum 5" and maximum 11 1/2" long
- piece has to be minimum 0.007" thick and not more
than 0.25" - which means for a single sheet piece, use at least 8pt cover
stock, but to be safe, because specs and measures vary between manufactures, I
would always recommend to use minimum 10pt cover stock
- aspect ratio (very common mistake!) between 1.3 and 2.5.
Aspect ratio is the length divided by the height. Example: 6"x 9"
piece ratio is 9/6=1.5, which is within the limits. Any piece out of the
standard aspect ratio are subject to a pretty hefty surcharge, so unless is
absolutely necessary keep the ratio good!
- automation compatible letter-size mailpiece must
weigh maximum 3oz if single sheet or up to 3.5 oz if envelope with inserts.
Additional standards: no polly or shrink bags or wraps, no
clasp, strings, buttons or similar closure items that can damage the processing
Enclosed items cannot be rigid, odd shaped. Only firmly affixed
flexible items are permitted like gift or credit cards. The content must bend
The addressing side cannot be glossy or with any type of
SELFMAILERS and multiple page pieces (booklets and catalogs)
in order to be automations compatible must be closed with tabs. Rules for the
tabs are a bit complicated so I strongly advise to ask your mailing house
before you finalize your layout.
As I mentioned before Postcard as a mailpiece is special and
unique. It’s limited in sizes and refer only to a piece mailed at First-class
also known as postcard rate. “Postcard” mailed at standard rates is a
- rectangular in shape
- minimum 3 1/2" and maximum 4 1/4" high
- minimum 5" and maximum 6" long
- piece has to be as low as 0.009" thick and not over
0.016" - I always recommend one more time to use at least 10pt cover
- aspect ratio between 1.3 and 2.5. Note: USPS are very
strict when it comes to the size and aspect ratio of postcards.
Additional standards: precise rules for addressing,
messaging and clear zone, please see the diagram.
The special first-class rate for postcards is almost the
same as the standard rate. So if you consider mailing a 4"x6" card
make it first-class, unless you are not mailing to a saturation mailing list.
- rectangular in shape
- minimum 6 1/8" and maximum 12" high
- minimum 11 1/2" and maximum 15" long
- piece has to be minimum 0.009" thick and not more
- automation compatible flat-size mailpiece must weigh
maximum 13oz if mail first-class and up to 16oz if mailed at USPS® marketing
(standard) mail rates.
Additional standards: Clasps, strings and similar are
prohibited, but polly wraps are permitted only if certified by USPS®
manufacturers are used.
Enclosed items has to be spread evenly inside the envelope.
The content must bend easily.
Tyvek envelopes are not permitted, non-glossy stocks are
The standard address block of four lines plus barcode and
optional OEL (optional endorsement line) takes about 3 1/2" x 1 1/2"
space plus the absolute minimum of 1/8" clearance around the “white box”
should be at least 3.75" x 1.75" and placed at least 1/2" from
the right and 5/8" from the bottom of the mailpiece. The rule also
apply for the window envelopes. But that is not all ... even though there is
some flexibility to fit within the OCR reading area, you have to look for the
- never put important information below the address block as
that is the place where the post office may put some marks or white strip label
- never put the return address or any other address for that
matter in the OCR area as the machine must misread the actual address
- the permit needs to be readable, at least 6-7pt and
printed in black or if color - very dark
- the font for the address (if mailer ask for your choice)
needs to be readable - avoid using script, narrow or heavy bold type, all upper
case are preferable and at least 10pt in size and always larger than the return
- address lines have to be left justified, not centered
- for flats - delivery address has to be always to the right
of the return address, no slightly under or below
I know that sometimes the rules and regulations seams like
that don’t make sense, but believe they do! All the rules and restrictions in
size, formats, etc are developed to enhance the process and reduce the
undeliverable mail. Additional and detailed information about the mailpiece design and preparation can be found on USPS® website or you can always contact our direct mail specialist.
I really hope this simple guide will help with your future
direct mail pieces design, but if you want to make sure everything is up to the
USPS standards and to avoid unnecessary surcharges, contact us, we will be more
than happy to help.
Following USPS® design guide will ensure you will get the maximum possible postage discount.