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Another Printing Disasters—and How to Avoid Them story…

The page design makes it clear to the recipient which way is up.

A couple of years ago, the United States Postal Service made changes to Standard Mail mailing panel design rules that frustrate designers and print managers no end. Just trying to parse out what the postal service rules are can be a challenge.

One of the main changes is that the mailing block now has to be in the upper half of the page of a flat. From a design perspective, that’s some awfully choice real estate to give up!

The cover sheet of this Print magazine direct mail piece follows the letter of the law, while masterfully playing with the question, “What is top?” It’s also a great example of aligning content to context.

Read more about mailing panels

mailingsidewllI just hate receiving mail with those ugly little white stickers plastered onto it, don’t you? My mailing house contact calls them lim-lim stickers.

The USPO applies them because something printed at the bottom of the postcard is interfering with the clear zone, a  4-3/4″ wide by 5/8″area at the bottom right of the mailing panel/side.

See the offending text close to the bottom on the piece below?


Barcodes speed mail delivery

Automation-compatible mail gets the most efficient handling—and often, postage discounts.

The postnet barcode that represents the zip code is one key to that automation, which is the key to speedier mail delivery. This is true for both First-Class Mail and Standard Mail Letters.

If an envelope doesn’t already have a barcode, the OCR (optical character recognition) reader reads the zip code numbers in the address and ink jets a postnet barcode onto it. But if  the reader encounters other text where it plans to print that barcode—especially characters that could be interpreted as numbers—it applies the dreaded lim-lim sticker before printing the barcode. Not only that, sometimes it sticks a lim-lim on both sides of the piece!

Read more about designing mail to pass postal muster… →

First class stampA non-profit organization planned to design and send about 1,000 event invitations. To put it mildly, pre-planning was not their strong suit, so by the time they got their invites printed and addressed, they had to mail them First Class.

Oops, there went $300 down the drain! Granted, that’s not an earth-shattering expense, but for budget-strapped organizations, any cost savings are welcome. Get Disaster Avoidance Tips →


I get dumb variable data postcards in the mail all the time. Somebody out there must have convinced marketers that people will buy more of whatever they’re selling if their name appears on the advertising—a  LOT. Once that theory met variable data digital printing, it was largely downhill from there. “Let’s put their name in the Post-It note! Let’s put it in a snipe! Let’s write it in the clouds! Even better, let’s write their name in the sand!” All of these brilliant ideas inspired my fake postcard design, above.

Does a woman want to be reminded that she previously bought clothes in the Big Ladies department? Maybe not! Whether clumsy or downright creepy, it seems to me that if the data is inaccurate or potentially sensitive, you run the risk of turning off your audience. Likewise if the design is simplistic or cheesy.

Whenever printers try to sell me variable data digital printing services, I suggest that they approach strategists and designers, not the production manager. Effective use of this technology starts upstream, at the beginning of a project—with smart use of data, strategy, and design. It can’t be an afterthought.

Disaster Avoidance Tip

I do think there’s great potential in variable text, graphics and photos.

Have you seen variable printed pieces done well?

If you are venturing down the variable data path for the first time, find a specialist such as Revolution Dynamic Publishing, whose staff includes data and web specialists along with experienced printers. They have both the technical and the data know-how to guide you in putting together sophisticated campaigns that avoid the rubber stamped “your name here, and here, and here” look.

Blah blah blah!

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