Mailing Guidelines 101: Understanding USPS Regulations

Mailing Guidelines 101: Understanding USPS Regulations

 

Mailing Guidelines

Direct mail has stood the test of time and remains one of the best marketing channels to reach prospective customers. In order to send mail, you’ll need to follow USPS rules and regulations; otherwise, you risk failed deliveries, delays, or surprise fees.

If you try to dissect USPS requirements on your own, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There are lots of rules.

But that’s what we’re here for: to make direct mail as easy as possible.

Here’s everything you need to know about USPS regulations to ensure your direct mail campaign is a success:

Mail Classes and Postage Costs:

Mail classes affect how quickly your mail reaches recipient as well as postage costs. Here’s what you need to know in order to select the best option for your business.

Non-Bulk Mail:

First Class Mail

First Class Mail is processed by USPS as a priority over Standard Mail. The typical delivery times after mail drop for First Class Mail are one to two business days for local area mailings and three to five business days for nationwide mailings. Another advantage of First Class Mail: it includes includes forwarding and return services at no additional charge.

The rates for First Class Mail are as follows:

  • 35 cents per piece for 4” x 6” postcards
  • 55 cents per piece for a one ounce letter size piece (at least 4.25” x 6” but no larger than 6.125” x 11”)

Either a meter permit or a postage stamp may be used to affix postage. There is no minimum quantity requirement to send regular First Class mail pieces.

Bulk Mail:

Direct mail campaigns are often referred to as bulk mail because you’re sending a large—aka bulk—quantity of pieces to your address list. Sending a bulk campaign presorted by U.S. Press offers postage discounts, and the cost will largely depend on which class of mail you select:

First Class Presort

First Class presort mail offers the same advantages of regular First Class mail (quick delivery and free forwarding/return services), but typically at a 20% discount. However, to qualify for this class and receive the discount, you must mail a minimum of 500 pieces.  Postage is normally affixed by an approved presorted First Class mailing indicia.

Marketing Mail (Standard Mail)

Postcards and other mail larger than 4.25” by 6” qualify for Marketing Mail/Standard Mail postal rates. Marketing Mail (formerly called Standard Mail) offers the best postal rates for these commercial mailings and allows for mailing of up to a 4-ounce piece at the same rate as a single ounce piece. Unlike First Class Mail, Standard Mail pieces do not feature any sort of a delivery guarantee. It is non-priority mail with local mail deliveries of 3 to 6 work days and nationwide delivery of 3 to 14 work days.

Although this class of mail has a slower delivery time, there’s a huge advantage to it: the discount for Marketing Mail is substantial with typical savings of 40% or more versus First Class mail.

A minimum of 200 qualifying pieces are required to obtain Marketing Mail discounts. Typically, postal indicia is placed on the mail piece to reflect postage paid on the postal permit.

Note:  4” x 6” postcards, by default, mail as First Class Presort and do not qualify for the extra savings of Marketing Mail.

Non-Profit Mail

Non-Profit Mail receives the same service as Marketing Mail/Standard Mail at a discount of up to 70% off regular First Class Mail rates. In order to qualify, non-profit mailers must be pre-approved by USPS and must have obtained a non-profit mail permit. A 503c permit is not sufficient to receive non-profit mailing status. Typically, non-profit indicia are printed on the mail pieces to reflect non-profit postage paid on the mail account.

To apply for a non-profit permit, check out this page on the USPS website: PS Form 3624 - Application to Mail at Nonprofit Marketing Mail Prices

EDDM

Every Door Direct Mail (EDDM) is a relatively new class of mail that provides additional discounts over regular Marketing Mail. Average postage cost for EDDM is $.162 - $.187 per piece. No mail list or permit is required. It is used for either complete zip code or specific carrier route saturation mailings. You are required to mail entire carrier routes, which is why this class is great for local businesses trying to reach everyone in a specific area.  EDDM pieces may either be presented at the local post office where the mailing is destined (EDDM retail) or through U.S. Press for mailing of expanded geographic areas (EDDM BMEU).

Regardless of which mail class you choose, the exact cost of postage will depend on a variety of factors such as size and weight of your mail piece. Give us a call at 800-227-7377 for a postage quote.

Mailing Permits and Indicia

First Class presort, Marketing Mail, and non-profit mail are all ways to send large volumes of mail. Rather than applying stamps or metered postage one by one (which would be time consuming), indicia can be applied to all of your mail pieces at the same time. Postal indicia is a way to pay for postage that will allow for the same markings (a permit imprint) to be printed on all identical pieces showing that postage has been paid. This saves you the hassle of applying stamps or metered postage to individual pieces and is therefore the best way to send bulk mail.

But in order to print indicia on your mail piece (and pay for postage this way), you must obtain a mailing permit from USPS, which is simply “permission to mail.” A mailing permit normally requires a one time set-up fee as well as annual fees; however, customers that utilize the mail services of U.S. Press are allowed to apply the U.S. Press postal indicia and are not required to obtain any other mailing permit.

Here are samples of how indicia using the U.S. Press mailing permit are printed on your pieces, depending on the postage class:

 

First Class Mail Indicia Sample

First Class Mail Indicia Sample

First Class Presort Mail is designated with FIRST-CLASS MAIL PRSRT at the top in all caps. 

Prsrt Std Indicia Sample

Standard Mail Indicia Sample

Standard Mail / Marketing Mail is designated with PRSRT STD at the top in all caps, which is an abbreviation for Presort Standard.

Non Profit Indicia Sample

Non Profit Indicia Sample

Non profit mailers are indicated with the phrase NONPROFIT in all caps. 

Design Guidelines

Once you have decided what kind of piece you would like to mail, the quantity, and its mail class, then it’s time to design your piece. While you have ample creative freedom, there are specific USPS design regulations you must adhere to in order for your campaign to be delivered properly.

Prior to printing, our prepress team will inspect your design to make sure it adheres to these regulations including indicia placement, clear zones, and mail panel placement. Your U.S. Press account manager can help with any questions you have, but here are some basic guidelines to keep close at hand when designing your mail pieces.

Postcard Design Guidelines

Postcards will need to be the proper size and designed in a manner that adheres to USPS guidelines.

Size requirements:

  • All postcards need to be a minimum of 3.5” high x 5” long and rectangular in shape.
  • To qualify for postcard First Class postage rates, your piece can be no larger than 4.25” high by 6” long, which makes our 4” x 6” postcards an ideal choice when you want to save on printing and qualify for discounted First Class postage.
  • To qualify for letter postage rates, all postcards must be no larger than 6.125" x 11.5.”
  • Postcards larger than 6.125” x 11.5” mail at flat rates, which is more expensive than letter rate postage. In order to save on postage, we recommend mailing cards that are smaller than this size.

Clear zones, mail panels, indicia, and return address placement:

The USPS requires certain clear zones be included in the design of all postcards in order to leave room for indicia, the recipient address area, and barcode placement.

While the Postal Service has created very technical (and complicated!) rules for these clear zones, there are some simple guidelines that will allow your design to adhere to these requirements:

  • On the back of your postcard, leave approximately a 1” blank square on the right hand side for indicia. We recommend allowing U.S. Press to place this indicia on the piece for you.
  • On the back of your postcard, leave a 3.75” long by 2.25” high clear zone (blank white space, no ink) in the bottom right hand corner. This is where we will address your pieces, as well as where USPS will place their barcode markings. We call this the mail panel.
  • If you plan on adding a return address to your postcards, then it should be placed above the mail panel. Most commonly, the return address is placed at the top of the card to the left hand side of the indicia. Postcards need a return address if a return service is requested (which is automatically included for First Class Mail and optional for Marketing / Standard Mail).

Brochure Design Guidelines

Like postcards, brochures and other folded pieces (called self-mailers) must adhere to specific USPS requirements. Brochures are processed the same way as postcards (the “length” is the longer two sides, “height” is the shorter two) and all addresses, postal indicia, etc. must be applied accordingly.

Size requirements:

  • Brochures or other folded pieces must be rectangular in shape.
  • To qualify for letter rates, they must be a minimum of 3.5” high but no larger than 6” high when folded. They must be a minimum of 5” long but no larger than 10.5” long when folded.
  • Brochures larger than these requirements are subject to surcharge fees.

Clear zones, mail panels, indicia, and return address placement:

USPS requires certain clear zones be included in the design of all brochures in order to leave room for indicia, the recipient address area, and barcode placement.

Here are some simple guidelines that will allow your brochure design to adhere to these requirements:

  • On the back middle panel of your brochure, leave approximately a 1” blank square on the right hand side for indicia. We recommend allowing U.S. Press to place this indicia on the piece for you.
  • On the back middle panel of your brochure, leave a 3.75” long by 2.25” high clear zone (blank white space, no ink) in the bottom right hand corner. This is where we will address your pieces, as well as where USPS will place their barcode markings. We call this the mail panel.
  • If you plan on adding a return address to your brochures, then it should be placed above the mail panel.
  • USPS require wafer seals (tabs) to be added to your folded mailers in order to seal them. Folded pieces without binding/stitching will have two tabs placed on the open side (top) of your mail piece. U.S. Press will apply these tabs for you when you utilize our mail services.

Booklet/Catalog Design Guidelines

Booklets and catalogs must also adhere to specific USPS requirements.

Size requirements:

  • All booklets and catalogs must be rectangular in shape.
  • To qualify for letter rates, they must a minimum of 3.5” high but no larger than 6” high. They must be a minimum of 5” long but no larger than 10.5” long.
  • Booklets larger than these dimensions are subject to flat rate postage.

Clear zones, mail panels, indicia, and return address placement:

USPS requires certain clear zones be included in the design of all booklets and catalogs in order to leave room for indicia, the recipient address area, and barcode placement.

Here are some simple guidelines that will allow your booklet design to adhere to these requirements:

  • On the back page of your booklet, leave approximately a 1” blank square on the right hand side for indicia. We recommend allowing U.S. Press to place this indicia on the piece for you.
  • Leave a clear zone (blank white space, no ink) that measures 3.75” wide by 2.25” tall. This area must be on the top half of the booklet, front or back page, with the spine on the right. This is where we will address your pieces, as well as where USPS will place their barcode markings. We call this the mail panel.
  • If you plan on adding a return address to your booklets, then it should be placed above the mail panel.
  • USPS require wafer seals (tabs) to be added to your booklets and catalogs in order to seal them. U.S. Press will apply these tabs for you when you utilize our mail services.

Processing of Mail Lists

Before your mailing is addressed, U.S. Press will run your mail list(s) through specialized USPS-approved software that checks each and every address for accuracy and validity to ensure proper mail delivery. In addition, your database will be cross-checked against the National Change of Address (NCOA) database.

Payment of Postage

In all cases, postage must be paid in advance of mailing. U.S. Press requires payment of postage at least three days in advance of the mail date. Your U.S. Press representative will provide complete details for payment of postage to insure timely mailing of your project.



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