Useful Tips for Avoiding Various Types of Postcard Smudges and Damage

When you think about it, the mail system is a bit of a technological marvel. Established in 1775, the US postal service evolved into one of the key communication means during the 19th century. Today, many of us take for granted sending out a bill payment, photo postcards, or any other mail piece. Not only the cards printed now are very different, but the mailing process has also changed. Everything is done just by sticking a stamp on an envelope and dropping it off in a mailbox, at the post office, or simply by handing it to our mail carrier. In a matter of days, that mail arrives at its destination.

Of course, there are plenty of unseen steps between mail being sent and arriving where it’s supposed to go. When you create a postcard to be sent out to customers, evidence of those out-of-sight steps is often visible. The long mailing process damages the mail piece before the delivery. This happens regardless of the paper surfaces or postcard size (standard 3 1/2 X 5 1/2 or other). However, any signs of handling are nothing to worry about – in fact, they indicate that the USPS is doing what it’s supposed to do at a high rate of success.

At Inkit, we want to help marketing professionals better understand the mail system and our role in getting your postcard in the hands of the people you’re targeting. In this publication, we’ll touch on some of the issues our consumers often ask about when they start using the direct mail automation process. In particular, they want to know how the postcards look after they’ve gone through the mailing process.

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Recommendations to Avoid Postcard Damage or Make It Less Noticeable

Scuffs and Smudges

Some of the mail processed by the Postal Service will inevitably show signs of handling. Scuff marks or smudges are one of the most common ‘damaged mail’ issues. To handle the large volume of mail that comes through every day – close to 500 million pieces of mail on average – cards, letters, and packages are sent through scanners and other automated sorters. The machines grip and flex postcards as they zoom to the correct place for further handling. A scuff mark or a smudge here and there is not unexpected. Mail recipients are accustomed to seeing these marks on much of the mail they receive. Hence, most likely, they won’t give it a second thought.

Naturally, these are best kept to a minimum, but once your commercially printed cards enter the mail system, their appearance depends on how the US postal service handles them. There are a few things, however, that can help you prevent the damaged mail. Take them into consideration when planning your direct mail campaign and designing your postcards.

Avoid solid black backgrounds

Minor damage may be more evident on black ink compared with other colors, including white. Black (as long as it’s true black) can look nice from a design perspective. However, if avoiding scuffs or scratches is important to you, white or any other ‘lighter’ color might be a better choice.

Use UV coating for extra protection

Adding a smooth, protective layer to both front and back sides of commercially printed postcards not only improves the look of cards but helps them to move through the sorting machines with less risk for smudging, scratching or scuffing. While this doesn’t eliminate those issues entirely, it does mitigate them somewhat. At Inkit, all of our postcards receive this durable UV coating.

Use album pages or plastic sleeves

In case you need to store your postcards after receiving them from print, make sure to store them in album pages or plastic sleeves to avoid unnecessary wear and tear. This will extend the life of the mail piece and help you keep them undamaged.

Mail yourself a sample mail piece

The best way to see how your postcard marketing will look like is to receive a sample yourself. After digital printers produce a finished product, don’t forget to review the postcard staying unbiased. You can see first-hand what impression your card creates when it gets delivered. Maybe, you’d like to change the layout of the card or the colors you selected based on the card’s appearance once it has gone through the handling process. And in case you notice any postcard damage, you’ll know what to adjust in your postcard design to prevent it in the future.

Spray Barcodes

While some mail does end up getting scuffed or smudged during the postal handling process, sometimes items are delivered with other alterations. On occasion, mail pieces arrive with an additional barcode printed in orange ink. Known as an ID tag, this code is applied as a postcard or letter is being sorted. It does not mean anything is wrong with the mailing, however.

Whenever possible, the mail is processed by high-speed scanners that rely on barcodes to read the delivery information. About 25 percent of USPS barcode sorting machines “spray” an additional barcode in orange ink onto letters and postcards. This ensures that the mail can be scanned even if the preprinted barcodes are scuffed, rubbed off or otherwise unreadable to the automated equipment.

Again, this is a good opportunity to contemplate changes to your design based on how your finished product looks like when you get it. If the added barcode conflicts with your chosen design or color scheme too profoundly, you can make a change before sending your bulk mailing.

Yellow Labels

When a piece of mail cannot be delivered as expected, the USPS will place a yellow label with tracking information on it to document its status. Consumers also see these labels when they have their mail forwarded, either permanently or temporarily. The yellow label is printed with the address and corresponding barcode of the new address and may be placed on top of the old address.

Sometimes, the USPS is unable to make a delivery. As you can see, postcard damage isn’t the greatest problem of the mailing process. Your postcard marketing may get stuck because of an incomplete or inaccurate address. CRM integration offered by Inkit helps to avoid this problem automating the user data management. Note that as a result of the failed delivery, your mail will be marked with a yellow label. Simply put, this label means that a postcard is missing a piece of information, such as a directional (N, S, E, W) indicator. It could also occur if the house number does not exist or is outside of the range of known deliverable addresses.

It may take some time for a given piece of mail to be returned after having a yellow label attached to it. Everything depends on how many times a delivery attempt is made. A long mailing process can result in mail damage even if paper surfaces of the printed image have high quality. Each time an unsuccessful delivery is made – and that could be eight times or even more – another set of hands and machines come into contact with the card, increasing the potential for wear and tear.

Inkit Can Better Protect Your Mail

At Inkit, we take a number of specific measures to avoid damaged mail during the direct mail processing. Inkit’s delivery system and templates are also more damage-prone than USPS services. Get our demo version to get all the benefits of this innovative mailing solution right now.

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By submitting this form, I confirm that I have read and understood Inkit's Privacy Policy.
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