Mailing 101: The Basics

Mailing 101: The Basics You Need to Know

The world of direct mail can be daunting if you are clueless about the process, regulations, and guidelines set forth by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). We’ll discuss some of the basics to help you get started with your mail piece.

Plan, Plan, Plan

We always preach that you should talk to your sales representative or account manager before designing your project. This is especially true if your project is going to be mailed!

Postcards have been reprinted because they were 1/4” too long. Brochures have been redone because the mail panel (where the address goes) wasn’t placed correctly. The USPS has strict guidelines that determine how your piece can be mailed—and how much it will cost.

Behind the scenes at each post office, there are machines that do the majority of the sorting work. Because they have limitations, restrictions are placed on certain classes of mail (see below) in order to make sure they are “machinable.”

Important physical aspects to consider are the thickness of the piece, the length, the height, and the relationship of length to height (called the aspect ratio). But the design of each piece matters, too. For example, to be machinable, the mail panel must have a solid or folded edge at the bottom. If the open pages are at the bottom of your mail panel, you’ll either incur a much higher postage rate or have to reprint your piece. Either way it will cost you!

Set Up Your List—Correctly

It might seem easy… just export a file of names and addresses and send it off, right? Not so fast! Mailing list setup is another key part of keeping your costs down.

First of all, don’t send your addresses as a PDF. We won’t be able to properly address your piece and we definitely won’t be able to sort it. Export a spreadsheet with each field in a separate column: name, first line of address, second line of address, city, state, and ZIP code. Save your file as a CSV file (also called comma delimited) and you’re good to go (read more on our mailing list blog post).


Besides sorting your list for the best postal rates, each mail house should run your list through the National Change of Address (NCOA) service. This will correct any addresses that are to be forwarded and will kick out any addresses that simply cannot be mailed to. You’ll save more money by not mailing to these bad addresses, and you have the benefit of cleaning up your database while you’re at it.

What Class Do You Fit In?

All USPS mail is sorted into delivery groups called classes. First Class can send just about anything, but it is the most expensive option.This is equivalent to putting a stamp on each piece and tossing them all into a mailbox.

USPS Marketing Mail, sometimes referred to as presort standard, is the most common choice for direct mail pieces. This involves addressing the pieces in a specific, presorted order that is easier for the post office to process and deliver. Nonprofit Mail is another common choice in this area, as those businesses and organizations can realize cost savings if they complete the appropriate paperwork to certify their nonprofit status. There’s also Periodical Mail for magazines and other publications.

As mentioned above, these are just the basics! There are hundreds of pages of rules and regulations surrounding direct mail. Will you need wafer seals on your catalogs? Should you increase the thickness of your postcard? Your sales representative and account manager can get the answers to any questions for you. Happy mailing!