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Guidelines for the Print-to-Post process
Are your letters literate?
There are specific standards for preparing letter-size mail pieces with bar codes to be mailed at automation rates. Letter-sorting machines have come a long way from the early days of manual keying. Today’s machines are able to read a large percentage of mail, recognizing handwriting and most fonts. Even letters without bar codes deserve the benefits of automated processing.
 
However, approximately 13 percent of letter mail cannot be initially sorted on a bar code reading machine. More in-depth character readers on other machines read another 7 percent — leaving many letters daily that are still sorted by hand — increasing costs and slowing down mail processing.
 
Here are some guidelines for making mail readable and easier to process.

Choose colors carefully
Automated machines prefer plain white or light pastel backgrounds with addresses printed in dark-colored ink. Dark or black paper envelopes result in an inability of sorting machines to read the address or barcode. If a dark envelope is used and an automation rate is claimed, the bar code should be printed in the address block in an address window. Bright or fluorescent colors on envelopes should be avoided due to their tendency to render canceling machines unable to detect the front of such envelopes.

Font facts
USPS machines speak many “languages,” but some fonts work better than others. The best font for readability is one using a sans serif format such as Arial or Helvetica. For best results, avoid italics, scripts, fonts with a serif format (Times New Roman), or stylized fonts. Condensed and bold fonts also cause the characters to crunch together and should be avoided.

Through thick and thin
Our letter-sorting machines accept a wide variety of sizes, but there are limits. Letter-size mail pieces have to be at least .007" thick and are processed more reliably if they are .009" thick. The thickness maximum for letters is .25" (1/4 inch). Thicker envelopes may become stuck and cause an envelope and its contents to be damaged.
 
As a reminder, the minimum height and length is 3 1/2" high by 5" long with the length being parallel to the address. The maximum letter-size is 6 1/8" high by 11 1/2" long.
 

Avoid shifting in your windows
Window envelopes are a convenient way to mail statements. Usually these do not cause a problem, but sometimes the address shifts inside the envelope and moves out of the window. It is best to keep the address block 1/8" away from any edge of the window. The insert should fit snugly into the envelope so it does not shift in handling. The machines read addresses best through low-gloss type windows — polystyrene, cellophane and glassine all work well.

Folded mailers
Some mail pieces are created by folding a piece of paper. Automated letter machines can handle them when they are prepared correctly. Designing them with the fold on the bottom works best. A seal (when using tabs, nonperforated tabs perform best) should secure the middle of the upper open edge, with an alternative of two seals placed within an inch of each side preferred.
 
A single page 20-pound (bond) piece of paper folded once is not thick enough. However, a tri-fold usually meets the minimum thickness requirement. Letter-size mail pieces must be at least .007" thick and should be at least .009" thick when more than 4 1/2" high or 6" long. The above recommendations facilitate processing of these mail pieces on automated equipment regardless of the rate paid.
 
Domestic Mail Manual section C810 describes all the preparation standards for mail pieces mailed at automation postage rates.
 

Clear zone
When letters are not bar-coded by the mailer, the Postal Service’s optical character readers attempt to apply bar codes to the mail piece. The clear zone for such bar codes is a rectangular area at the lower right corner of the mail piece that extends to the left 4 3/4" from the bottom right corner and 5/8" up from the bottom of the mail piece. Keeping this area clear of any printing enables the application of a readable bar code.

Postal experts
Let the experts at Publishing and Distribution help assure your mailing meets postal standards and receives the best possible rates. Contact your customer service representative or postal specialist for assistance on designing your mail piece.
 
Information courtesy of the U.S. Postal Service, Memo to Mailers Publication