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Articles - Direct Mail - February 19, 2020

Great Production: Start With An Accurate Quote

Nothing can sour the taste of a direct mail campaign quite like production that has gone off the rails. After all the long days and nights of strategy, creative, design, copywriting and approvals, nothing sucks more than struggling with production headaches when it should’ve been a done deal.

This can be anything from botched datawork and bad quality printing to poor quality control laser imaging and late delivery. From the vendor to the agency to the end client, all will feel the repercussions.

In a series of articles entitled Great Production, I’ll guide you through the steps to ensure a perfect outcome, no matter which print/mail vendor you ultimately bring on board.

Start With An Accurate Quote

Getting an accurate quote from the outset will not only minimize any post-mailing price haggling but will also provide the vendor with a pretty good overview of the campaign. As the supplier works through the pricing, he or she can often provide recommendations on ways to make the production process cheaper or faster, or both.

The best way to get an accurate quote is to provide accurate specs on what needs to be done. Providing detailed specs on the first pass is the fastest way to get a good quote.

Notwithstanding postage, print is usually the more expensive aspect of a mailing depending on the components of course. Mailing a postcard is certainly going to be much cheaper than a full-blown fundraising appeal.

For print pricing, here are the specs that are normally required for an accurate quote. Let’s start with the envelopes:

Outer (or Carrier) Envelope

  • Size: A #10 (4-1/8″ x 9-1/2″) is a standard size. Everyone knows what a #10 is, otherwise provide dimensions (Note: even though Canada uses the metric system, the old Imperial system is still commonly used in print.) If it’s a larger OE like a 9″ x 12″ , specify whether it is an open end or open side – if you don’t know, the vendor will probably make an educated guess based on the insertion  requirements.
  • Window: A standard window is 1-1/8″ x 4-1/2″ and on a #10, it’s located 5/8″ from the left side of the envelope and 3/4″ from the bottom. If it is not this size or in a different position, or even on the reverse side, that’s an important detail to be noted.
  • Stock: The most common envelope stock is called 24 lb whitewove (ww). If you are going with a lot of colour, a coated and slightly heavier stock may be a better bet. For additional protection or highlighting, an aqueous, varnish or UV coating may also be recommended. If you have a specific stock in mind, be sure to specify it.
  • Inks:  How many colours are used on the front and back? Are they the same colours? Are they the standard pre-mixed PMS (Pantone Matching System) inks or are they process colours also called CMYK (a blend of cyan, magenta, yellow and black)?
  • Bleeds: This is probably the least provided detail but it can make a big difference in price. If the ink(s) go off the edge of the envelope or up to the very edges of the window, this is called a bleed. A more expensive and lengthier process called print and convert must be used.
  • Versions: Is there another version to be printed? Does the whole design (all colours) change, or just a different code?
  • Quantity: Anticipated net mail quantity for each version

Reply Envelope (or BRE) 

  • Size: Is it the usual #9 (3-7/8″ x 8-7/8″) envelope or a different size?
  • Window: There usually isn’t one, or does the Reply Device have a unique variable address on it that will show through a window as the addressing vehicle on the reply envelope?
  • Stock: Is it something other than the usual 24 lb whitewove?
  • Inks: Usually just black ink on the front side but can have second colour, as well as ink on the back.
  • Bleeds: Unless specified, it’s not normally considered.
  • Versions: Is there another version to be printed? Does the whole design (all colours) change, or just a different code?
  • Quantity: Anticipated net mail quantity for each version

Letter/Reply Device and Additional Components

Now that we have a good start on the envelopes, let’s look at the rest of the components.

Spec requirements for these pieces are pretty much the same as envelopes. Keep in mind that sizes and stock can vary greatly but for the sake of simplicity, let’s assume a standard size letter and reply device (RD), also called a response device or coupon.

To minimize cost, an 8-1/2″ x 14″ letter/RD  with a microperf is the most efficient way to go. Since there may be an option of a trimmed off RD, make note if there is a perforation when getting a print quote.

The most common stock (and the least expensive) is a 60 lb offset or text. Without getting into all the technicalities of paper, 24 lb bond is basically the same as 60 lb offset but is based on different manufactured size. Other than a slightly lighter 20 lb bond, it’s the most common paper around the office. For the rigors that paper endures during mail production, anything lighter than a 60 lb offset is not recommended.

If you have a lot of colour or images in your designs, you may want to consider a coated stock, either gloss or matte. Coated paper allows the ink to stay on the surface of the paper rather than being absorbed like offset which is uncoated. As a result, the colour will “pop” from the paper making it more vibrant. Keep in mind that a matte stock will also make the image more crisp but without the glow from a gloss stock. Matte (or dull) also marks easier than gloss, even with a fingernail. You can also have the option of spot varnishing or UVing specific areas if you only wish to highlight certain areas.

As with envelopes, an aqueous, varnish or UV (ultraviolet) finish helps to protect the stock. It does however add to the cost.

If the ancillary components are just inserts with no personalization, then it is a good idea to also specify the finishing, e.g. folding, die-cutting, etc. required.

So let’s see what a print quote request might look like.

Sample Quote Request

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