Digital Print and the Postal Stream

By on September 29th, 2008

Digital print applications and the postal stream are not always the best friends. The wear and tear that automated handling system used by the USPS can turn a eye catching personalized mail piece into scratched and marred piece of junk mail destined for the recycling bin.

A few years ago I attended a conference in which members of the postal service were asked to provide insight into how printers could work around the core causes of machine caused wear and tear. The major take away from the talk was that lack of handling system standardization (E.g the post office in Minneapolis might have different equipment then the post office in Atlanta) it was hard to provide a concise set of best practice for designing print applications around handling systems.

A new white paper from the Digital Printing Council at PIA/GATF aims to provide some insight into what happens when digital print applications are mailed. In Digital Printing and Survivability in the U.S. Postal System researchers at PIA/GATF came up with a basic test to analyze the issue:

The basic methodology for the study was determined: design a postcard, print it on various digital presses (with no coating) on 10pt C1S paper, then mail it from four different points of origin to PIA/GATF headquarters. Additionally, a postcard was also produced via offset lithography for control and comparison purposes. The full white paper details the results of this study.

To find out more about the study or request a copy, visit New DPC White Paper – Digital Printing and Survivability in the U.S. Postal System

Have you done your own research into digital print applications and the postal stream? What tips and ticks do you use in the design and production of mail pieces so they get to the recipient without unsightly blemishes?

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    2 Responses to “Digital Print and the Postal Stream”

    1. Bob Moore Says:

      Why would anyone send out mail peices un-coated?

    2. Todd Butler Says:

      There is no “design” feature you can add to protect the print surface other than a coating.

      Butler Mail has been designing (physical not graphical) mail pieces for carrying CD/DVDs through postal processing since 2000. We have succeeded with over 40 different designs that have been approved for automated letter rates by the USPS. Accomplishing this meant a lot of time spent in postal facilities running our designs on their machines.

      The primary letter sorting piece of equipment is the DBCS. All automation compatible letters are eventually processed on this machine. All bar coded letters are run exclusively on this machine and a variant with wider belts. There are over 8,000 machines nationwide and though there have been upgrades and new models, the machines are all nearly identical in how they handle and process mail.

      These machines are a fact of life and are not going to be replaced because certain mail piece designs or print processes are damaged during sortation. It is up to the industry to provide compatible pieces of mail for these machines.

      If you want to make compatible pieces, increase the basis weight of the paper you use. The USPS is currently testing cards and card stock. The early results indicate that we should be using twelve point paper instead of ten. The heavier paper keeps large cards from curling in the pocket. On booklets 70# should be used for the outer cover. 50# or less is shredded by the feeder mechanisms. Remember this equipment uses belts and rubber separator fingers to singulate and transport mail. These components are especially hard on the surfaces of mail pieces.

      To protect the print surface from abrasion within th machine you need to use a coating. Belt coverage on the various pieces of postal equipment runs from 1 3/4 inches to nearly 4 inches depending on the processing required and the machine available to do it. The belts on the DBCS machines are 1 3/4 high but the feeder section uses four thin belts spaced over a four inch area with three separator fingers on the opposite side for singulation. The separator fingers are what cause the delamination you see on uncoated papers at the lead edge of a mail piece.

      Your quest to deliver a quality printed product to the end consumer starts at your local postal processing plant. Ask for a tour in the afternoon when they start processing that days mail. You will not understand (nor believe) what a mail piece goes through until you see it for yourself.

      P.S. I see a coater for your digital printer in your future.