Even before the anthrax scare, using postcards for promotional purposes was a good idea.
Postcards are a terrific way to let people know about specials you’re offering, an author appearance, a scheduling change, even additions to your list–anything you want to tell an audience quickly–because:
• Unlike letters, or e-mail, postcards don’t have to be opened to be read.
• Most people quickly glance at the message or offer.
• They’re colorful and therefore often noticeable on a desk or even memorable in the mind.
• With a bulk rate indicia–something to discuss with the post office–a standard 4″ x 6″ postcard is relatively inexpensive to mail.
Given advances in design and word-processing software and today’s printing technology, you can use your inkjet or laser printer to produce up to about 500 professional looking postcards. (For larger lists, it can be less expensive to use a print shop).
What You Need & Where to Get It
You can buy heavy weight, specially coated, and perforated postcard paper at any office supply store. It’s made by several companies and available in two different formats. The less expensive format requires that you have a white area surrounding the image on the front of the card. The other format permits you to print the cover image with a full “bleed” (with the image extending to the edges of the document).
Artwork is available from a variety of sources. The key to making sure an image reproduces well is its resolution, measured in dpi (dots-per-inch). The more dots, the sharper the image. Be very careful if you plan to take an image off the Web. For one thing, you can get into legal trouble if you use a copyrighted image, and for another, computer screens project images at the very low resolution of 72 dpi. To print well, an image must be at least 266 dpi.
Use digital images. If you’re promoting a book you’re publishing, you may well decide to feature its cover on your card. If the artist who created it didn’t provide you with a digital version at a high resolution, use a scanner. Even inexpensive scanners (under $100) are adequate for creating high-resolution scans that you print yourself. And if you don’t have a scanner, and don’t want to buy one, a local printer–or possibly even the local copy shop–can create one for you.
Alternatively you can take a photo of the artwork you’d like to use. If you use a film camera, you’ll need to have a local photo processor turn the photo into a high-resolution digital image on a CD-ROM.
Want to use a unique or special picture? You can purchase CD-ROMs with royalty-free photos and illustrations from an office supply or computer store. Once you own them, you can use those images as often as you’d like. If you’re looking for a specific image, you might be able to purchase it online. Online image stores permit you to search their catalogs, order, and download the photo you want. All you need is a credit card. Be aware that if you have a dial-up modem, downloading the image will take some time, and that high-resolution images in color are usually large files. Make sure you have the room on your hard drive or removable storage (Zip disk or CD-ROM) to hold it.
Many of these photo retailers will provide you with a low-resolution image that you can use FPO (for position only). This enables you to download and try several in your layout before you buy. PhotoDisc (photodisc.com), Getty Images (gettyimages.com), Corbis (corbis.com), ImageState (imagestate.com), and PictureQuest (picturequest.com) are a few of the online image sources.
For Easy Passage through the Postal System
Virtually all post offices have preprinted forms that spell out regulations regarding postcard size and shape, as well as the placement of text, stamp, and any folds. Since postal restrictions and requirements change, it’s a good idea to get the most recent version. Pay special attention to regulations about placement of text on the address/stamp/message side of the postcard because, for example, if your return address is too close to the bottom of the postcard, the automated equipment at the post office will return the cards to you.
At the U.S. Postal Service’s Web site–http://www.usps.gov/–you can download templates for postcards (and for brochures, letters, and envelopes as well). The site even includes design and style tips. Once you’ve designed and printed a sample postcard, take it to your closest major post office. Someone there will review your card with you to make sure that its design is OK for their system. Ask the postmaster to refer you to the person who can answer your questions.
Some packages of postcard paper include instructions on formatting for proper output and which current software packages they work well with. It’s a good idea to experiment until you get the format right. You can draw a design out on a plain piece of paper that’s sized correctly (stick figures and rough lines will work). Then lay out that size on your screen and set up your document layout to match it. If you’ve never brought an image into a document, try that too, to make sure your software will permit it. You’ll save yourself a lot of time (and frustration) if you perfect the format and printing setup (paper size, etc.) before you begin designing your postcard.
Once you’ve perfected the format and printing setup, put your text and images in. Try several different layouts with different-sized type and graphics.
Then, before you print, test your layouts on colleagues and friends who don’t work in publishing or design and who will tell you honestly whether your message is coming though.
Don’t Let Rain Dampen Your Message
If you’re printing your postcards with an inkjet printer, there’s one more step you should take before you drop the cards in the mail. Even with the top-of-the-line coated postcard paper, the ink on the card will run or smear if it gets wet. You can’t control the weather or the postal system, but you can spray a protective coat of acrylic on the postcards. All you need is a can of Krylon Cyrstal Clear Acrylic Coating (or another brand’s similar product) that you can find at an art supply store (most office supply stores don’t carry it). Follow the directions and spray the postcards on each side outside or in a well-ventilated area. When they’re dry, put the stamps on, and mail.
No matter what kind of printer you use, keep it simple, be colorful, and get the word out.
Jan S. Bloom is a consultant from New York who specializes in Creative Marketing Services. She writes, designs, and produces postcards, ads, brochures, press releases, direct mail, sales letters, and newsletters (printed and e-mail). Bloom also creates media plans and develops Web sites. E-mail email@example.com, or call 914/713-0153 for more information.