Direct mail: It's all about choices

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You've got a direct-mail campaign brewing. You know what you want to say and to whom you're speaking. You've even got a rough design concept. Now it's time to get specific.

Planning is essential because higher prices are likely, driven by increases in mill energy costs and raw materials, as well as international political unrest and a spate of recent natural disasters affecting the supply and cost of paper.

Let's consider some of the various choices you have in direct mail production and creative that not only will help reduce costs but also help make an impact on your prospects and customers.

Maximum usage. Your printer is going to decide the best way to lay out your project on the press sheet, but it's up to you to ask if there's space to run an ad-ditional printed piece that will maximize use of the entire press sheet. For example, see if you get such extra pieces as bookmarks or notepads for further marketing efforts.

The value of stock. Paper selection is a major decision in delivering your creative message. Is there a look to the campaign that can be conveyed through the choice of stock, such as an earthy environmental stock or jazzy high-tech metallic paper? Do you know what finish you want your paper to have—glossy, matte or uncoated? Are there textured paper choices you want to review?

You'll also want to consider the weight of the paper, thickness and brightness. Different grades of paper have varying whiteness and brightness. The higher the grade, the more expensive the paper, of course, but that extra zing could be worth the expense. Remember, If you're feeling overwhelmed—and there's much to consider here—keep in mind that your printer has many paper samples to share, as well as a selection of house stocks that are more cost-effective.

Flash 'n' dash. “Effects” added during the printing process could help to mimic such paper stock attributes as flecks, or either a glossy or dull appearance created with varnish. Effects can add character to your project, so consider your options. For ex-ample, you might think about tinting the paper instead of using colored stock.

Work with your vendor. Paper swatch samples will help you narrow your selection, but you may want to see a mock-up of your final project using the paper you've selected. Many paper vendors offer samples that are cut to size and folded to demonstrate how your final piece will look. For instance, if you've designed an 11-by-17-inch self-mailer folded down to 5½-by-8½-inches in a specific stock, find out if your print provider can mock up your piece. That will help you get the feel of how the finished piece will actually look.

The power of ink. There are lots of ink choices, including fluorescent, four-color process, Pantone Matching System (PMS), metallic and digital toner. The final ink appearance will differ depending on the stock you use.

Some printers provide “draw downs” to give you an idea of how the ink will look on the stock. Keep in mind that the more ink colors you use in a print project, the more expensive your project becomes; but there are tricks to keeping costs down.

Consider using one ink color along with varying percentages of that color. For example, PMS 300 is a deep royal blue color. If you use the 100% version of PMS 300 on one part of your marketing piece, and a 20% shade of the same color elsewhere on the item, it would result in a royal blue and a light blue color—two “colors” for the price of one.

Paul Buohl is manager-estimating and planning, with direct marketing production company EU Services ( He can be reached at

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