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Sep 1, 1997 12:00 AM

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Of necessity, printers and trade binderies serve as value-added suppliers for direct mail customers. They offer many services, including printing, trimming, folding, gluing and tabbing, all with quick turnaround times.

By maintaining good relationships with customers, printers and binderies are well positioned to capture larger jobs and more custom work. As customers' needs change, graphic arts execs also must offer proactive solutions to their clients. Currently, of special interest are the new U.S. Postal Service (USPS) standards affecting direct mail.

The new USPS automated mail standards for folded self-mailers enable the processing of ever-increasing amounts of mail, by handling "machinable" and "readable" mail.

A mailer is "machinable" if it is a designated size and shape, made of the designated material and sealed for transporting at high speeds through the USPS automated processing system.

A mailer is considered readable if it contains a machine-printed address of POSTNET barcode for scanning and sorting by USPS optical readers and barcode sorters.

Trade binderies should have several copies of USPS Publication 25, Designing Letter Mail, available as reference. The adjacent chart provides an overview of automated mail piece dimensions. Publication 25 also includes additional details on aspect ratios and paper weight.

These new standards enable the USPS to gather, sort, transport and deliver increasingly larger amounts of mail at the lowest possible cost per piece. With the change in sorting and distribution of mail from a primarily manual system to an automated one, the cost of mail handling can be contained.

This latest approach to mail handling is expected to save the USPS up to $36 per 1,000 letters when compared to older methods. Because the handling process is accomplished by machines, mail is transported from the sender to the recipient faster, arriving in better condition.

As a value-added service provider, printers and binderies should be thoroughly familiar with the latest standards in order to guide customers to the optimum mailer design. The design should consider a number of criteria.

First, the customer's need to communicate an idea or describe a product to the target audience is important.

Second, keep in mind costs and trade-offs to achieve your goals. Printers and binderies will be able to guide their customers to the proper methods of printing, folding and sealing self-mailers so that the pieces meet the new USPS standards. Printing and folding these pieces to meet postal codes for size and shape can be accomplished with few or no changes to existing bindery equipment. However, the methods and requirements of sealing and addressing have been narrowly defined by the USPS.

The automated system requires several steps in order to process mail. First, mail that is not sorted for bulk mail rates and processing is run through facer-canceler machines to orient the mail in the correct direction, cancel postage stamps and separate machine-addressed letters for processing via OCR (optical character recognition). The facer-canceler also can read FIM (facing identification marks) on return mail.

Next, the OCR reads machine-printed addresses and prints a POSTNET (Postal Numeric Encoding Technique) barcode in the lower right corner of the mail piece.

Mail that is not machine readable goes to the Remote Barcoding System (RBCS), in which a person reads the address and enters it into a computer to apply the POSTNET barcode. This is the most expensive way of sorting mail.

After mail is POSTNET barcoded, it is run through the Mail Processing Barcode Sorter (MPBCS). Bulk mail that is already POSTNET barcoded goes directly to this equipment, bypassing other processes. The MPBCS then sorts the mail and routes it to the proper post office.

Incoming mail from other post offices and local mail that has been POSTNET barcoded then is run through the Delivery Barcode Sorter (DBCS) and Carrier Sequence Barcode Sorter (CSBCS) to sort by mail carrier. The system also places the mail in the sequence that the carrier will deliver it. This system can process mail at a rate of 34,000 pieces per hour.

All of this high-speed barcoding and sorting speeds delivery and reduces costs, but it can only be done on mail that meets the new automation requirements. For example, non-standard sizes must still be processed by hand.

The new acceptable methods for closing a self-mailer are both internal and external seals. The internal method uses spot or stripe gluing with either a cold or hot melt adhesive or a continuous gum strip. External sealing uses tabs or wafer seals.

Internal spot gluing is the least expensive method of sealing. This technique reduces the cost of each seal to about $.0008. Spot gluing can increase production throughput by reducing the handling time and per piece cost of the sealing process.

There are two reasons for increased throughput. First, seals are placed on the mailer as it is being folded, eliminating a second sealing operation. Second, spot gluing allows self-mailers to be printed two-up or even three-up, increasing productivity. Both permanent and peel-off adhesives can be used in both cold and hot-melt varieties.

Internal gluing works best when only one or two open edges need to be sealed. The simple half fold, "Z" fold and standard letter (or any roll over fold) lend themselves best to this type of closure. However, there are many other folds that can be sealed with one or two applications of adhesive.

One advantage of internal sealing is that it allows a mailer to be folded and sealed inside a folding machine during a single pass. It is possible to produce a complete self-mailer, with return envelope, in one pass using folding equipment. This includes pocket gluing, remoistenable glue for the envelope closure, envelope perforation and closure of the mailer. Addressing can be a pre- or post-folding operation.

External tabs or wafer seals should not be discounted. If the design of the mail piece has several page edges on the top or bottom, tabs may be the only viable method of sealing. External seals can hold a number of sheets.

The new standards allow up to a 1Ž4-inch-thick booklet to be mailed with external seals. External tabs or wafer seals work best when three or more open edges need to be sealed. Most booklets, for example, require external seals.

Whether or not you operate a full-service trade bindery, keeping abreast of the latest postal regulations will benefit your customers--and your bottom line.