Direct Mail Enhancement Strategy: Part 1, Paper Stock

In order to create direct mail that enhances your ROI, you need to come up with a strategy to get attention, as well as offer products or services that are relevant to your audience. There are so many choices for direct mail enhancement strategies now, it can be hard to decide which one will work best. In this series, we will highlight many of the options and, hopefully, spark ideas for your next campaign.

There are four categories to discuss: paper stock, finishing, coatings, and other enhancements. We will break this into four posts, so that you can get more details. Let’s start with paper stock.

Paper Stock

The paper you use is a critical element in the appearance of your direct mail. It can help your mail piece stand out and convey your message.

There are three areas of difference between types of paper: finish, weight, and opacity.

  • Finish refers to the texture and appearance of the paper.
  • The weight of paper refers to its thickness and is measured in pounds, so the higher the number, the thicker the paper.
  • The opacity of paper is determined by its thickness and ink absorbency. Opacity is important, because it affects how much ink will show through on the reverse side of your piece. If a paper is not opaque enough, images printed on another side may show through. This makes reading text impossible, causing your mail panel to be too dark for automation postage rates. Paper with a high degree of opacity is better-able to prevent dark images from showing through. Complete opacity is 100%, and complete transparency is 0%, so take that into consideration when choosing your direct mail paper.

Generally, glossy papers are used for brochures, product sheets, catalogs, posters, postcards, and fliers. Uncoated stock is best for letterhead, envelopes, newsletters, and inserts. Let’s look at the options.

  • Finish: There are five options here: “Coated” is a paper with a waxy finish that can be shiny or matte on one side or two sides. “Uncoated” is a paper with an untreated surface that is dull and unreflective. “Wove” is a smooth, uncoated surface. “Laid” is a paper that is manufactured with textured lines on its surface. This finish is used mostly for business stationery elements, like letterhead and envelopes. “Linen” is similar to a laid finish, but this paper has textured lines on the surface of the sheet that are finer and more regular than those that appear on a laid finish stock. This paper is also frequently used for business stationery.
  • Text: This kind of paper can have a coated or uncoated finish. These lightweight papers are often used for publication interiors, sell sheets, and letters. The most common text weights are 50# – Standard light weight paper, 60# – One grade heavier than standard, 70# – thicker and less transparent, 80# or 100# are pretty thick. But depending on what you want to mail, they may be a good choice. Keep in mind that if you are choosing a text stock for a self-mailer, you need to be at 80# or more to withstand the mail equipment without tearing.
  • Bond: Bond papers are used for letters and generally must be able to run through laser printers. The most common stocks are: 20# – A standard weight paper, 24# – The preferred weight for most business papers, 28# – Heavier paper, less frequently used for letters, but commonly used for envelopes.
  • Cover: These stocks are heavy in weight and, therefore, more rigid; which makes them harder to fold. These papers are generally used for publication covers, self-mailers, and postcards. They can have coated or uncoated finishes. Common weights for cover stocks include: 65# – A lightweight cover stock most common for self-mailers, 80# – Slightly heavier than 65#, works well for report covers, 88# – Heavier than 80#, but still considered a lightweight cover, 100# – Mid-weight cover and is common for postcards, 120# – considered a heavyweight cover. You do not want to fold this one, so stick with postcards.

As you can see, there are a lot of options, and even more than I listed. There are a few other things you should know. Glossy paper stock with a shiny finish looks great. This stock is popular for self-mailers, postcards, fliers, and inserts. Matte text is a non-gloss finished paper. This paper is often used for newsletters, catalog pages, fliers, and self-mailers. Keep in mind when you are sending letters in envelopes, you should match your letter stock and envelope stock for a more professional look and feel.

Paper choice is really important to your direct mail design, because some designs look better on glossy stock while others do not. Your paper should complement your design and message, if you are selling high-end items, purchase high-end paper. Your prospects and customers can feel the difference. Are you ready to get started?