New 2013 USPS Rules for Folded Self-Mailers (FSMs)


2013 USPS rules for FSMs or Folded Selfmailers

As of January 5, 2013, the USPS puts into effect new rules for the design and preparation of FSMs, or folded self-mailers, a staple of effective direct mail marketing. As anyone involved with mailings can attest, the USPS rules and regulations for mail piece design, sorting and delivery can be mind-boggling. In this instance, they have done a good job of giving us all plenty of notice about the upcoming changes (publishing a “final rule” providing mailers with upcoming changes back in December of 2011), and spelling out the requirements in a fairly clear manner (despite the clear-as-mud “Decision Tree Design Matrix” spreadsheet someone spent a lot of time creating). Clearly, the USPS sought to accommodate a variety of design options in these rule changes to encourage direct mail marketers and their creativity while still ensuring mail piece compatibility with automated processing. Good job, USPS!

In an attempt to summarize, here are some GENERAL highlights in this rules change:

  • If the FSM is secured with tabs (rather than glue dots or strips), at least two are required, and they cannot be on the “bottom”, folded edge.
  • The bottom of the mail piece must be a folded edge. If the piece is oblong, the short or leading edge must be the fold.
  • New recognition of closure methods such as glue strips on lead and tail edges. The rules define many closure methods: continuous line glue strips, glue spots, elongated glue lines, and various tab options. Some of these are dependent on what weight of paper and how many folds are used.
  • Panel count maximum is 12 for non-newsprint folded pieces, 24 for newsprint paper.
  • Allowance of a 1-to1 cut-tie ratio for all perforated lines. (This has to do with the strength of any perforated pieces so they will not separate en route).

A “Folded Self-Mailer Reference Material” guide is available on the RIBBS site. It includes helpful diagrams – often with rules this technical, a picture really is worth a thousand words. It also includes the aforementioned “Decision Tree Design Matrix,” if that works for you. You can also contact mailpiece design analysts at the USPS for guidance:

“The MDA Support Center hours of operation are Monday through Friday, between 7:00 am and 5:00 pm CST. Customers may contact the MDA Support Center by dialing 855-593-6093, or by sending a request via email to”

It’s easy to complain about all the confusing rules when trying to learn the basic requirements for mail piece design, but if you consider all the variables that must be accomodated by the USPS when codifying exactly what can and cannot be accepted, it makes sense. Mailpieces must be compatible with processing machinery, or appropriate charges attached for other methods of handling. While we may want to know just a simple rule for folded self-mailers, they must consider all the variables that could be involved: is it closed with a tab, staple or glue strip? What size can the panels be? Is it folded top, bottom, tall, short, twice or more? How do different weights of paper affect those rules? Is there a flap; an insert or attachment? a perforated panel? When you take into account all of the design options possible, it’s pretty amazing they can present the rules in any intelligible way at all!


Rely on your printer for advice and direction in integrated marketing with direct mail. They should be able to answer all your queustions – if they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Your Life… on Paper. The Power of Print.


From conception to expiration, paper and print are there at every important milestone in your life. Consider how print and paper record, accompany, educate, entertain, sustain and preserve your journey…

From Conception to Expiration

Print and Paper on the Journey of Life


Print Paper Life

Print and Paper

Recording the journey

(For some great insights into the value of paper in our culture, check out Domtar’s Paper because… campaign.)

ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Variable Data Printing or VDP Produces Direct Mail Results

Variable Data Printing

During the 2012 presidential campaign, both major political parties spent more on Direct Mail than any other form of advertising except broadcast television. Are you surprised that more was invested in old fashioned snail mail than internet or mobile outreach? It is because the campaigns know that Direct Mail works. Direct Mail with variable data works even better. And to the surprise of many it works more effectively than most email marketing efforts. The reason why says a lot about both the nature of email/web ads and the benefits of smart direct mail print marketing.

Many people’s first impression of “blast” email marketing was that it would save print production costs and revolutionize campaign strategy. What prevented that sea-change however is basic human nature. Most people ignore – even sometimes resent – unsolicited email messages, and easily overlook banner ads or website advertising, especially if it is not accurately customized to their personal interests.

Direct mail has long been a staple in reaching a target audience and producing results. Personalizing the message on direct mail through variable data printing (VDP) can increase ROI even more – anywhere from double the normal return to 10-to-15 times! And the best part is that it works even better when you get creative with the possibilities – use VDP in a way that is unique to your clientele and needs.

Think of VDP as much more than just someone’s first name on the front of the card. For example: if you own a pizza place, you could collect personalized data from customers in house with a survey card – then mail each customer a coupon for the specific pizza they said they enjoyed most, vastly increasing the likelihood of their return over just a generic coupon that goes out to all customers. In this way you begin to profile your customers buying habits, and can target your marketing efforts in a much more effective, powerful way.

For a good overview of VDP, check out Adobe’s VDP Resource Center. Then call us and we’ll brainstorm some exciting VDP solutions for your integrated marketing.