Blow-In Some Creative Direct Mail Ideas: What Catches Your Eye?

blow-in and bind-in insert cards for direct mail

Blow-ins and Bind-ins: ever thought about why those insert cards in your direct mail work? If they didn’t, they would not be showered with so many. “Blow-in” cards (as bindery machines blow the inserts into the printed pieces during manufacture) are most famously successful for magazines and newspapers to advertise their subscription offers. Their size makes them perfect as business reply mail, coupons for in-store and online sales, or to call out special offer from within the larger print piece. “Bind-in” cards stay attached to the piece, usually with a perforation to allow removal.

Normally inserts prove bothersome by falling out inconveniently and making me stoop to pick them up, or as I browse the rest of the magazine or catalog I am trying to keep them from falling out again. Bind-in cards annoyingly cover up part of the page that I want to see. These “aggravations” are in fact part of the reason insert cards work for marketing – they force us to stop and potentially, in those extra precious seconds, notice the name or information on the card.

direct mail advertising insert cards

I recently received a catalog from Pier 1 imports, and while several blow-in cards came falling out, the one above caught my attention above the others – and prompted me to think about why. It is actually a bind-in card, but three things, in retrospect, stood out enough to make me stop and look at it, flip it over and see what it was about:

  • The design: specifically the colors. Like the type, they are loud but pleasing. The designer knew the visual had to stand out in front of a busy page full of advertised merchandise, and this design does.
  • The die cut: that icy pitcher of tart lemonade looks like it could almost be lifted off the page. Maybe I was thirsty at the time, but it made me take notice, and the outlined shape caught my eye over all the other rectangular inserts, which I totally ignored.
  • The anonymity: If the front of this card had the company logo emblazoned on it, I think my initial reaction would have been to assume I already knew what it was pushing and need not look any further. Because it looked more like a big flavorful offer for lemonade, I flipped it over and saw an offer for $50 off a purchase at Pier 1. Good marketing.

When you are planning your print marketing, take a few minutes to think about the ways direct mail or other advertising has influenced you, caught your eye, or directed your behavior. Pick up your stack of mail today and notice which piece attracts your notice the most – then try to state three reasons that particular item got your attention while others were bypassed. Learning to incorporate those sound and creative ideas into your own promotions can make your marketing dollars do a lot more work for you. Creativity will get you noticed.



Printers understand communication and design. Your printer should be able to provide you with the latest information, inspiration, technical advice, and innovative ideas for communicating your message through print, design and typography, signage, apparel, variable data printing and direct mail, integrated marketing and environmental responsible printing. They should also be able to work with you to solve any difficult prepress issues with your files. If they can’t, you have the wrong printer! The best advice, always, is to ASK YOUR PRINTER!

Call us at 828.684.4512. ImageSmith is a full-service print and marketing provider located in Arden, North Carolina. Contact us at ImageSmith for quotes on all your print and marketing projects, and more useful tips on how to create custom, effective, high impact marketing solutions.

Die cutting: Creative Finishing Ideas Add Power to Print

folded die cut self-mailer

Even a simple die cut can transform a bland self-mailer into a powerful marketing piece. Creative die cutting highlights the 3D nature of print – its tactile and functional nature. It also grabs attention and makes a marketing piece stand out from a stack of generic mail pieces.

The finished shape of a die cut print piece can serve an aesthetic purpose, such as making an image pop off the page or highlighting either text or a specific object. It can also provide functionality; for example, the slots in some folders which hold business cards or the curved and angled flaps on a folder which fit together as a means of closure for the piece. Another practical function for die cutting is a “pre-punched” card that is still affixed into the sheet of paper by a few, small uncut areas but can easily be popped out by the recipient to use the piece as a coupon, membership card, etc.

die cut rounded corner print pieces
Even the simplicity of a die cut rounded corner makes a print piece unique.

As a general rule, offset and digital printing (other than web-fed presses) is done on precut, rectangular pieces of paper. A special die cut press is used to trim or shape the pieces further. Think of this as similar to a cookie cutter. A die is made of metal and adjusted onto the die press at the right amount of pressure. Printed sheets are then fed into the machine and the die will both cut and/or score each sheet, leaving small attachment areas so that the finished pieces do not separate and fall down into the press. The unused portion is then scraped or weeded out and recycled, leaving the finished shaped piece.

die cut printed pieces


All “shaped” pieces of printed paper have been die cut by this or a similar method: envelopes with a curved flap, folders with slots for holding a buisness card or insert, and anything with rounded edges are all examples of die cut print pieces. You can creatively design your die cut to work in most any shape. Of course, the extra process adds cost to your print project, and a very complex die will cost more than one as simple as a rounded corner or curved shape.

One hint: paper manufacuturers often provide printers with sample books of their materials, showing off their products through creative, eye-catching print. These sample books and other marketing pieces often include examples of die cutting. Ask your printer to share some of these with you, or for samples of their own die cut projects. You can get a lot of inspiration from holding and inspecting the paper yourself, and perhaps it will get you excited about new options for your next print project.

Paper manufacture samples of die cutting


Rely on your printer for advice, inspiration and direction on your integrated marketing options. They should be able to answer all your questions – 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.