Mailing out postcards is a tried and true marketing method. Unlike other forms of direct mail, a postcard has one unique advantage: it doesn't have to be opened. What you see is what you get.
Because people can glean your marketing message in a matter of moments and postcards cost significantly less to mail than a letter, savvy business owners have been using postcards to spread the word for years.
Once you have decided that you want to include postcards in your marketing mix, the next trick is to get them printed. Because it's easy to find inexpensive four-color printers online, these days you can get postcards quickly and affordably. I have ordered postcards from these companies:
Recently, I created postcards for four of my books: Vegan Success, Happy Hound, Happy Tabby, and Web Business Success. The postcards have a 4-color picture of the book cover on the front and a description on the back.
In many cases, the best printing price will depend on how many postcards you order at a given time. In my experience, Vista Print is less expensive if you want smaller quantities. But Printing for Less and Modern Postcard are very competitive in larger quantities. Although I haven't taken advantage of it, these companies also offer mailing services, and list rental. The mailing prices may influence your decision as well.
No matter what printer you opt to use, you will need artwork. Although Vista Print has some online options to create cards using their stock photo library, I always create my own artwork. If you have Adobe Photoshop, the process is fairly easy.
Many online printers also have templates for popular software programs like Photoshop on their Web sites. If you download a template, the process of creating artwork is even easier. Whether or not you use a template, when you create a postcard, you need to follow a few rules.
1. A standard postcard is generally around 4.25 inches by 6 inches.
2. The card must be set up using CMYK color (not RGB).
3. The resolution must be at least 300 dots per inch (dpi).
4. Often you need to keep important information away from the edge (Vista Print calls this the "safe area.") Postcards are run on big sheets and then cut down to size. The trimming can be less than accurate, so you don't want anything important chopped off.
5. The back side of the card needs to follow postal regulations as far as addressing. The official rules are on the USPS site, or you can use the printer's template to make sure you don't put text or graphics in areas you shouldn't.
6. If you use the printer's template, you need to make sure you hide the guides layer.
Now that you know the basics, here's the step-by-step on how it all works in Photoshop.
1. Create the File
To get started in Photoshop, choose File|New. In the dialog box, change the settings, so they match the printer's requirements. For example, Modern Postcard wants the dots per inch to be 355, but Vista Pint suggests 300 dpi.
You also will probably need to add 1/8 to your final dimensions. This extra space is called the "bleed area," and will be cut off. (The term "bleed" means that the ink goes to the edge of the paper; the printer trims the card down to the final "trim" size.) Be sure to change the color mode to CMYK Color.
2. Or Open the PSD Template File
If you don't want to set up the file yourself, you can use a template. For example, Vista Print lets you download a Photoshop template from their site. The image below shows what the template looks like. You'll notice that it has a guides layer set up and a layer for your design. The red line shows you where the card will be trimmed and the blue line shows you the "safe area." You do not want to put any important graphics or text outside the safe area near the edge because it could be trimmed off.
Before you do anything else, choose File|Save As and give the template a new name, so you don't accidently modify the original.
3. Add Your Artwork
In my case, my book covers have been saved as PDF files, which are extremely easy to bring into Photoshop just by choosing File|Open. You see the import dialog box, which has some options you need to change. When you import a PDF file, again, you need to make sure that your dots per inch is set to at least 300 dpi and that the Mode is set to CMYK color.
4. Size and Scale to Fit
Because my book covers are oriented lengthwise, while I was working on the front side of the postcard, I rotated the canvas 90 degrees (choose Image|Rotate Canvas). I cropped my book cover and then copied it into my postcard artwork. You can see in this image that I have scaled it to fit within the safe area indicated by the guides. Choose Edit|Transform|Scale to resize the object you pasted on the layer.
5. Add Extras
As you can see in the layers palette, I added a layer below the book graphic that is filled with a complementary background color, since my book cover doesn't cover the entire page. This color bleeds off the edges of the card. To add the color, I selected the entire layer by choosing Select|All. Then I filled it with the foreground color by choosing Edit|Fill.
6. Add Effects
I also added a text layer with the URL for the book. On the book cover itself, I added a thin ruling line around it and a drop shadow. Drop shadows and ruling lines are done using Layer Effects. Just highlight the layer (in this case the book cover), click the little "F" at the bottom of the palette, and choose drop shadow from the list. Then set the options in the dialog box. Click Preview to see how your changes affect the image. In the Layer Effects, you use the Stroke options to add the ruling line.
7. Create the Back Side
The back side of your postcard is where you create your message. Generally, it is black and white, but you still want to be careful that everything is set up at the right resolution (at least 300 dpi). Some printers also want you to use "rich black" (black which also includes other colors so it prints darker). Be sure to read the guidelines carefully.
You need to be careful where the text is place on the back side of your postcard. Be sure to read the USPS requirements or use a template from the printer. As you can see in the Vista Print template file image below, you can't put any text in the postage area, barcode area, or the recipient address area. Your return address should be in the white area and your message should not contain any address information. It's in your best interest not to confuse the USPS automated system in any way. The last thing you want is for your postcards to be returned.
In Photoshop, to add text, you just click the text tool (T). To edit the text, double click the text layer in the Layers palette to select it.
Vista Print Layout Guides
The back side of my Happy Tabby postcard and the Layers Palette.
As you can see, creating postcards to market your products and services isn't really particularly difficult. The most important thing is to follow the instructions you get from the printer exactly. It is in their best interest to provide instructions for you. And it's in your best interest to follow them. If you do, you'll be rewarded with nice looking postcards that present your company in its best light!