Six Common Direct Mail Addressing Mistakes to Avoid

September 9, 2020

Has your company ever spent hours planning and designing a direct mail campaign only to find out that your final mailpiece format doesn't meet USPS requirements? At that point, you either have to completely redo your mailpieces or swallow the extra postage costs. Since you invest a lot of time, money, and resources into your direct mail campaigns, it's vital that you avoid making address mistakes. Thankfully, though, many of these formatting errors can be easily avoided by sticking to USPS standards found in the Domestic Mail Manual. We'll discuss six common mistakes in addressing direct mail along with best practices so that you can create mailpieces that are readable by Postal Service mailing equipment and successfully reach your customers and prospects.

1. Using reverse type (white print on a dark background).

Dark, bright, and neon colors prevent USPS automated mailing equipment from properly reading addresses and barcodes, which can cause mis-reads, delayed delivery, and postage surcharges. Always be sure to print addresses with blank ink on white, neutral, or light pastel paper so that your mailers meet the contrast and reflectance standards outlined in the Domestic Mail Manual.

2. Including text or graphics below the ZIP Code line.

Automated mail processing machines read addresses from the bottom up, starting with the line containing the city, state, and ZIP Code. It's therefore crucial that the area below this ZIP Code line is free of extraneous information. If your letters are not barcoded prior to being mailed, the Postal Service's optical-character reader (OCR) machines will attempt to apply the appropriate barcode to each envelope. In order for this barcode to be readable and to avoid additional postage charges, there cannot be any overlapping text or images. The barcode clear zone is a rectangular area located at the lower right corner of a #10 envelope that extends to the left 4-3/4 inches from the bottom right corner and 5/8 inches up from the bottom of the envelope.

TIP: It's recommended to always provide a 1/2 inch clear area in each direction around the delivery address block.

3. Using script or narrow fonts.

While fancy fonts may look elegant and stylish on your envelopes, it's more difficult for OCR machines to read them. This could slow down your mail, incur postage surcharges, or even result in a delivery to the wrong address. Avoid script, italicized, condensed, or bold fonts. Use uniform font size and spacing throughout the return address and delivery address blocks. 

Simple fonts in 8- to 12-point type are the most readable. The USPS prefers sans-serif fonts such as:

  • Arial
  • Franklin Gothic
  • Futura
  • Gill Sans
  • Helvetica
  • News Gothic
  • Tahoma

TIP: While uppercase and lowercase letters are acceptable, printing addresses in all CAPS is preferred.

4. Using envelope paper that interferes with address reading machines.

Envelopes made of paper stock that's shiny-coated, patterned, or contains dark fibers will affect the readability of the address block and barcode. It's also important to avoid using lightweight paper stock so the text and graphics from the mailpiece inserts cannot be detected through the envelope by OCR machines.

5. Placing the return address too close to the delivery address.

Every flat-size mailpiece in landscape orientation should include the return address in the upper left-hand quadrant of the envelope and the delivery address in the lower right-hand quadrant. If the return address is printed too close to the delivery address in the OCR read area, then the Postal Service automated mailing equipment machines could mix up the addresses and send the mailpiece to the return address instead of the intended recipient.

TIP: To ensure that the Postal Service mail processing machines properly read the correct delivery address, print the delivery address at least 1 inch lower and 1 inch to the right of the return address.

6. Improper delivery address format.

About 25% of all mailpieces have something wrong with the delivery address, such as a missing apartment or suite number or an incorrect ZIP code. To make sure that your mailpieces reach your intended recipients, follow these best practices in formatting your delivery address blocks:

  • Left justify the delivery address information.
  • Print the attention (ATTN:) line above the company name.
  • Print room (RM), suite (STE), and apartment (APT) numbers on the same line as the street address.
  • Print the city, state, and ZIP code on the same line.
  • Leave one space between the city and state and two spaces between the state and ZIP code.
  • Don't use punctuation, with the exception of the hyphen in the ZIP+4 Code.
  • Double-check ZIP Codes using the ZIP Code lookup tool provided by USPS.
  • Avoid printing or applying address labels at a slant. Keep the tilt to less than 5 degrees.
  • Don't forget to include applicable directionals, such as E for East. (E.g., E MAIN ST). Missing or incorrect directionals can prevent your mail from being delivered correctly.
  • Use the correct street suffix abbreviations and secondary unit designators.

Below is an example of a properly formatted outbound delivery address block:


Contact Us for New & Used Mailing Equipment & Industry Expertise

Streamline your company's direct mail marketing campaigns with industrial inkjet printers, mail inserters, and address printers from Capital Mailing Equipment, Inc. Choose from our selection of new machines or opt for used mailing equipment systems. All repaired or rebuilt machines include a standard parts warranty, free technical support, on-site installation, and operator training. Our professional staff has extensive mechanical and electrical knowledge for all major brands of mailing systems and components. Contact us today for more information about our expert mailing equipment services!