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Jacci Howard Bear

Designing Envelopes: The Return Address

By October 10, 2010

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Sometimes a design is not up to the designer or the client. When sending mail through the US Post Office there are certain rules and regulations about size, shape, and weight that must be followed in order to get your mailing piece delivered. And how about things like where you put the return address and a logo on an envelope? Are there hard and fast rules or simply preferred methods. That's the topic of discussion in the forum.

"I want to put the logo at the top corner and the return address at the bottom corner, but it will fall within the OCR area. Is this going to cause problems? Do I have to limit the design to the tiny little upper corner? Boring!"

Seems there's some disagreement among some designers and some USPS reps. From what I can find, the USPS has rules on the recipient's address but for return addresses, it's more like tips and suggestions rather than "you must do it this way" but the return address in the upper left front corner is the norm. A lot of the rules about size, shape, and placement of addresses is more about whether or not the piece can go through postal machines or not. Mail that doesn't fit certain standards has to be processed by hand (which can increase costs for bulk mailings and possibly delay delivery a bit).

From the USPS Quick Service Guide:

Return Address (602.1.5)
A return address tells the USPS where the sender wants the mail returned if it is undeliverable.

A return address is required on certain types of mail. Preferred return address placement is the upper left portion of the mailpiece or the upper left part of the address area--on the side of the piece bearing postage. Mail qualifying for Nonprofit Standard Mail prices must have the name and return address of the authorized nonprofit organization either on the outside of the mailpiece or in a prominent location on the material being mailed (inside the mailpiece)

In the case of designing envelopes for use by a business customer, it seems that a lot would depend on how they plan on mailing those envelopes. Some creative designs might be fine for the occasional letter but if the company uses metered mail, bulk mailing, and other special services then their envelopes need to meet stricter criteria -- including things like return addresses and logo placement.

At the bottom of this USPS page you'll find an image of an envelope with parts in dark and light shading. The dark shading indicates areas of the envelope considered "free space" while the lighter shading is "preferred clear zone to enhance readability." There may be more leeway for logos and other design elements than you might think. Chime in with your own experience both in the US and other countries.

Related: Envelope Design

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October 10, 2010 at 4:24 pm
(1) Jim Q says:

If you want your logo where something else has to be, couldn’t you just put it on a separate layer behind the other info. with enough tarnsparency so that it doesn’t interfere with anything? – Like a pattern on stationary.

October 15, 2010 at 8:46 am
(2) Jo says:

I believe that the machine that sorts the letters reads from the bottom up. If your return address is level with or below your mailing address and the machine has a problem reading the mailing address or barcode, you run the risk of having them delivered back to the sender and losing the postage.

October 15, 2010 at 10:46 am
(3) Linda H says:

For what it’s worth, a recent envelope design of my husband’s needed to be ammended and we put address labels in the bottom left corner to cover the old address. I can’t tell you how many times the mail comes back to us! Even when the mail to address is about 4″ tall!

October 21, 2010 at 9:30 am
(4) Walt J says:

When I taught a DTP course at a Community College I did research using a USPS manual much larger than the Quick Start Guide. Not following the regulations could result in several unwanted possibilities – Undelivered mail; slower delivery due to manual sorting; increased postage (no bulk mail rates); Postnet code stickers covering part of the message on postcards; returned mail. It’s better to be efficient than good looking. It’s possible to be both.

February 15, 2013 at 7:19 pm
(5) Nale Dixon says:

I wanted to comment on this post because of the recent changes at USPS. They need to just bite the bullet and charge 75 cents per stamp. Then they could still deliver on Saturdays, and keep their other services in tact. This organization is a little wacked, if you asked me. Today a post office clerk tried to insist WHICH return address I could use (I am out of town, but using my home address on the envelope). She said this constituted “third-party service” and was “not allowed”. I replied that this was categorically untrue, and she said she would make a “one-time exception”. Oh, it’ll just be this one time, alright. Jeez, in my entire life I have never heard this baloney before. Do you want my money or not? Folks, we need to remember who we’re dealing with here. Postal workers can be helpful, but they can be bananas, too.

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