Pre-Sort Mail Pressure

Many articles on this blog feature advice for creating Variable Data Printing (VDP), but this post will focus on preparing VDP letters using Australia Post’s Pre-Sort Mail service. While the advice may not apply to everybody, there may be some information within the article that could still be relevant. With that out of the way, it is important to discuss what the Pre-Sort Mail Service is.

What is Pre-Sort Mail?

Australia Post offers many mailing services such as Clean Mail, Print Post and Acquisition Mail, but Pre-Sort Mail specifically refers to the delivery of barcoded mail throughout Australia.

What is the significance of Pre-Sort Mail?

Ultimately it is price and speed. As of 1 August 2014, an individual posting an addressed DL sized envelope under 125g from one Australian destination to another will pay 70 cents to post that letter (full rates of mail can be found at http://auspost.com.au/parcels-mail/pricing-updates.html). Pre-Sort Mail offers businesses a discount on their postage, provided that:

  • There are more than 300 items of addressed mail within Australia in one lodgement;
  • That the mail has been barcoded and lodged according to Australia Post’s standards.

With many items of post being substituted for email, one would ask what the importance of printed mail:

  • Conventional mail is tangible, something an individual can hold.
  • It confirms the street address of the receiver (e.g. letters that are marked return to sender will indicate if the receiver has moved).
  • It can’t be blocked with a spam-filter.

How does it work?

On the surface, “barcoded mail” would imply that the only process is to add a barcode to the mail… if only it were that simple. In fact the procedure is more complicated. The full procedure can be found here http://auspost.com.au/media/documents/presort-letters-service-guide-jun14.pdf but a summary of the process that mostly involves a prepress operator is as follows:

  • The use of dedicated barcoding software to compare the client’s database to the Australia Post database. This applies a barcoded Delivery Point IDentifier (DPID – effectively an 8-digit number that represents a street address… think of it akin to a phone number, without using the actual phone number of that address) to clients’ addresses that match Australia Post’s addresses, and leaves the remainder unbarcoded. That should be the end of it, but sadly no… there is more.
  • Using this same dedicated software, creating a manifest that lists what letters are to be sent to specific mailing locations (not postcodes – one of 54 specific locations that receive the mail and then distribute the mail to their postcodes). The software then creates mailing tags for the cardboard or plastic tubs that will hold the finished articles for mailing. This is to identify the tubs to Australia Post employees who then send the tubs to the appropriate mailing locations.
  • Once the data is exported from the dedicated software, the data then has to be “mail merged” (or Data Merged via InDesign) but it must be in the same order as the manifest. This creates many production headaches such as how to split the merge for the appropriate destinations, dealing with “spoils” (letters that are damaged during their production) etc.

What are the pressure points?

  • The dedicated barcoding software. It isn’t cheap, and this leads to many businesses reconsidering the idea of barcoding their own mail in-house, given the return on investment of mail savings is eaten by the subscription fee to the dedicated software. The software tends to be Windows Operating System specific and requires ongoing updates from Australia Post to maintain current address data.
  • Quality of a customer’s database. Items such as soft returns, address fields where the suburb-state-postcode details are in one field instead of three separate fields can hamper not just the dedicated barcoding software, but its import into InDesign. Similarly, values that need to be presented in a set format (such as dollar values, or names needing to be title-cased rather than UPPER cased) need to be resolved before importing the data into InDesign. Another trap is the length of fields – for example, a design feature that allows for most full names that would be 15-25 letters long, but names in the database that can be 35-45 letters long may not fit the space required, unless the square peg round hole trick is used.
  • The strict rules set down by Australia Post for lodgement, such as the height, width, clear zones and allowable skew of the barcode. These rules also apply to the appearance of the envelope, particularly if an address is being printed onto the envelope instead of using a window-faced envelope.
  • The speed of the lodgement. This will determine what postage paid imprint is to be used on the items to be mailed.

The last pressure point is the one that will catch out many customers and sales representatives alike. Since its introduction on 2 June 2014, Australia Post has introduced two speeds to business mail: Priority and Regular. Apart from the lodgement, the other way that this is indicated to Australia Post staff is the imprint graphic on the top right hand corner of the envelope.

What this effectively means for customers is that instead of having one variety of business envelope stationery, they now need to have two varieties for the different delivery speeds, unless the customer wants to stick to one variety of stationery, and this will lock them into a set delivery speed. At the same time, printers and mailing houses have to be aware of this when asking clients for a delivery deadline, especially if envelopes supplied by the client are at a different delivery speed to the requested lodgement speed.

What do I need to remember?

It is possible to save money on your postage by using the Pre-Sort Mail program via a Printing company or Mailing House. My employer offers this service, but it is worth asking a few questions in advance:

  • Can they barcode letters from the database I’m using, and what is the best way to supply the data?
  • If I have a set date I would like the letters in the hands of customers, when should I have my data and letter ready to begin the campaign?
  • What items can be variable on the letters that I send? Is it just type, or can I have graphs, barcodes such as QR codes, or images tailored to each letter?

 

Never, ever, EVER tick this checkbox when making a PDF!

A rather obscure and never before used checkbox in the export PDF dialog box has caused great concern for one particular reader, and that was the ability to create a PDF that has visible guides and grids.

To illustrate what happens, the following example will be used. Take the front of this flyer for a band, and note the gridlines in InDesign.

notthebutton1

The flyer is ready to be sent to the client so a PDF needs to be made. For the purpose of this demonstration, the [High Quality Print] setting that is one of the default presets for Adobe InDesign will be used, with one exception: The checkbox at the bottom “Visible Guides and Grids”

notthebutton2

The PDF is now created but unlike other PDFs, the guides and grids are not only visible, but will end up on the final print as well! The illustration shows that the guidelines can be selected with third party tools such as Enfocus Pitstop Professional.

notthebutton3

In this reader’s case, the checkbox was clicked mistakenly and fortunately for them, the eagle-eyed prepress staff that were about to print the artwork had noticed the lines and fixed the situation accordingly. However, the issue had highlighted several important points:

There are many features of InDesign that are somewhat obscure and would be used rarely, but is there really anyone out there that would ever feel the need to show their clients the grids and columns on a PDF, yet alone output them to a print-ready PDF?

Only instance that comes to mind would be a client that insists items on a proof are not lining up. Using this feature (with the appropriate gridline in the file) would create a PDF that would show the client that in fact the items do line up as intended… but is this a situation that arises often enough to warrant such a button in the export options?

Reader thoughts are definitely welcome on this topic!

If there’s something strange… in InDesign… who you gonna call?

It is nice to be known as a go-to person concerning questions about InDesign, but often there are questions about InDesign that I simply have no answers for. When questions concerning InDesign arise, that is when it is time for me to:

  • Ask a colleague
  • Look at some of the manuals on my desk
  • Use the help menu of InDesign itself
  • Go onto the internet

Normally the latter happens more often than asking a colleague or referencing the books. The sites that are typically visited first are:

Forums

The Adobe InDesign forum (above) and InDesignSecrets’ own forum are both fantastic resources that often hold the answers to questions that may arise.

Prior to asking the question straight away in a forum, use the search facilities in case a similar issue was answered already. If there is no joy using the search, then ask the question, ensuring the following are stated:

  • The operating system
  • Version of InDesign
  • (if scripting) the script language being used
  • The actual question

Stating all of this saves a lot of time for people who may have the answer to the question. Simply stating “help me”, “won’t work” or “this sucks” in the headline won’t tell a potential respondent what the specific issue is, and in many cases responders will just move onto the next post that has a descriptive headline.

Each forum has its own rules but I like to think that the following should apply to ANY advice website (and it should go without saying to use appropriate “netiquette”):

  • Be nice! Forums are typically user to user, so save any frustration about the product to those who made the software, not other users who likely share the frustration. This also means that anyone answering a post is doing so in their own time and are doing so on a voluntary basis… bear this in mind.
  • Mark as answered! If a forum has answered the question and there is a facility on a forum to mark a question as helpful or answered, please do so. It tells any respondent that their help was useful; it tells other users what the answer may be, and it lets future respondents know that the question has been answered and they can then invest their time in unanswered questions. Specifically on the Adobe forums, it gives the poster of the correct or helpful question “points” that shows their status within the forums. More information on Adobe forums points can be found here.
  • Don’t hijack threads for unrelated issues. Contributing to a post is one thing, taking over and redirecting the thread is another.
  • Be patient! Don’t “bump” old posts of yours… unless there is new vital information that may help any respondent.
  • Have reasonable expectations of the forums. There is a sub-thread of the InDesign forums dedicated to scripting within InDesign and it is there to serve people who write their own scripts whilst using InDesign. While the contributors to this forum are happy to help out with specific scripting queries, it is unlikely they will write a script from scratch for a specific issue.
  • Detail. If there is a specific issue, set out the steps that were taken that led up to the issue and use screengrabs if possible. This gives future respondents a chance to identify the fault, or try to attempt to replicate the fault on their own machine to see if it is a user-specific issue or if it affects every user. It doesn’t need to be War and Peace, but it needs to have more detail than a Twitter tweet.

Social Media

Twitter is great for the purpose of keeping up to date with new developments as regular forum posters and providers of good information often tweet news on updates, bugs and other developments.

Reddit also has a sub-reddit for indesign = r/indesign (as well as r/creativecloud etc) and the rules follow normal Reddit and forum rules. Admittedly it is not the first place that one would assume would have an appropriate answer, but the sub-reddit is useful and does have an “answered” feature similar to the Adobe Forums.

Youtube can be an unlikely source of answers for InDesign questions. There are hundreds of tutorial videos made by InDesign users and bloggers that may answer more common questions. It is also a source of “lifted” material from paid sites, but I have no doubt that the owners of the original content will take the time to search for their own titles on youtube that shouldn’t be there, and make copyright claims in due course.

Specific Sources

There are some unlikely sources of InDesign information. Some are via scripting resources such as:

  • Github
  • Sourceforge
  • Macscripter
  • Stackoverflow

There are also dedicated learning sites such as Lynda.com that are well worth the subscription, and feature lessons from InDesignSecrets contributors amongst other professionals.

Spot “color” of bother

Why converting spot colour to process on process artwork is not such a good idea.

Ever had a supplier make contact to say that there are spot colours in the artwork supplied, and wondered “Why don’t they just convert it and leave me alone? Why are you bothering me with such a simple thing?”

1) Possible breakdown in communication

For the art department of the supplier, this will normally be the first time that they have seen the artwork and be totally unaware of its history or construction. All the art department will normally be concerned with is that the details on the docket match the artwork, and that the artwork meets the mechanical specifications for the press, such as correct colours, bleeds, page size, etc.

For a prepress operator, observing a spot colour in addition to process artwork raises red flags such as:

  • Is the artwork actually meant to be CMYK+spot?
  • Is the artwork meant to be all spot colour?

Similarly, if a prepress operator receives artwork with instructions that the artwork is to print in Pantone Red 032 for example, but the file is prepared in Pantone Warm Red, the prepress operator will ask the question: is the colour being printed on the docket correct, or is the ink in the customer’s artwork correct? This is not uncommon problem in a printing business and is a great way of delaying proofs and creating confusion.

2) How the conversion is done

“Converting” a spot colour all depends on how the conversion to process is done. Take for example the color Pantone Red 032. Depending on which application made the PDF, the colour can appear with several breakdowns:

  • Adobe InDesign 5.0 (Pantone Solid Coated Library) – C0 M90 Y86 K0
  • Adobe InDesign 5.0 (Pantone Color Bridge Library) – C0 M90 Y60 K0
  • Quark Xpress 8.0 – Solid Coated Library OR Color Bridge (using the CMYK output) – C0 M90 Y60 K0
  • Quark Xpress 8.0 (using the CMYK and spot/As Is methods) – LAB colour

In addition to this, the printer’s RIP also has the ability to convert spot colours to process in a PDF based on the alternate value within the PDF, or a value based on a spot-to-LAB-to-CMYK conversion.

Furthermore, a customer’s corporate stylesheet may have several colours of a logo depending on the circumstance that the artwork is being used, such as:

  • if appearing in newsprint in process, use this breakdown;
  • if appearing on glossy stock in process, use this breakdown;
  • if appearing in newsprint in spot, use this spot colour;
  • if appearing on glossy stock in spot, use this spot colour;

3) If the PDF has transparencies, drop-shadows or the like.

If the PDF has been made to Acrobat 4 compatibility (1.3) and features drop shadows or any effects above a spot colour which was flattened once the PDF was made, then a spot to process conversion may not even be possible. Areas which were flattened will become white, as demonstrated in the illustration below.

4) The client’s expectations of spot v process

Some spot colours such as metallics, fluoroescences, pastels etc convert terribly to process, regardless of which method to convert them was used. If the client has chosen spot colours from a swatch book with no process equivalent next to the swatches, and expects these colours to reproduce out of process colours and look identical to the swatch book, then they are setting themselves up for failure.

Some swatch books (such as Pantone Color Bridge) does display its swatches with the spot colour on the left and how it appears converted to process on the right.

However, if a customer is shown a swatch using the book and it is not made clear between the difference in colour between spot and process, the customer will be disappointed once again.

The bottom line?

If artwork is to print process, prepare the artwork using process colours only. If the artwork is to print in spot colours, make sure that the spot colours in the document are going to be the same spot colours going to press. If your client has supplied you spot colour artwork which should be process, ask them to supply process artwork. If they complain and ask why, point them to this article.

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