Format Selection Printing Knowledge
Format Selection

There are many different direct mail formats that can be used for your project. When deciding on a format to follow, there are several factors to consider.

Factors to consider:

  • Projected budget
  • Purpose and desired results of the mailing
  • Amount of copy necessary to adequately convey the message
  • The type of enclosures that will be in the project

Shown below are five basic formats that are used for direct mail. There are many variations to the different formats.

Single-Source Mailers

A single-source mailer format is used by a single advertiser who is presenting one or more product offers. The package generally consists of a sales letter, a brochure or promotional insert and a response device. It is often mailed in a standard #10 envelope, a 6" x 9" envelope or a 9" x 12" envelope. Monarch, announcement, poly and specialty envelopes can also be used. Variations of the single-source format may include the addition of a second letter, premium slips or coupons, or other inserts.

Components of a Single-Source Mailer:

  • Sales letter
  • Brochure or promotional piece
  • Reply card and/or envelope
  • Delivery envelope


Multiple Mailers

A multiple mailer format is basically the same as the single-source mailer except that it contains multiple inserts that are each offering a different product or service. The offers may come from multiple advertiser. Carefully consider the effect of presenting multiple offers. Presenting multiple offers will sometimes cause indecisions by prospects and they may opt to not order anything. But used effectively, the multiple mailer format can be successful.

Components of a Multiple Mailer:

  • Sales letter
  • Multiple brochures
  • Multiple reply cards and/or envelopes
  • Multiple inserts
  • Delivery envelope


Self Mailer

A self mailer format is a direct mail package that does not require an outer envelope or package to hold the components for mailing. The letter, brochure, response device and mailing envelope are all incorporated into a single sheet that is folded, sealed, and ready for mailing. It can also be a single unfolded sheet. The self mailer can be manufactured with a patch attached to one of the panels to form a reply envelope. The reply envelope can also be constructed by folding one panel of the mailer to another panel and sealing the edges. Self mailers can also have inserts added to them. For more details on promotional self mailer, see Mailers.

Components of a Self Mailer:

  • Advertising message
  • Product offer
  • Response device
  • Inserts (optional)
  • Outgoing mail panel


Self mailers are an economical option for large quantity mailings. The components can all be printed in one press run instead of each separately. They can also be personalized and addressed in-line. The economies of running a self mailer result in lower cost per response on large quantity mailings, making it hard for other formats to compete in cost.

There are different variations of the self mailer. An advertising folder could be considered as a self mailer if they are not mailed inside of a package. Another variation considered a self mailers is a single part laser form which is folded and sealed on all edges to form its own envelope. Advertisers have used self mailers in some very creative and economical ways.


Dimensional Mailers

The dimensional mailer format differs from the rest in that one or more of the components in the package are 3-dimensional, such as pens, advertising pads, specialty products or product samples. The mailing package used is generally a fiberboard or corrugated container. The dimensional mailer format is usually used for smaller mailings being sent to specific groups. The dimensional mailer is more costly than the other types of direct mail formats.

Components of a Dimensional Mailer:

  • Sales letter or advertising message
  • One or more 3-dimensional items
  • 3-dimensional mailing package, such as a box, tube, or poly bag


Catalog Mailers

A catalog mailer is multiple page format that presents a variety of products or services that are available from the advertiser. A sales letter may be included as an insert and quite often there is some type of response piece bound-in or inserted. The response piece could be an order form or reply card and could also have a reply envelope include. Other inserts can also be added in the catalog to advertise special product offers or services. Using an outside package for the catalog mailer is optional. It can be sent as a self mailer without an outside package or it can be mailed in a package, such as a paper envelope, a paper wrap, polywrap or a poly bag.

Components of a Catalog Mailer:

  • Catalog or booklet
  • Sales letter
  • Insert or bind-in (optional)
  • Mailing package, such as a paper envelope, paper wrap, polywrap or poly bag


The type of format to use for your direct mail package should be decided after taking into consideration the type of product you are trying to sell and who you are trying to sell it to. An expensive mailing may not be cost effective when selling a lower value product but may be necessary to convince a prospect to purchase a higher value product. If you are unsure of what type of format to use, the standard format of a sales letter, brochure, response piece and envelope is a good choice for promoting many different types of products.

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