Lettershop Printing Knowledge

Cutting | Trimming | Perforating | Scoring | Folding | Nesting | Stitching | Affixing | Labeling | Sealing | Bursting | Stamping/Metering | Inserting

The lettershop is responsible for doing many of the finishing processes necessary to complete your direct mail project. Some of the processes handled by a lettershop are personalization, cutting, trimming, perforation, scoring, folding, nesting, stitching, affixing, labeling, sealing, embossing, bursting, stamping, metering, and inserting. Some of these processes are briefly explained below.


Cutting of a direct mail piece may occur due to the piece being produced two or more up. At some point through the finishing process the multiple up piece will have to be cut into individual pieces. Cutting is generally performed on a guillotine cutter and has to be accomplished before the direct mail package is assembled. The cutting process may also be accomplished inline with another finishing process if the equipment has a slitter at the end of the unit.


Trimming involves cutting off excess waste from the manufactured piece. Trimming is necessary when the press run size is different from the finished product size. An item may have trim allowed for printing due to copy bleeding or the need for a gripper area. The extra paper allowance then needs to be trimmed off so that the product will be the correct finished size. Trimming is generally performed at a guillotine cutter.


Perforations are sometimes added to the mail piece to allow a section of the piece to be detached. Some perforation can be added on the press when the piece is printed but at times, due to the number of perfs or the location, the perforation has to be added offline as a finishing process. For more details on perforations, see the perforation feature for the different types of components, such as Continuous - Perforations, Single Sheets - Perforations, Laser Sheets - Perforations, Envelope - Perforations, and Mailers - Perforations.


Scoring is accomplished in basically the same way as perforating. It can be performed on the press or offline. Perforating actually makes cuts into the paper to allow it to detach, scoring is applying a crease in the paper but does not cut through it. A score is generally used to allow a section to fold more easily.


Folding can be accomplished inline if the press has folding equipment at the end of it. But many times folding is a finishing process that is provided by a lettershop. Folding may be required on several pieces of the mail package, such as the letter, brochure or other inserts. Sometimes they are folded separately and at times the pieces are first collated together and then folded at the same time. The pieces may have parallel folds only or they can have parallel folds with the addition of a perpendicular fold. If the piece is personalized with the mailing address, the folds may need to be adjusted to allow the address to show through the window properly. There are many different types of folds available. For additional information and styles of folds available, see Finishing - Folding.




Nesting is when one piece is placed inside part of another piece. An example of nesting would be when you have two or more individual pages of a letter that need to be folded and then but together as one unit. Another example would be when an insert gets placed in the fold of a letter or brochure. Putting the pages of the letter together and placing the insert in the letter or brochure are the nesting process.




Stitching is the stapling of multiple pages together. A booklet would be saddle stitched, which is stapling the pages on the fold of the booklet from the back side through to the center. Pages can also be stitched in the upper right corner or along the left edge.



Affixing is the attaching of an item on to a mail piece. The item can be attached by several different types of adhesive. It may be attached with an adhesive that covers the entire back of the item or by small glue spots. How it is attached will depend on the following:

  • How well it needs to hold to the piece
  • How it will be handled after it is affixed
  • How easily does it have to detach
  • The capabilities of the lettershop

Some of the items that are affixed to the mail pieces are labels, membership cards, business cards, credit cards, coins, pens and product samples.


Labeling is used for several different purposes. The most common use is to apply the delivery address to the envelope or mailing package. They are also used as decorative seals or for advertising a special deal or to make a special announcement. They are not only used on the outside mailing package but can also be used on the inside mail pieces. Some of the common types of labels are described below.

Cheshire Labels - Cheshire labels are made of a non-adhesive type paper. They are manufactured as three, four or five wide on continuous paper. each labels is approximately 3 5/16" x 1". Addresses are printed on the continuous paper and then a Cheshire machine applies glue to the back of the paper, cuts the label and then affixes it, all in one pass. Cheshire labels provide a fast and inexpensive way of labeling.

Pressure Sensitive - Pressure sensitive labels have an adhesive applied to the back of them that requires pressure be applied to get them to adhere properly. They are supplied on a release liner that allows the label to be easily removed and affixed to another surface. Pressure sensitive labels are available on rolls, sheets and continuous carriers.

Piggyback Labels - Piggyback labels are also pressure sensitive but actually consist of two labels on top of each other. The bottom label is a liner only, used to hold the top label which consists of a liner and pressure sensitive stock. The bottom liner acts as the carrier of the top label and is discarded when the top label is attached to the mail piece. When the top label is affixed to the mail piece, it consists of the liner and the pressure sensitive stock. The top pressure sensitive stock can then be pulled off the liner and then reattached in another area. A piggyback label is used as an action device where the prospect is required to peel off the label and attach it to the reply device to receive a free gift or a special discount. It can also contain the reply address to be applied to the response piece for mailing.

The pressure sensitive and piggyback labels can be applied manually by a hand held device, but are generally applied by a tabletop or floor model applicator. The tabletop or floor model will greatly increase the production of applying the labels. Some labeling equipment can be included inline with other finishing equipment. This eliminates the labeling from having to be attached as a separate process.


When the mail pieces are inserted into an envelope for mailing, the envelope is sealed in the inserting process. If the mail pieces is a self-mailer, it generally needs to be sealed in some way also. If it is not sealed properly, it may not qualify for postage discounts. Some of the different closure types available are tab/wafer seals, line gluing and spot gluing. For more information on each type of closure, see Promotional Mailers - Construction - Closure Types.


Bursting and Stripping

Bursting and stripping is a process in which the pinfeed holes are slit off from the continuous forms and the individual forms are separated from each other. The individual forms can then have any remaining finishing processes completed. Then they can be assembled with the rest of the pieces of the mail package.



There are several options for applying postage to your mail package. One way of applying postage is by the use of a permit box (indicia), printed on the mail piece that will have the delivery address on it. The permit box option is mostly used for Standard Mail. Stamping and meter imprints are two other options that are used for applying postage. Stamping involves the use of an actual stamp which can be affixed by machine during the finishing process. Metering is the use of a postage meter to apply the postage to a mail package. Postage meters can be attached to the inserting equipment and the mail package can be metered in the inserting process.


Generally what is involved in the inserting process is the assembling of the components, opening of the envelope flap, inserting the components, and sealing of the flap. Attachments can be added to the inserting equipment that would add capabilities, such as folding, stapling, gluing, metering and stamping.

Each piece in the mailing package should be coded. The code should be visible without having to unfold any of the pieces. Give detailed written instructions on what sequence the pieces should be in and the facing of each piece and whether or not any of the pieces are nested. A sample package should be provided to the lettershop.

If you are using versioned inserts with your mailing, you will want to look for a lettershop that has the ability to do smart inserting. Smart inserting is the ability to insert the correct version of a pre-printed insert into the mail package based on the code that is generated in the addressing process.

Each lettershop or service bureau has its own capabilities. Certain service bureaus may be limited to the type of services they can offer. You may have to utilize several different facilities to get your entire direct mail project completed from start to finish. One facility may do the design, copy and artwork, one or more facilities may do the printing of the pieces, another facility may do the list processing, one the personalization and finishing work, and another the mail processing. Some service bureaus are able to offer several of the operations together. There are also complete direct mail services, where all operations, from design to mail processing, can be handled by one company.

Making a decision on who to use to service all your needs is not easy. You will want to evaluate the costs, capabilities, delivery time for all services, and the reputation of the service bureaus. Location of the facilities will also make a difference in how convenient it is to work with the service bureau, especially when it comes time to approve creative ideas, designs, artwork, printed products and final processing.


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