A Basic Overview of Frequently Used Terms by Printers and Mailers


A Basic Overview of Frequently Used Terms by Printers and MailersCrop

Crop marks are the solid black lines designers overlay on the design file’s corners that guides the printer in cutting the final product’s edges. The portion of the piece that is cut off, from the crop mark to the edge of the paper, is called the bleed. Crop marks are trimmed off and do not appear in the final piece. They are important in ensuring that a product is cut to the correct size.


Bleed refers to the image running past the crop marks, ensuring that the ink extends to the edges after the final product has been cut. By extending the image past the trim lines with a bleed, the final printed product will have no white lines along the edges.


CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black, a set of four colors used for printing. Printers will combine these colors in various percentages to create other colors (example: usually, a green will primarily be made up of cyan and yellow, with hints of magenta and black).

PMS stands for Pantone Matching System, and is also known as spot colors, which is a standardized color system used primarily in printing. Instead of mixing colors to create one, PMS colors are pre-mixed and are almost exact from print run to print run.

Printers can often come close to replication when simulating PMS colors in CMYK—however, they are not exact. Also, some PMS colors simply cannot be replicated in CMYK. It is up to the client and printer to work together to find the best match and printing options.


A proof is what the printer provides to the customer before the job is printed as “proof” that the files they received will print as expected. Often, a PDF proof is presented to the client, but a client may also request a hard proof, which is an actual printed copy of the piece. A hard proof is the best reflection of what the final product will look like in terms of color and quality and should been seen for all complex print jobs or when color matching is critical.


A variable is an element of text, an image, or a color that can be changed on a piece-by-piece basis within a print project through the use of variable data printing capabilities. Variable examples include salutations, financial figures, photos—essentially any category within a data set can act as a variable piece.


De-dupe or de-duplication

De-duping is a process used to eliminate duplicate data within a file to refine and optimize the data set. Direct mailers use this to ensure recipients do not receive multiples of the same mailpiece. Methods of de-duping include exact match (full name and address), “householding” (last name and address), and address only. The method of de-duping chosen for a campaign depends on who you are trying to reach and your campaign goals.


A seed is an extra address, or list of addresses, added to a mailing list in a mailing campaign. They are recipients who know of the mailing, usually the mailer themselves, and are included in the campaign to monitor it for variability, quality, and deliverability.

First Class, Standard, and Nonprofit

First Class mail takes 1-5 business days to deliver. It takes precedence in the post office and will be handled before Standard and Nonprofit mail. In addition, undeliverable mailpieces are returned when mailed First Class, unlike with Standard and Nonprofit.

Standard mail takes 3-15 business days to deliver. Nonprofit mail also take 3-15 days to deliver. The difference is that postage is discounted for nonprofits. Undeliverable mail is not returned for Standard and nonprofit mail unless requested through an endorsement (learn more).

All delivery ranges are estimated, and the USPS does not guarantee delivery dates.


A mailing permit is an account you set up with the US Postal Service that gives you “permission to use a certain postage payment method for bulk and commercial mailings”. Those postage payment methods include permit imprint/indicia, metering, and precanceled stamps.

Indicia (aka permit imprint)

The permit information is printed in the indicia, a postage block in the upper right corner of an envelope or mailpiece where a stamp is usually placed. This is typically used in high volume mailings.


Metering is when a mailhouse imprints a dollar amount and date onto a letter. Some mailers find metering to appear more personal or official.

Precanceled Stamp

A mailer will affix the precanceled stamps to their mailpieces and pay the difference, by having it pulled from their permit account, at the time of the mailing. This way, the mailer gets the benefit of the look of a stamp but the advantage of presorted rates.