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New mail regulations take effect July 1

July 1, 1996, will mark a major change in mailing for all institutional mailers as the US Postal Reclassification Reform takes effect.

"Under the new regulations, it is absolutely essential that we make our mail `automation-compatible,' " said Penny Guyer, manager of Mail Services. There are three main implications for MIT, she said:

  • Hand-written addresses and other non-automated mail must be kept to a minimum. It travels much more slowly through the system and costs more.
  • Envelopes must meet barcoding specifications (see below).
  • Mail must be processed centrally so that it can be barcoded and presorted by ZIP.

All mailers need to observe the following guidelines.


Letters: The minimum size for flat mail is 3.5 x 5 inches. Any piece smaller than that will not be accepted by the US Postal Service (USPS) under any circumstances.

Size also affects cost. The USPS levies an 11-cent surcharge on pieces that weigh an ounce or less but are oversized. The maximum size for a letter with no surcharge is 6.5 x11 inches, and/or one-quarter-inch thick.

Postcards: The maximum size for a postcard is 4.25 x 6 inches. Any card larger than this is charged as a letter. The minimum size is the same as letters.


Because of new automation equipment, the USPS has restrictions on where printing may appear on envelopes. An Optical Character Reader (OCR) scans each piece of mail for the address, checks the address against the database to verify that it is a good address, sprays a barcode on the mail and then sorts it by ZIP code. All this is done in one-tenth of a second.

The barcode zone is the area in which the barcode is printed and must be print-free. That area is the lower right corner of the envelope, 4.25 inches from the left edge, and 5/8 inch up from the bottom.

The OCR Read Area in the middle of the envelope where the address appears should not be cluttered with extraneous printing. Logos-especially return addresses-can cause havoc when they intrude on this area. Mail has been returned because the OCRs were picking up the return address rather than the recipient's address.

People designing a mail piece or ordering envelopes are urged to check with MIT Mailing Services, x3-6000, beforehand. Some designs that have been used for years are no longer acceptable because requirements have changed and will continue to change.

For quick advice on present or proposed mailings, copies of designs can be faxed to 252-1552.

MIT people who are not yet using the outgoing centralized mail services should get in touch with Ms. Guyer, x3-6728, or <>. Conveniently, the July 1 changeover to using the centralized mail service coincides with the expiration of many of the Institute's postal equipment rental agreements, she noted. Those with office meters should get in touch with Mike McNamara of Purchasing to arrange cancellation of the service and pickup of the meters. He may be reached at x3-7247 or <>.

Other aspects of the new regulations will affect everyone who does bulk mailing, Ms. Guyer said. Addresses will have to meet a standardized format and periodic verification of ZIP codes will be required. "We can help with the new requirements," she said. More information is available from Mail Services at x3-6000 or <>.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on June 12, 1996.

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