Intelligent Mail Barcoding for USPS Bulk Mailing

Scott HochbergScott Hochberg



You are not required to barcode your mail to get bulk mailing discounts (except for bulk parcels), but bulk mail that has barcodes is generally eligible for lower postage rates than non-barcoded bulk mail. The additional savings for barcoding is small per piece, but can add up if you have a large mailing.

Postal Barcoder Max Creates Perfect Intelligent Mail Barcodes And, if you barcode all of your mailings for a year, or if you are a new bulk mailer and promise to use barcodes, USPS will waive your annual permit fee, as long as you don't bring in a bulk mailing that is not barcoded.

While there is an additional postage discount for barcoding, there are also some additional costs.

For example, before barcoding your mail, you must first "CASS-certify" your mailing list, which has some cost. Our CASS certification page has more information, including low-cost CASS-certification options for small-quantity mailers.

If you are just sending some letters and are not using bulk mail or another type of presorted mail, there are no savings from barcoding, nor does it make your mail move faster.

Here's what this page covers:

What are Intelligent Mail barcodes?

Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMBs) look like this:
Intelligent Mail Barcode
Each IMB has 65 bars. Note that not all the bars in an IMB start from the bottom of the line, like the older Postnet barcodes. Some start in the middle and go up or down from there.

Intelligent Mail barcodes are used by USPS to encode addresses for sorting. Each barcode includes The barcode does not contain any information about postage paid or owed. You do not pay postage by adding a barcode. It is used only to help USPS sort the mail automatically.

IMBs are used only on letters, cards, and flats. For parcels, USPS uses a different kind of barcode, called Intelligent Mail Package barcodes (IMpBs).

How much postage do I save if I add barcodes to my bulk mail?

How much do I save?
Most of the savings in bulk mailing comes from sorting, not from barcoding, but barcoding can add to your savings.

For example, for a normal #10 business envelope, you'd typically pay the following postage: The savings for barcoding are greater for pieces that cost more to mail. For example, for an 8½" by 11" envelope, you'd typically pay the following postage: * Marketing Mail nonprofit bulk rates are substantially lower than the commercial rates shown, but the difference between barcoded and nonbarcoded are about the same.

The exact bulk mail rates depend on the combination of addresses to which the mail is going. For authorized nonprofit mailers, the Marketing Mail rates are lower than those shown, but the difference between with barcoding and without barcoding is about the same.

You can use our free postage rate calculators to see the differences between barcoded and nonbarcoded postage for your particular type of mailing. Choose the calculator you need for Marketing Mail bulk mail, Presorted First Class, or Bound Printed Matter.
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How do I get a free bulk mail mailing permit by using barcoding?

To send mail at bulk mail rates, you must purchase an annual mailing permit from USPS. The permits for Marketing Mail and for Presorted First Class currently cost $265 per year.

To encourage you to barcode your mail, USPS will waive this annual permit fee if you do these three things: If you want USPS to waive the permit fee, you have to ask USPS to do so when you apply for or renew the permit! Otherwise, USPS staff may just go ahead and charge you the fee without mentioning the waiver. And once you pay it, you can't get it back.

If USPS waives your fee and then you bring in a bulk mailing that is not barcoded, or fail to submit the paperwork electronically before you arrive, you will be required to pay the fee before your mail will be processed.

The fee waiver does not apply to the one-time permit imprint authorization fee or the Periodical Class application fee.

How do I create Intelligent Mail barcodes for bulk mail?

To create Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMBs) for USPS bulk mail, you need: Here's the details on each:

Mailer ID: A USPS Mailer ID (MID) is a nine-digit number that uniquely identifies you as a mailer. (For large volume mailers, the Mailer ID is only six digits.) The Mailer ID is a different number from any other number you have from USPS. It is not your permit number, your CRID number, or your nonprofit authorization number.

To get a mailer ID, you must first sign up for a free account on the USPS Business Customer Gateway. Once you're logged into the Gateway, you can select Mailing Services, then select Mailer ID.

Software to create the barcodes: To create IMBs, software goes through a series a steps to combine all the required information into a row of 65 bars. You have to use specialized software to do this. You can't do it with a simple Excel formula (like you could with the old "Postnet" barcodes).

Our Postal Barcoder Max software creates IMBs for your entire mailing at one time. It makes the task easy, by asking you questions in plain language and automatically figuring out the hard stuff, and costs only $49.50. It also includes a free IMB font, which you need to print the barcodes.

An IMB font: You need a font to print the barcodes. IMBs actually start out as a set of 65 letters, each one either an A, D, T or F, representing each of the different types of bars. The font converts the A, D, T or F into the corresponding bar and prints the bar instead of the letter. If you don't have the font, all you'll see is a row of 65 letters.

Postal Barcoder Max includes our SmartBars 12 IMB font at no extra charge. Or you can purchase the font separately for just $15.

Labels: If you're using labels for your addresses, they need to be wide enough for the barcodes to fit with space left over on each side. Barcodes are anywhere from 2.7" to 3.25" wide, depending on your software and printer.

USPS requires at least another 1/8" between the barcode and the left and right edges of the label. Your labels should be at least 3½" wide to allow for variations in software, printers, and alignment. That means that labels that are 3-across on a standard-size sheet won't work.

"CASS-certified" zip+4 and "delivery point" codes: Each IMB contains full delivery information for the address of the recipient, down to the specific mailbox, that allows USPS' equipment to automatically sort the mail in delivery order for the mail carrier. This requires not only a complete zip+4 code, but also an additional 2-digit "delivery point" code.

To get accurate zip+4 and delivery point codes, USPS requires that you have your list checked by special "CASS-certified" software, which verifies or corrects your zip codes and adds the delivery-point code for each address.

Our CASS certification page has more information, including low-cost CASS-certification options for small-quantity mailers.
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Where do I print Intelligent Mail barcodes on my mail?

There are only certain places on your mail where the barcode can go. Here are USPS guides for where to put barcodes on letter-sized or postcard-sized mail, or on flat-sized mail.

If you're printing barcodes on standard #10 business envelopes, here's where they can go:

As part of the address: You can print the IMB either above the recipient's name, or below the city, state and zip code line. If you use an address keyline or an optional endorsement line, the barcode can be either above or below these lines.

IMBs must be separated from the nearest printing by at least 0.028" above and below. The barcode can be no more than ⅝" above or below the nearest line of the address. And, there must be at least ⅛" space between the barcode and any printing to its left or right. The barcode must be at least ½" from both the left and right edges of the envelope, and at least ⅝" from the bottom of the envelope.

If you use a label for the address and barcode: The barcode must meet the requirements above for being part of the address. Plus, the barcode must be at least ⅛" from the left and right edges of the label, and separated from the top and bottom of the label by at least 0.028". IMBs will not reliably fit on labels that are 3-columns to a page.

In the lower right-hand corner of the envelope: The left end of the barcode must be between 3½" and 4¼" from the right edge of the envelope. Vertically, the barcode must be located between 3/16" and ½" from the bottom of the envelope.

You must always use black ink for the barcodes. If you are printing your barcodes using an IMB font, like our SmartBars 12 font, you must use the font size specified in the instructions for the font. You can't make it larger or smaller to fit your layout. And, you must not print them in bold, italics, or some other variation.

What is the difference between "full service" barcodes
and "basic service" barcodes?

There are two different categories of barcodes for letters and flats: "full service" and "basic service".

Full service gets you all the advantages of barcoding, including the deepest postage discounts, waiver of the annual mailing fee, and free tracing as the mail passes through postal facilities (but this does not include confirmation of delivery).

Basic service does not qualify you for waiver of the annual fee, and doesn't generally include free tracking. The postage savings for basic service is almost the same as for full service. (The difference between them is, at the most, .003 per piece, and in some cases as little as .001 per piece.)

We recommend that you use full service if you can, as it has more advantages to the mailer. But there are two extra requirements if you use full service: For mailings of fewer than 10,000 pieces, "submitting electronically" just means that you have to type the information from your postage statement form into the USPS Postal Wizard before you deliver your mailing to the post office. You can set up your account on the USPS Postal Wizard on the USPS Business Customer Gateway.

For mailings of 10,000 pieces or more, it's more complicated. For mailings that large, USPS requires you to upload a special file of addresses called a "mail.dat" or "mail.xml" file. Special software is needed to create and upload those files, so if you are sending mailings of that 10,000 pieces or larger, you will need to decide whether the benefits of full service justify the cost of the special software. (Electronic submission is not required for basic service barcoding.)

The USPS Postal Wizard also does not currently handle mixed mailings of barcoding and nonbarcoded pieces. If you are creating mailings that are generally barcoded but have a few pieces for which you don't have the required nine-digit zip code or delivery-point code, and don't want to buy mail.dat software, you would either need to remove those pieces from your mailing or use basic service, which doesn't require electronic submission.

You choose between basic service and full service by selecting the corresponding option in the software you are using to construct the barcodes. You can't tell the difference between a full service IMB and a basic service IMB just by looking at it.
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How do I submit my mailing information electronically?

If you are using "full service" IMBs, you are required to submit information about your mailing to USPS electronically. Full service IMBs qualify you for waiver of the annual mailing fee.

For "basic service" IMBs, you don't have to submit anything electronically, but you pay a fraction of a penny more in postage (compared with full service) and you don't qualify for the fee waiver.

For full service IMB mailings with fewer than 10,000 pieces, all you have to do to "submit electronically" is to enter the information from your postage statement form into the USPS Postal Wizard web site.

To find the Postal Wizard, log in to the USPS Business Customer Gateway, choose Mailing Services, then choose Postal Wizard. Once you've entered your information, you will be able to print out a barcoded sheet identifying your mailing, that USPS will use to match your mailing to your electronic submission when you arrive to submit your mailing.

For full service IMBs mailings with 10,000 pieces or more, you must submit a special file containing detailed information about your entire mailing and about each mail piece. These files must use either of two special USPS data formats, called "Mail.dat" and "Mail.xml". Special software is required to create Mail.dat and Mail.xml files.

Unfortunately, some post office personnel insist that ALL bulk mailings must be submitted electronically. That is incorrect. If it were true, then there would be no paper postage statement forms. You can always submit a bulk mailing with a paper statement as long as you are not claiming full service postage rates, or mailing parcels at commercial postage rates.
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Can I add barcodes to my addresses if I'm just mailing regular letters,
and not bulk mailing?

Yes, you can, but it will not save you any money or get your mail delivered any faster.

However, you can get tracking information if you barcode your mail and sign up for USPS Informed Visibility tracking. You won't get delivery information, since USPS doesn't scan letters when it delivers them, but you will be able to see when the mail gets scanned at USPS sorting facilities.