Learn About Bulk Mailing and Tracking → Barcoding

Intelligent Mail Barcoding for USPS Bulk Mailing and Tracking

Scott HochbergScott Hochberg
 Postage $aver Software


Barcodes are used by USPS to automatically sort mail down to each individual mailbox. They can also include information for tracking and address correction. Barcodes are not used for postage payment.

Postal Barcoder Max Creates Perfect Intelligent Mail Barcodes You are not required to print barcodes on your mail to get bulk mail rates (except on parcel-sized pieces, which use a different barcode).

But you can earn an additional postage discount by printing barcodes on your bulk mail so that USPS doesn't need to do it.

Plus, if you always add barcodes to your bulk mail and submit your paperwork electronically, USPS will waive your $275 Annual Mailing Fee!

Adding barcodes also let you track your mail, since USPS keeps a record each time the barcode is scanned as the mail moves through sorting process.

BTW, you do not get a discount for adding barcodes to regular First Class Mail. But you can add barcodes to take advantage of free tracking that USPS offers for barcoded business mail. Our Quick Lettertracker software can print individual barcodes and retrieve tracking information from USPS.

Here's what this page covers:

What are Intelligent Mail barcodes?

Intelligent Mail Barcodes (IMBs) look like this:
Intelligent Mail Barcode
Intelligent Mail barcodes are used by USPS to encode addresses for sorting, and to indicate tracking and address correction options. TO get discounts for adding barcodes to bulk mail, each barcode must include: If you are just using the barcode to track your mail, but not claiming a discount for barcoding bulk mail, the full 9-digit zip code and delivery-point code are not required to be included in the barcode. But the piece must have your Mailer ID and a unique zip code so that it can be identified in the tracking system.

The barcode does not contain any information about postage paid or owed. You do not pay postage by adding a barcode.

IMBs are used only on postcards, letters and flats. For parcels, USPS uses a different kind of barcode, called an Intelligent Mail Package barcode (IMpB). Our Postage $aver for Parcels software creates parcel labels with USPS-certified IMpBs.

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

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:

Retail stamped rate: 60¢.

Marketing Mail commercial bulk mail rates, sorted as required:

without barcoding: 30.9¢ - 35.5¢
with barcoding: 26.3¢ - 34.9¢

You save: 24.5¢ - 29.1¢ for sorting,
plus another 0.6¢ - 4.6¢ for adding barcodes.

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:

Retail stamped rate: $1.20.

Marketing Mail commercial bulk mail rates, sorted as required:

without barcoding: 52.0¢ - 88.1¢
with barcoding: 43.6¢ - 85.4¢

You save: 31.9¢ - 68.0¢ for sorting,
plus another 2.7¢ - 8.4¢ for adding barcodes.

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 mailing. Choose the calculator you need for Marketing Mail bulk mail, Presorted First Class, Periodicals Class, or Bound Printed Matter.

Remember, there is no discount for using barcodes on regular retail First Class Mail, but you can use barcodes for tracking First Class Mail.
Track your First Class Mail FREE!

How do I get the Annual Mailing Fee waived by using barcoding?

To send mail at Marketing Mail rates or First Class Presort rates, you must generally pay an Annual Mailing Fee to USPS, currently $275.

The Annual Mailing Fee is also required to mail Bound Printed Matter flats if you are claiming "destination entry" discounts, meaning you are getting a discount for submitting the mail to the post office or sorting facility that serves where the pieces are addressed.

To encourage you to barcode your mail, USPS will waive this annual permit fee if you do these three things:

√ Use Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMBs) on all of your bulk mail.

√ Choose the "full-service" option when creating your IMBs.
(The other option is "basic-service", which gets you most of the postage savings but does not qualify for the fee waiver. Your barcoding software should let you choose either full-service or basic-service.)

√ Submit information about each bulk mailing to USPS electronically before delivering the mailing to the post office. (More about submitting electronically later on this page.)

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 you are applying for or renewing your permit online, make sure not to select the option to pay the Annual Mailing Fee. The USPS online permit system does not clearly show that your permit will be issued even if you don't select the charge, but it will.

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. And, if you submit a bulk mailing that is not barcoded, you must establish a year's "clean" history before you can renew your permit without paying the fee.

The fee waiver does not apply to the one-time permit imprint authorization fee or the Periodicals 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:

√ A 6-digit or 9-digit Mailer ID from USPS.

√ Postal barcoding software to create the barcodes.

√ An Intelligent Barcode font, to print the barcodes.

√ If you're using mailing labels, labels that are at least 3½" wide. (The typical 3-column per page labels are not wide enough.)

√ If you are claiming a discount for adding barcodes to bulk mail, a Cass-certified zip+4 code and 2-digit "delivery-point" code for each address. You do not need full zip+4 codes or delivery point codes if you are just adding the barcode to track your mail.

Here are 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.

If you don't know your Mailer ID, or have not yet been issued one, you can find it or have one issued on the USPS Business Customer Gateway. Log in to the Gateway, click Mailing Services at the top, scroll down to Mailer ID, and click Go To Service.

Software to create the barcodes: To create IMBs, software goes through a series of 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.

We offer three software apps that create and print Intelligent Mail barcodes. An IMB font: You need a font, like our SmartBars 12 font, to print the barcodes. Intelligent Mail barcode software creates barcodes 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.

The SmartBars 12 font is installed free with Postage $aver Pro and Postal Barcoder Max. It is not needed for printing barcodes using Quick Lettertracker. And, of course, you can purchase SmartBars 12 separately.

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: If you are claiming a barcoding discount on a bulk mailing, each barcode must include a verified zip+4 code and an additional 2-digit "delivery point" code. Except for small mailings where these can be looked up by hand, 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.

Software to do CASS certification is generally too expensive to be worthwhile for small to medium-volume mailers to own. Instead, there are vendors that will provide this service for a very low cost. Our CASS certification page has more information, including low-cost CASS-certification vendors for small-quantity mailers, and details on how to look up a few addresses by hand.

If you are already having your list matched to the National Change of Address system to meet the Move Update requirement, the list will be CASS-certified as part of that process at no extra charge.

If you are buying a mailing list and intend to use it for a barcoded mailing, be sure to ask the vendor if the list is CASS-certified. If not, you will have to pay a vendor to do it after already paying for the list.

If you are just using the barcodes to track your mail and not claiming a discount for barcoding, then CASS-certification, zip+4 codes and delivery-point codes are not required.
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Where do I print Intelligent Mail barcodes on my mail?

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. (If you don't know what those are, you probably aren't using them so don't worry about it.)

Intelligent Mail barcodes must be separated from the nearest printing by at least 0.028" above and below. The barcode can be no more than 5/8" above or below the nearest line of the address. And, there must be at least 1/8" space between the barcode and any printing to its left or right. The barcode must be at least 1/2" from both the left and right edges of the envelope, and at least 5/8" 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 1/8" 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 3 1/2" and 4 1/4" from the right edge of the envelope. Vertically, the barcode must be located between 3/16" and 1/2" 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. For SmartBars 12, you must use 12 point as the font size.

You must not make it larger or smaller to fit your layout, nor use the "fit to page" option in your printer properties. 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 postcards, letters and flats: "full-service" and "basic-service". The software you use to create your barcodes will probably ask you to choose between the two. The barcodes are code differently to indicate which is which. There is no way to tell whether a barcode is full-service or basic-service by looking at it, other than using a barcode reader app.

When you use full-service barcodes, you are indicating to USPS that you will submit your postage statement electronically rather than on paper, and, for mailings of 10,000 pieces or more, that you will submit a special "mail.dat" file with all of your addresses. That's all the difference on your end.

But by doing that, you get some benefits that you don't get using basic-service barcodes. You get the deepest postage discounts for barcoding, waiver of the $275 Annual Mailing Fee if you always use full-service, and free change of address information.

On the other hand, with basic-service barcodes, you don't need to submit anything electronically to USPS. Basic-service gets you a slightly smaller discount for barcoding than full-service, although not by much. The difference between the two is no more than 3/10 cent per piece.

Using basic-service barcodes also does not qualify you for the waiver of the Annual Mailing Fee. An exception is for a mailing where full-service barcodes don't apply. For example, for retail First Class mail, there is no electronic file to send, so if you want to add barcodes for tracking, you use basic-service barcodes, not full-service barcodes. In that case, you wouldn't lose eligibility for the waiver since full-service barcodes don't apply.

Basic-service barcoding also does not qualify you for free change of address information.

So why would you ever use basic-service barcodes on a bulk mailing, when full-service barcodes are better? Well, you may not want to bother submitting your mailing information electronically. Or, for mailings of 10,000 pieces or more, may not want to pay for expensive software to create the electronic files required for mailings of that size.

For mailings of fewer than 10,000 pieces, "submitting electronically" is pretty easy. It 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.

To find the Postal Wizard, log in to the USPS Business Customer Gateway, choose Mailing Services at the top, scroll down to Postal Wizard and click Go To Service. The site will walk you through a web form to enter your statement information.

For mailings of 10,000 pieces or more, it's more complicated. USPS requires you to upload a specially-formatted file of your addresses called a "mail.dat" file. Special software is needed to create and upload those files, so if you are sending mailings of 10,000 pieces or larger, you will need to decide whether the benefits of full-service justify the cost of the special software. We do not provide mail.dat software, as it is generally not worth the cost for small to medium volume mailers.

The USPS Postal Wizard also does not currently handle mixed mailings of barcoded 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, you would either need to remove those pieces from your mailing or use basic-service, which doesn't require electronic submission. Or, you would need to buy software to create mail.dat files.

BTW, some post office staff insist that postage statements for ALL bulk mailings must be submitted electronically. That is incorrect. If it were true, then there would be no paper postage statement forms. The only times you are required to submit your information electronically is if you are claiming full-service barcoding discounts or you are shipping parcels at bulk parcel postage rates (which use their own special "shipping services file".

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Scott Hochberg
Scott Hochberg started Postage Saver Software in 1994. He's been helping small businesses and nonprofits save postage with postal bulk mail for more than 25 years. Scott's based in Austin, Texas. He's happy to answer your bulk mailing questions!
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