Bulk mail that has barcodes can be eligible for lower postage prices than non-barcoded bulk mail. The amount of additional savings for barcoding is small, per piece, but can add up if you have a large mailing.

Smart Barcoder Creates Perfect Intelligent Mail Barcodes You are generally not required to barcode your mail to get bulk mail discounts. Most of the savings for using bulk mail comes from the discounts USPS gives you for sorting your mail for them.

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. (More on this below.) Mailers with larger quantities of bulk mail (more than, say, 3,000 pieces per mailing) usually can save by barcoding. For smaller quantities, barcoding may cost more than it saves, since the discounts for barcoding are small, often about only about penny per piece.

As an incentive for you to submit your mailing information electronically for each mailing, USPS now waives your annual mailing permit fee if you barcode all of your bulk mailings, and submit all postage statements electronically. This is free and fairly easy for mailings under 10,000 pieces, but is more expensive for mailings over that size because of additional USPS requirements for mailings of 10,000 pieces or more.

By the way, 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.

What are Intelligent Mail barcodes?

USPS has phased out the older style of barcodes, known as Postnet barcodes. Postnet barcodes are no longer be acceptable.
Intelligent Mail barcodes are the barcodes that are used by USPS to encode addresses for sorting and delivery. They include address information and information about the type of mail being sent, and can also include a unique code identifying the mailer, a serial number identifying the specific piece of mail, and information about any address correction services that the mailer is requesting.

Intelligent Mail Barcodes 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.

There are two different categories of IMBs: "basic service" and "full service". You can't tell by looking at a barcode whether it is for basic service or for full service. The only difference is in the coding that is used to create the barcode.

Basic service IMBs get you barcoding discounts and some address correction options. If you use basic service IMBs on your bulk mail, you can submit the postage statement for your mailing either on paper or electronically.

Full service IMBs get you slightly lower postage compared with basic service (generally about 0.1 penny lower per piece, or 0.3 pennies for Presorted First Class). If you use full service IMBs, you must submit your postage statement electronically, as discussed below. But, as long as you use full service barcodes on all your bulk mail and submit your paperwork electronically for each mailing, USPS will waive your annual mailing permit fee.

Note that USPS uses a different type of "Intelligent" barcode on parcels and on forms for services like Certified Mail. These are called Intelligent Mail Package barcodes (IMpBs). They are about one inch high and are used for tracking. They are not for use on regular letter-sized or flat-sized mail except in connection with special services like Certified Mail.

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

How much do I save?
Most of the savings in bulk mailing comes from sorting, not from barcoding. For example, for a letter-sized piece being sent using Marketing Mail bulk mail, sorting typically reduces your postage from the 47¢ First Class retail rate down 29¢, wtih barcoding bringing it down another few pennies to between 25.4¢ and 27.3¢, depending on the combination of addresses to which the mail is going.

You can use our free postage price 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.

Also, as discussed above, if you use full service barcoding for all your mailings, and submit your postage statement electronically each time, USPS will waive your annual mailing permit fee, which will be a savings of typically around $200. (This does not apply to either the one-time permit imprint authorization fee, or the Periodical Class application fee.)

But, there are costs involved in barcoding, which can sometimes add up to more than the savings you get. You will need to "Cass certify" each mailing list, and you will need software, both the create the barcodes and, for larger mailings, to do the electronic submission required for full service barcoding.

How do I create Intelligent Mail barcodes for bulk mail?

Here's what you need to create Intelligent Mail barcodes (IMBs) for any kind of USPS bulk mail, except for parcels. (For information on bulk parcel mailings, please see our parcels page.)

A "Mailer ID" (MID) from USPS. A Mailer ID is usually a nine-digit number, beginning with a "9", that uniquely identifies you as a mailer. (For large volume mailers, the Mailer ID is only six digits.) The Mailer ID is encoded into the barcode, so that it is read whenever the barcode is scanned. The Mailer ID is a different number from any other number you have from USPS. In other words, 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. Unfortunately, there is no simple way to create IMBs without software designed to do so. To create IMBs, the software takes a bunch of different information goes through a long series of steps to convert it into 65 bsrs. You can't do it with a simple Excel formula, like you could with the old "Postnet" barcodes.

Our Smart Barcoder software creates IMBs for your entire mailing at one time. It automatically figures out the correct "service type code" for your mailing, tracks mailing serial numbers as required by USPS, and costs only $35. It's included free when you purchase our Postage $aver Pro bulk mail preparation software.

A barcode font, to actually 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. When you print a barcode on an envelope or label, what you are really doing is printing that string of letters using a special font that prints each letter as the correct bar. If you don't have the font, all you'll see are 65 letters.

Smart Barcoder includes our SmartBars12 barcode font at no extra charge. Or you can purchase it separartely for only $15.

Complete, "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. This allows automated equipment to read the IMB (without needing to read the actual address) and sort the mail piece into the correct mail carrier's stack in delivery order.

Since USPS gives you a postage discount for barcoding, they want your barcodes to be 100% accurate, so that the mail does not get mis-sorted. So, USPS requires that before you print the barcode, you have your list checked by "CASS-certified" software, which verifies or corrects any zip code information you already have, and adds any full zips or +4s that you are missing.

But the zip+4 code only gets the mail to the right area. There are two more digits, called the "delivery point code" (DPC) that gets to the specific mailbox on the carrier's route. The DPC is not printed as part of the address, but is required for the barcode. The CASS-certified software finds the correct DPC and adds it to your mailing list file.

We'll tell you how to have your list CASS-certified in the section below.

Labels wide enough for the barcodes to fit (if you are using labels for your addresses). Barcodes are anywhere from 2.7" to 3.25" wide, depending on your software and printer. Plus, the USPS requires that there be at least 1/8" between the barcode and the left and right edges of the label. That means that labels that are 3-across on a standard-size sheet won't work! Make sure your labels are at least 3 1/2" wide to allow for variations in software, printers, and alignment.

How do I CASS-certify my mailing list for bulk mailing?

Actually, CASS certification is the USPS' procedure for verifying the accuracy of commercial zip code matching software. But most mailers and many postal employees think of CASS certification as the actual matching process that the software performs, rather than the postal service's testing procedure. So, we'll use the common meaning of the term here.
CASS is a trademark of the USPS CASS Summary Report
A CASS report (Form 3553) is produced only by CASS software or by a processing service using CASS software. You cannot fill out a blank form yourself.
For small to medium volume mailers, it's generally not practical to CASS-certify your own lists in house, since the software to do this ("Cass-certified software") typically costs at least $800 per year. It's expensive because it includes a subscription to an electronic list of all streets and zip+4 codes served by USPS. The list has around 30 million entries and must be updated every two months. It's not something you want to have to pay for and maintain if you are only doing small or occasional mailings.

A better option, for most small to medium volume mailers, is to use one of the service companies that will certify your list for you. For a small list, they typically charge around $30. (CASS certification is also generally included at no extra charge as part of the NCOA service, so if you are already doing NCOA, you don't need to pay anything more for CASS.)

Here are some companies that our customers use for CASS certification: You just upload your list to them. They run your list through their CASS software, and then return the certified list to you along with the required CASS report.

If you are mailing to a very large list, or if you frequently get new lists that need to be CASS certified, it may be more economical to purchase your own CASS-certified software. One of the least expensive software products of this type is DP4 from Semaphore Corporation.

If you are buying a list from a list vendor, it's worth it to buy from a vendor that provides their lists with CASS certification and NCOA included.

To prove that your list has been CASS-certified, you must have a USPS form 3553, also known as a "CASS report". You are not required to submit Form 3553 to the USPS unless they ask for it, but it's a good idea to take it with you in case they decide to ask. Form 3553 is not a form that the mailer fills out. If you use a list processing company to CASS-certify your list, form 3553 will be part of the file that the company sends back to you. If you have your own CASS-certification software, that software will print form 3553 when it processes your list. If you purchase a mailing list that the vendor claims is CASS-certified, they should provide form 3553 to you.

There is also a place on the postage statement where you must indicate the date when CASS-certified matching was done. You must fill in that date on the postage statement if you are submitting a barcoded mailing.

What if an address can't be CASS-certified?

On almost every mailing list, there are some addresses that cannot be matched accurately to a 9-digit zip code and 2-digit delivery-point code. That usually means that the address is incomplete in some way.

For example, if you have an address as 123 Main Street, but the city has a 123 N. Main Street and a 123 S, Main Street, the CASS software can't tell which one is correct. So it doesn't give you a zip+4 or delivery point code.

You should see if you can correct any such addresses. One way to do that is to look up the address in the zip code finder on the USPS web site. It may give you several choices for the correct address. If you know which one is correct, you can click "mailing industry details" under the listing to find the correct delivery-point code.

Any address that the CASS-certification process cannot match with a 9-digit zip code and 2-digit delivery point code cannot be barcoded. If that happens, you can sometimes mix barcoded and non-barcoded pieces in the same bulk mailing, paying the applicable barcoded or non-barcoded postage price for each piece.

For example, if you are mailing flat-sized pieces, you can mail non-barcoded and barcoded pieces in the same sacks, with the barcoded pieces bundled separately from the non-barcoded pieces. This is called a "co-sacked" mailing. If you are mailing letter-sized or postcard-sized pieces, any pieces you cannot barcode must be sorted separately and put into separate trays at non-barcoded bulk mail prices. Or, if you don't have very many, just put regular stamps on those and leave them out of your bulk mailing completely.

Where do I print Intelligent Mail barcodes on my mail?

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

If you are printing barcodes on standard #10 business envelopes, the following requirements apply:
  • The barcode may be printed either in the lower right-hand corner of the envelope or as part of the address.

  • If the barcode is printed in the lower-right hand corner, 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.

  • If the barcode is printed as part of the address, it may be 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. 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 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 be at least ⅛" from the left and right edges of the label. Intelligent Mail barcodes must be separated from the top and bottom of the label by at least 0.028".
You must always use black ink for the barcodes, and you must not make them larger or smaller than their required size. If you are printing your barcodes using an IMB font, like our SmartBars12 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.

Do I prepare my bulk mail differently if I'm using Intelligent Mail barcodes?

Yes, there are some differences.

There are different size and weight limits for some types of mail depending on whether you are barcoding or not. For example, Bound Printed Matter can generally weigh up to 15 pounds, but barcoded Bound Printed Matter is limited to no more than 20 ounces.

Some mail is not eligible for barcoding. To get barcoding discounts, your mail must be able to pass through automated sorting equipment. Letter-sized or flat-sized mail that is thick, irregularly shaped or too stiff to bend is not eligible for barcoding discounts, even if you put barcodes on it, since it cannot be sorted on automatic machines. Check with your postmaster if you think your mail might not be eligible.

How do I submit my mailing information electronically if I'm using Intelligent Mail barcodes?

If you are using IMBs on a bulk mailing, you are sometimes required to submit your mailing paperwork to USPS electronically.

Basic service IMBs. If you are using basic service IMBs, you are not required to submit your mailing paperwork electronically. You may submit postage statements on paper.

Unfortunately, some post offices do not understand this rule, and may tell you that they only accept electronically-submitted mailings. That's simply incorrect. If the paperwork could only be submitted electronically, USPS wouldn't still be providing blank paper forms, and requiring software vendors to pass tests showing that their software can fill out the forms properly. So you a fully within the rules to submit postage statements on paper, unless you are using full service barcoding.

Nonetheless, you may use electronic submission for basic service barcoded mailings if you wish. You just follow the procedures before for full service barcoding.

Full service IMBs, for mailings with fewer than 10,000 pieces. Mailers using full service IMBs must submit information about each mailing electronically, before submitting the mailing at USPS. For mailings under 10,000 pieces, this is simply a matter of entering the information from the postage statement form on 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 eletronic submission when you arrive to submit your mailing.

Full service IMBs, for mailings with 10,000 pieces or more. For full service mailings under 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.

Can I add barcodes to my addresses if I'm just mailing regular letters, and not bulk mailing?

No. Unless you are using some special USPS service that requires Intelligent Barcodes, like Business Reply Mail, you should not just add them to your mail. It will not save you any postage, and it will generally not improve delivery of your mail. In fact, an incorrect barcode can slow your mail delivery.

USPS will add barcodes to your mail as it goes through the system, so unless you are preparing bulk mail, or another kind of mail that allows or requires barcodes, you probably shouldn't do it yourself.

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