Why you may see smudges or scuff marks on your printed postcards

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The US States Postal Service is a massive operation and does an incredible job delivering our mail. In fiscal year 2017, the USPS delivered 149 billion pieces of mail to 157 million delivery addresses and operated more than 31,000 Post Offices. On an average, that’s 493.4 million mail pieces per day, or 20.6 million per hour or 342,638 per minute. With over 644,000 employees, the USPS is the second largest civilian employer in the U.S. (Walmart is the largest).

While certainly impressive, the USPS is not perfect and, at times, the USPS delivery process can be rough on mail pieces. All mail must be sorted for proper delivery. Typically, addressed mail with an IBC or Intelligent Bar Code is machine sorted three to eight times prior to delivery. First Class mail that is not deliverable as addressed may be machine sorted an additional three to eight times or even more before it is returned to sender or RTS.

Specific to this post about postcard smudges and scuff marks, the marks may give the appearance of ink smears, however, our postcards are printed using dry crystals pigments and instantly light-cured with no opportunity for any ‘wet ink’ to smear. Rather, under normal operating conditions, grime will accumulate on the USPS sorting machine rollers. The USPS workers must regularly clean and recalibrate their sorting machines to ensure the grime buildup does not become excessive. Excessive grim generates heat which in turn creates scuff marks or smudges on mail pieces. Occasional smudging/scuffing may range from token marks to significant damage. In my experience, such marks are most noticeable on postcards printed with solid black backgrounds.


For First Class and Standard postage, the USPS provides delivery guidelines, but no guarantees. When we see smudges/scuff marks on the ‘seeded’ postcards we receive from our client mailings or if/when our clients tell us of smudges/scuffing on the cards they receive, we report this to the Postmaster at the USPS for tracking and corrective actions. Also, since postcards with solid black backgrounds tend to show smudges/scuffing most noticeably, we advise our clients to avoid designs with solid black backgrounds whenever feasible. For more information please see the links below.

Blog post on the topic by Quantum Postcards

Video on the topic by Quantum Postcards (3 min)

Video of a typical USPS mail processing machine (:38 sec)

Learn more about the USPS