Letterhead Printing

Rules: Preparing for and Testing Laser Setups

The data part of direct mail is often the most difficult – it’s the place where errors can be the most costly. If there is a problem identified during laser production – or worse, after production has completed – not only will you have to re-laser, you also have to pay the printer to re-print your forms! So when preparing your purchase order/instructions for the laser setup stage of direct mail production, be ready by adhering to the following rules:

Rule #1 – Proof your copy before you send it to your data vendor. The laser setup stage is not the time to make copy changes. Be sure to proofread all of your copy, ensuring all of your direct mail marketing objectives are being met, before you send it off to your data vendor. Do you have a call to action? Did you give them different ways to respond? Do you have any spelling or grammar errors? Figure all of this out before sending copy for lasering and you will save lots of time and headaches at the setup stage.

Rule #2 – Determine all the if-then-else combinations when preparing your data instructions. Do I want to treat a donor with a previous donation of $1,000 the same as someone whose previous donation was $10? Probably not – use “min/max” rules for variable copy and variable ask amounts to take into consideration low dollar donors vs. high dollar donors. And, if you are using the name field in the copy for added effect – but need to account for records with business names instead – be sure to have a default, like “friend.” And looking ahead to Rule #7, don’t forget to test that the default works!

Rule #3 – Have someone else review your instructions for any “holes.” Proofreading your own writing is often ineffective. It’s a great idea to have a co-worker – or even your data vendor’s customer service rep – review your instructions for any holes. Did I account for all scenarios of all variable combinations? If not, where do I need to provide more instruction?

Rule #4 – Request a record layout with sample records. Once your data vendor receives your mailing list, you should receive a record layout to verify that all the fields you sent were received – this should also include “dumps” of sample records so you can see that your data did not lose anything in the transmission stage from list provider to data vendor. Usually, 15- 25 records are a sufficient number to review. These are also known as “input dumps.”

Rule #5 – Request counts by each of your unique variables. This is commonly known as “counts by codes.” If you have two unique variables in your direct mail campaign – say annual fee structure and product type, you would want to look at a count for each unique field. So if you have 10 different annual fee structures and three different product types that you are mailing to, you need to see counts that show how many records are in each fee structure and each product type. This will come in handy later ... (see Rule #7).

Rule #6 – Request matching input and output dumps for testing. When getting to the setup stage, you will receive samples of your lasered direct mail piece to review and approve. These setups should always be reviewed with matching input and output dumps of the lasered records. The key to using these record dumps successfully is to test your laser setup samples against the data in the input dumps. This shows what data you, the client, sent to the data vendor. For the most part – aside from any requested data manipulation – the data should be the same on the input dump as it is in the lasered sample. If you see a discrepancy, then use the output dump to cross-reference how the data changed from input to output stage.

Rule #7 – Test combinations of all your variables. Request a unique sample of each variable from your direct mail provider. In our previous example, there are 10 different fee structures, so a sample of each unique fee structure should be seen and tested in your samples. This can be cross-referenced with your counts by code to ensure you have seen a sample of each occurrence.

Rule #8 – Ask your data vendor to provide random live pulls during production. This will allow you to do additional audits on the quality of your direct mail project during production and before it actually hits the postal stream. Be sure to look at everything together to make sure you haven’t missed anything!

 Laser Setup Checklist


Sign and date:


Proofread Copy



Review Instructions to Ensure “no holes”



Send Data to Vendor



Review Counts and Input Dumps



Approve Counts



Approve Input Dumps



Review Laser Setups with Matching Input and Output Dumps



Ensure you are seeing all unique combinations of variables



Make Changes to Laser Setups (As Needed)



Approve Laser Setups



Audit Laser Production Pulls to Ensure no Errors during Production