The Blue Wave Process Part Two: Printing, Packing, and Distributing Postcards
Deciding on a postcard campaign and a design for the postcards is just the beginning. There is a lot more that has to happen before we can start shipping postcards.
First, we need to get the postcards printed. We encountered some unique challenges trying to do this during the pandemic. Initially, we were using an online digital printer in California. They remained open as an “essential business”, but for a while they were working at half capacity, which meant that things slowed down quite a bit. Additionally, at one point the FedEx hub that they shipped through had closed because of a COVID outbreak. As we started doing larger campaigns, it became more economical to do offset printing as opposed to digital. I reached out to a couple of local Boulder area printers that I had worked with before, and was able to get good pricing and turnaround from two of them. As a bonus, there were no shipping costs, and therefore a smaller carbon footprint. We can now expect to have cards delivered 3 or 4 days after we order them. We have also been able to get our printers to pack boxes of cards to our specifications, so that we know exactly how many cards are in a box. This allows us to ship full boxes to organizers at a discounted rate. At one point last fall, we were printing so many postcards that the Denver paper supplier for our printers ran out of the paper we needed!
We have another local printer who prints the address labels on blank label stock that we provide, and who also prints our instruction sheets.
Before every campaign, we need to determine how much of everything is needed, and ensure that everything arrives in time so that our project doesn’t get held up by one missing part. We need to purchase label stock and supplies to make postcard kits. I am constantly looking for the best pricing I can find for rubber bands, ziplock bags, shipping boxes, and label stock. Pens turned out to be a particular challenge. Our early paper choice meant that only expensive Sharpie type pens wouldn’t smear. And while it’s possible to get those pens in a wide array of colors, we couldn’t get the best colors in single color boxes, which meant that after a few campaigns we had a huge box of yellow, pale green and pale gray pens to find homes for. Eventually, we changed to a more absorbent paper on the writing side, which allows people to use any pen they like, and allowed us to keep the kit cost low when other costs increased.
Turning boxes of postcards into kits requires counting out 102 cards out of each box and weighing them. The rest of the cards in that box are weighed out to match the first deck. Why every box? Because sometimes the printer is forced to change paper mid-print run, and we’ve accidentally shorted people because we didn’t know that. Decks of postcards are put into reusable ziplock bags with instruction and address label sheets, and then they’re either put out on porches for local pickup, or packed up for shipping.
Finally, there is the issue of the postal service. Last fall and winter, under DeJoy’s management, the post office became less and less reliable. Delivery time for stamp orders went from two to four days to almost two weeks, occasionally forcing us to drive all over creation to buy stamps. Similarly, shipping our kits and boxes also became unreliable. In 2021, we reluctantly made the decision to switch to UPS for all of our shipping, even though we wanted to support our USPS and it generally costs a bit more. From January through March 2021, we shipped 350,000 postcards and have had only 2 lost packages. We hope that in the future the postal service will recover, and we can return to shipping with them.
That’s the gist of it. Throughout the process, we rely on our core team and local volunteers to keep the operation running smoothly. Without them - and without postcard writers and group organizers like yourself - this would not have been possible. Check out our team and our volunteers pages for more information.
-Faith, Art Director [bio]