The History of Postcard Printing
Postcards got their start right here in the U.S. The concept was patented by John P. Charlton, in Philadelphia, in 1861. Postcard printing was intended to offer people a way to send short messages without the expense of an envelop, at a lower rate than letter mailing.
At the beginning of postcard history, only USPS was allowed to print postcards, and the designs were pretty boring. By law, one side of the postcard had to contain the message, and the other side, the address. At this point, postcard design didn't even exist, which is pretty interesting, since today, postcards are considered a legitimate art form known as 'mail art.'
Eventually, after postcard printing caught on throughout Europe, and Congress made it legal for private publishers and printers to print postcards, the 'divided back' postcard was born. As the name suggests, the divided back allowed for a postcardís address and message to be on two sides of the back of a postcard, making room on the front for interesting images. This was the start of an era known as, believe it or not, "the Golden Age of American postcards."
At first, postcards were printed on rough paper with a texture similar to linen. However, the industry soon transitioned to using paper with a high gloss, which, of course, allows for the printing of high quality images. And so picture postcard printing was born.
The picture postcard got its start in Great Britain. Tourists would visit the English seaside and send home postcards with images of the beach and resorts on them. You can imagine that this was pretty cool back in the days before TV and the internet made it possible for anyone to know what the whole planet looks like. For many people, postcards sent from across the globe were windows into worlds they could never imagine seeing for themselves.
Postcard Printing for Adults Only!
From this point on, there was no limit to what could be put on a postcard. Glossy, full color postcard printing caused the postcard design industry to boom, and this, predictably, led to the surge in popularity of saucy or erotic postcards. Unfortunately, these created no end of problems in terms of international postage. What was considered funny in one country was considered illegal in another.
In the 1950s, the Conservative government laid the heavy hand on erotic postcards, and some postcard artists in Great Britain were even faced with prosecution for their work. However, this didn't stop the popularity of postcards, and they remain, to this day, a fun and unique art form.
Direct Mail Postcards
The artisitic value of postcard design is the reason why postcard printing as an advertising tool has caught on to such a degree. Whether direct mailed or given away at clubs, restaurants, and other public venues, the postcard has enormous commercial appeal because its design is normally so attractive.
Unfortunately, in today's advertising climate, the art that made postcards so successful to begin with is often overlooked in favor of an aggressive marketing message. This strategy misses the point of the postcard, which is that it has intrinsic value because of its aesthetic merit. When running a direct mail postcard printing campaign, remember the history of postcards, and design with an eye to making mailers beautiful. This isnít simply art for artís sake, but a proven marketing strategy with over a century of success behind it.