Simplest Way to Design Direct Mail Creative

simple design choices improving direct response marketing

Whether you have an upcoming promotion and want to spread the word or want to connect with customers and introduce your brand, you need more than just a great strategy to maximize the effectiveness of your Direct Mail campaign. You need a great design that lays out all your information in a way that’s easy for readers to understand and remember.

In this article, we’ll cover the core building blocks of designing Direct Mail creative:

1. Know Your Design Tools

With an infinite number of design tools out there, it may feel overwhelming trying to determine which one is the best fit. Specific tools used for email and social media campaigns (such as Figma, Canva, or even Photoshop) don’t typically produce high-quality Direct Mail creative because they’re scaled to be viewed on screens instead of print.

clean direct mail postcard layout

Adobe InDesign or Adobe Illustrator are the two best tools to use for designing static creatives. They’re both vector-based, as opposed to pixel-based (Photoshop), and allow you to export as Adobe Preset: PDF/X-1a which is the most reliable format for digital printing.

Dimensions, Bleed and Safe Zone

Postcards are always printed at larger dimensions, then trimmed down to final size - we recommend designing edge-to-edge and not using crop marks or a white border for the bleed. If there’s a slight shift during print, you don’t want to risk them appearing on the final product.

Before uploading to the platform, your files must include a 0.125" bleed on all four sides. A safe zone, inset 0.125” from the trim, should also be specified to prevent any text or important copy from running too close to the edge of the mail piece.

2. Establish A Layout

One key concept to consider while planning your layout is to keep it simple. The creative should grab attention, communicate the value prop or promotion effectively, and have a featured call to action.

We recommend using full panel images, collages, and contrasting color-blocked banners with large fonts to create an eye-catching and engaging piece. Keep your target audience in mind (unisex targeting vs. child-focused, etc.) and do some research to ensure your design is relevant and appeals to their interests.

3. Add Your Offer & Call to Action

Your promotional offer or call to action (web URL, phone number, etc.) should be featured on both the front and back of your creative. With postcards especially, you want to make sure the offer is visible and attention-grabbing no matter which side is facing up.

Reliable front-end tracking methods are also important to consider, such as featuring a different promo code for each test cell variation in your campaign or using QR codes (even if they’re less effective).

4. Say A Lot, Without Saying Too Much

While your Direct Mail creative is the perfect opportunity to let your brand’s personality and value shine, it’s also important to remember to keep it simple. Crowding your design with too much small copy or instructional content has been proven to affect conversions adversely.

Luckily, there are a number of creative tips & tricks we recommend to communicate how fantastic your brand is without having to spell it all out:


Including customer testimonials is a clever way to reinforce product value and build trust and encourage engagement.


Using icons to communicate product features or instructions is a great way to break up text-heavy areas.

A/B Testing

If you have more than one great idea for your creative design but can’t figure out which version would perform best, try both! Poplar allows you to upload multiple creatives to easily A/B test under one campaign. If you’re not sure whether or not to feature a testimonial or one of your favorite product images, let the numbers decide for you!

5. Export Format: PDF/X-1a

PDF creatives should always be exported to be PDF/X-1a compliant; not using this format runs the risk of colors or shadows not printing as desired. PDF/X-1a ensures all transparencies have been flattened, color profiles are correct, and fonts are fully embedded in the PDF file. You can export your design files in PDF/X-1a before uploading into Poplar.