Tips: How to Ship Greeting Cards via USPS Mail

October 10, 2016

mailbox photo by:

mailbox photo by:

When I first started my Etsy shop I was always confused about shipping, so I thought I’d talk a bit on my experience shipping greeting cards and flat, paper products (stickers, small prints, gift tags, misc stationery) for beginners or anyone else who’s interested!

Here’s a quick recap of what I’ll be talking about:

  1. Shipping First Class Letter vs. First Class Package, what’s the difference? I break down my thoughts (the pros and cons) on using both.
  2. What I use: I’ve included links to all the tools and products I use when shipping and where you can save on costs when starting out.

USPS First Class Shipping Methods

I personally ship all of my greeting cards and notebooks First Class Package. I also know a few people who have no problem shipping greeting cards First Class Letter. I talk about some of the differences below. Keep in mind everyone’s preference and circumstance is different and I encourage you to use the method that works for you!

Here’s my thoughts on why I use First Class Package:

  1. Tracking Number. Blame this on my paranoia with lost mail and frustration with dealing with USPS customer service (on the phone and IRL), but having a tracking number puts my mind at ease and is your proof to the buyer that you shipped it. Having a tracking number also covers you under Etsy Seller Protection. First Class Letter does not have tracking.
  2. You can purchase postage online. I started getting busier with my full time work and I didn’t have the time to go to the Post Office anymore. In the beginning I shipped First Class Letter, however, I felt with the rates by purchasing postage online it was worth it to me because of my current availability and schedule.
  3. Packaging. I liked the durability and ease of kraft rigid mailers. They are sturdy and I can breathe easy when I drop them off in my local blue bin down the street.

Here’s my thoughts on using First Class Letter:

  1. Low costs. It’s cheaper for the buyer and might bring your [the seller] costs for packaging materials down. We all know we hate to pay for shipping especially when it comes to things that are already low priced (like greeting cards or stickers) and bringing up a single card to over $7 can be expensive.
  2. You can use stamps! Purchasing First Class Letter postage by going to your local post office and waiting in line to ship OR using stamps. Keep in mind this does not include a tracking number. In the beginning I had time to stop by the post office, but as my full time work picked up it took too much out of my day. I also didn’t invest in a weigh scale yet because I was just testing the waters, but if you have a scale on hand you can easily buy the right amount of stamps you need (they sell $1, $0.01/5/10 cent stamps, etc) for the weight of your package (USPS calculator here) and drop them in your local blue bin. I think stamps make packages feel a lot more personal and nostalgic too.
  3. For added protection, it might be a good idea to add a sheet of cardboard to avoid your cards or smaller prints from getting bent around the corners or in half in the mail (writing “do not bend” does not guarantee anything). This does add a non-machinable surcharge ($0.21, at time of writing) to the cost. Meaning, it can’t go through their regular sorting machines for letters and needs to be hand sorted because it’s rigid. You can up-cycle cardboard from your packages or you can buy Letter size sheets of chipboard (typically sold in packaging shops where you might also buy mailers/boxes), which makes it easier to cut down to size with a paper cutter and looks more professional.
  4. Too rigid? Too thick? When packing multiple cards in a order or a larger order I’ve had good and bad experience with different post offices in my area (and I’ve read people’s varying experiences in Etsy forums), but your shipment might be considered a First Class Package instead because it is too rigid or too thick, and will get returned back to you even if you paid the extra non-machinable fee. Here’s a few articles I’ve read that might help: 1 2 3 4, and see size and weight restrictions here. (see “Update 2019″ below)
  5. I think this method works well for products that have lower costs to produce (i.e. 1-2 stickers packs) where you have a bit of cushion and can afford to eat the costs if it gets damaged/lost in the mail and you can resend to the buyer at no additional costs (this wouldn’t be all the time, just for those unique instances).
  6. Technically you are not allowed to ship merchandise via First Class Letter, which are meant for personal letters and documents. However, realistically from a seller (and buyer) standpoint if you’re sending one or two stickers it doesn’t make much sense to charge up to $3 to ship (which is probably close to the cost of the product) when you can put a stamp on it and it’ll more than likely reach them with no problems.


All in all, from my personal experiences, First Class Package has left me and my buyers with the least amount of headaches.

Update 2019:

I now offer International buyers an option to select First Class Letter for a more affordable shipping cost. This has worked really well for me so far. I would advise to make it clear in your shop policies that delivery times can take up to a month due to customs and there is no tracking provided. I package 1-3 cards with a sheet of cardboard (for added protection) in a 5×7″ envelope, using stamps. It typically weighs around 2-3oz for me, also depending on how thick the package is I might increase the postage to a Large Envelope. To calculate postage I reference this chart from the USPS.

I’ve really enjoyed sending packages this way for my international customers and my outlook on it for domestic orders has improved. I recommend it especially if you’re just starting out or you primarily sell stickers, small/flat items, or lower priced items.

Products I Use For Shipping

Super convenient to have a scale on hand and not have to run to the post office every time. I currently use:
American Weigh Scales

Shipping Labels
You can do away with Shipping Label sticker sheets if you’re just starting out to save a few extra dollars. I used to print them on regular computer paper, cut, and tape them onto my mailer for months. It’s definitely not the prettiest looking, but as someone starting out every penny you save helps, especially if you’re just testing the waters. However, if you can justify spending a few extra dollars on shipping labels they are a time saver.
Half Sheet Sticker Paper

Paper Cutter
If you plan on printing labels out on computer paper a cutter can help speed up the process. It’s not necessary, but I wanted to include it because this has been a tool I use ALL the time. I use it to cut all my greeting cards and notepads, as well as things like business cards (I print and cut mine myself) and other collateral/packaging material.
Fiskars Recycled 12-Inch Bypass Trimmer
A level up option is a rotary trimmer, but same 12″ size: CARL Heavy Duty Rotary Paper Trimmer, 12″ 

These are easy to find online and it’s up to you which ones you prefer, but they can get pricey depending on the weight of the mailer. I started out with affordable white mailers and sometimes I added another thin sheet of cardboard (I’m paranoid, yes), but I never had anyone complain about it arriving damaged. Another option is bubble mailers or regular paper mailers backed with sturdy cardboard/chipboard.
6×8″ Stay Flat KRAFT Mailer  / 6×10″ Bubble Mailer

Any affordable all in one desktop printer will do for this. I do not use a shipping label printer, I use a standard inkjet desktop printer that fits Letter size paper. You can also pick up a black & white LaserJet (similar costs) if you feel you’ll strictly be using it for labels or black and white documents. I chose this particular model because I was planning to use it to print other things for my shop and since it takes multiple ink tanks it makes for a nicer color output. You can opt for a printer that just has two ink tanks (color + black) and it’ll work just fine!
Canon MG5720 Wireless All-In-One Printer

I could never find something that answered the questions I had when I first started (the USPS website is scary), especially with stationery items, so thought I’d offer some insight. Also, it helps to visit different post offices to get opinions, sometimes you run across a grumpy postal worker who tells you the wrong things (not nice!). Hope this helps someone!

Some products included in this post are Affiliate links and I receive compensation if you make a purchase through the link! Everything I share and recommend on this blog are items I’ve personally used and hope they help you on your journey.