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Is it a Letter or a Flat?

Summer is the hottest season for real estate so if you’re thinking of listing soon, spring is your last opportunity to make those home improvements.

Is it a Letter or a Flat?

If you are preparing bulk mail, the very first thing you have to know is what mail classification your mail pieces fit into. Not only do these classifications determine postage, they are actually routed differently as they travel across the country, since different mail sorting centers handle different types of mail. Software like Postage $aver automatically determines the correct routing once you specify the type of mail you are sending.

The seven classifications are:

  • letters (machinable and nonmachinable)

  • flats (machinable and nonmachinable)

  • postcards

  • machinable parcels

  • irregular parcels

  • marketing parcels

  • outside parcels.

Unfortunately, the terms used for each of these classifications are confusing. For example, sometimes when you mail a letter, the postal service classifies it as a "flat", while sometimes when you mail a flat card, the postal service classifies is as a "letter".

The basic rule to remember is that these classifications are based on the size and shape of the mail piece. It has absolutely nothing to do with the content.

What is a flat?

For sorting purposes, all cards are considered to be letters or flats, depending on their size as described above.

However, cards below a certain size qualify for a special First Class postcard postage price. If you are sending barcoded postcards smaller than the size shown below, and you have at least 500 pieces in each mailing, you should use the First Class postcard price instead of the Standard Class letter price (except for nonprofit mailers, who still receive a better discount using Standard Class nonprofit prices.)

Cards are eligible for the First Class postcard price if:

  • The card is rectangular in shape; AND,

  • Its height is at least 3 1/2 inches and no more than 4 1/4 inches; AND

  • Its width is at least 5 inches and no more than 6 inches; AND,

  • Its thickness is at least 0.007 inches and no more than 0.016 inches.


Cards that are eligible for the First Class postcard price are sorted the same way First Class letters are sorted and use tray tags that say "LTR".

If your cards are larger than the size shown above, you should use the Standard Class letter or flat price, depending the size of the card.

What is a machinable parcel?

A machinable parcel is a mail piece that is regular in shape (not including tubes, rolls, etc.) so that it could be processed on automated sorting equipment, and that is too large or rigid to be a flat.

To be a machinable parcel, the piece must meet ALL of the following:

  • Its length must be at least 6" but not more than 27", AND,

  • Its height must be at least 3" but not more than 17", AND,

  • Its thickness must be at least 1/4" but not more than 17",AND,

  • It must weigh at least 6 ounces but not more than 25 pounds.


Note that if the piece is exactly 1/4" thick, it must be at least 3 1/2" high.

Some pieces that weigh less than 6 ounces can also be classified as machinable parcels if they meet certain special dimensional and packaging requirements. And, there are some irregularly shaped parcels, like those containing soft goods, that can also be classified as machinable parcels. If you have mail pieces like these, check with your postmaster for details.

What is an irregular parcel?

An irregular parcel is pretty much everything that is not a letter, flat, or machinable parcel. The classification includes rolls and tubes up to 26" long, and anything else that is too big or too irregularly shaped to be sorted on automated equipment.

If you have something with a strange shape, or that is larger or heavier than the categories above, check with your postmaster to see if it is an irregular parcel.

What is a marketing parcel?

Marketing parcels are a special category used in Standard Class mail only. A marketing parcel is either a machinable or irregular parcel, weighing less than 16 ounces, containing information and/or product samples whose purpose is to encourage recipients to purchase a product or service, make a contribution, support a cause, form a belief or opinion, take an action, or provide information to recipients. Marketing parcels are required to use an alternative addressing format ("OCCUPANT", or name plus "OR CURRENT OCCUPANT"). Marketing parcels have a maximum size of 12 inches by 9 inches by 2 inches thick.

What is an outside parcel?

An outside parcel is a mail piece that exceeds the size limitations for machinable parcels. The classification also includes rolls and tubes longer than 26 inches, metal-band strapped boxes, metal and wood boxes, cartons containing containing 1 gallon or more of liquid (or 24 ounces or more if it is in glass containers), and other similar pieces. Basically, these are pieces that you would think of as motor freight.

An outside parcel is a mail piece that exceeds the size limitations for machinable parcels. The classification also includes rolls and tubes longer than 26 inches, metal-band strapped boxes, metal and wood boxes, cartons containing containing 1 gallon or more of liquid (or 24 ounces or more if it is in glass containers), and other similar pieces. Basically, these are pieces that you would think of as motor freight. If you have something that comes close to any of these descriptions or just doesn't seem to fit any of the other classifications, check with your postal service office to see if it is an outside parcel.