As a Direct Mail designer, I’ve seen and used the carbon form texture security pattern background found on so many snap-packs, outer envelopes and packages. It is a staple in many high-performing direct mail control packages.
What are safety patterns, and what kind of mail typically uses them?
Real world examples of mail that use background textures are: Bills, statements, financial or account information, and annual notifications.
The background communicates important, serious information. You’ve probably received some of these in the form of snap packs, which are pressure-sealed mailers.
Why is it also called “scrambled eggs” texture?
You may not know it was called that, but the kind of black pattern that seems to be made up of multiple layers of distressed, distorted type is known by many design professionals as the “scrambled eggs” safety pattern, perhaps because it looks like a mess of squiggles.
Finally, I had to the great luck of asking a long-time associate who in turn asked some production veterans what this pattern was called. They were real old-timers who’d worked in the days of carbon/tractor feed mailings, and explained that it was called a carbon form texture, a carbon hot spot or wallspot without carbon. Mystery solved!
And while I’ve been using the carbon form texture for decades, finding a source file for it is challenging. In addition, doing a web search for it was a comical exercise resulting in search results that delivered everything from fly fishing patterns to images and recipes of scrambled eggs, and more.
How can carbon form texture backgrounds help direct mail?
By lending importance to the outer carrier of direct mail piece with a safety pattern, your package gains authority and importance. And you don’t have to be using a snap pack format to leverage the Carbon Form Texture background to get a person to open the mail.
In a recent blog post on 8 affordable ways you can create better envelopes for DM, I shared this idea: you can use black or grey safety/non-read-through patterns (sometimes referred to as safety patterns, carbon form textures, or ‘scrambled egg’ backgrounds) to lend authority to envelopes and self-mailers. I’ve seen successful examples of using the pattern and perforation lines printed on a standard white envelope in a way that made it look like a snap pack with tear-off sides. It was actually an off-the shelf envelope, but the innovative use of printing and pattern successfully held the prospects attention longer and built curiosity.
What to avoid when you use carbon form textures in direct mail
Relevance to the copy content of your mail are important. Don’t use the carbon form texture as an attention-grabber that doesn’t align with other parts of your mailing. Situations to avoid include:
- Using photos or images of products or people alongside the pattern
- Outer mail tease copy lines that are highly promotional
- Use of logos or heavily-branded artwork.
Some marketers mistakenly think a logo should always appear on the outer envelope to establish credibility in mailings. But that works counter to the desired understatement the pattern communicates to the recipient.
Use safety patterns in a variety of formats
Carbon form texture was initially used on very large run impact printer-generated mailings. The technique was reserved for mailings that used only multipart corbon-copied inline forms. But that’s not the case anymore, because with digital printing methods, you can apply the familiar carbon form texture artwork to practically any mail format and much smaller print runs. Pair today’s flexibility with creative design, and you can use carbon form texture in everything from fused-edge self-mailers, to envelope mailers, and traditional inline mailers like the traditional snap pack.
Tap your dream team of production experts to get the most from carbon form textures
When in doubt, and early in your design and concept development stage, team up with your print and lettershop representatives and technical people to come up with an approach that will make a carbon form texture work for you.
When you design a piece that uses carbon form textures, you, your writing partners and the production team will want to consider:
- Print and letter shop logistics, such as quantity mailing and areas needing personalization in your package. This helps you find out what direct mail production options work best for your budget and project scale
- Outer envelope messaging and privacy. You want to give recipients the impression of important information they shouldn’t ignore. But use care with personalization that shares too much with anyone who might see the envelope or mailing panel.
The goal is to use authority and mystery with the carbon form texture on an outer envelope. Then take the recipient to the inside of the direct mail package.
Once the recipient arrives at the inside, give them a smooth segue to your direct mail message. Make the interior consistent with the authority you used on the outer carrier. There’s few things worse than an outer carrier that delivers one tone and message, then takes a person inside to a whole other tone and message. Bad move. Instead of leveraging momentum built on the outside, this combination creates confusion and inertia. Some say it doesn’t matter, because they are inside the envelope. My experience has shown that it’s a way to kill offer credibility and weaken your brand.
How NOT to use safety patterns
Like so many other successful direct mail techniques, just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. So don’t use carbon form textures if…
- Adding outside carbon form texture creates an additional non-verbal message. Connect it to contents inside, so it makes sense or has some implied meaning. Give it purpose, or don’t use it.
- The tone and message inside the package is not serious and authoritative. Don’t go from carbon form outer to jokes or personal messages in handwriting fonts.
- You have a highly retail interior message that has a very strong personality and lots of images.
Where to find safety pattern textures?
The carbon form texture is one of the most recurring graphic elements found in direct mail. Not a week goes by that I don’t get at least one package using it in my mail.
I did research and learned it’s hard to get a good original file for a carbon form texture background. You could scan an old one if you can find an original piece of camera-art. Or you can try to find a carbon texture background through a stock image house. In either case, beware: they don’t scale up or down well. Basically either option is a pain to work with.
I decided to end my search and create a carbon form texture I could work with and scale as needed. First I reviewed the several pieces of art and mailing samples I had that used safety patterns. Then I started reconstructing a master art file. Then I created another variation of the file, and another. You can scale, append, and color-change this set of digital, scaleable version of carbon form texture “scrambled eggs” safety pattern art files.
It’s worth adding this low cost technique to your creative arsenal
Some designers might say this isn’t very creative or colorful, or something that will make it into their portfolio of work. Let me respond in two parts, based on a lot of experience direct mail, and a lot of very happy clients.
First, this proven technique helps when you have to create multiple test cells. Use this approach in one cell, and you can now focus creative attention on other really out there ideas in other cells.
Second, if you find yourself creating and testing the little details of a winning package, like the addition of a technique, you will be thinking in bigger creative terms with the small moves that over time might beat a control package. And that makes you much more valuable to your creative partners and clients.
If you liked this article, be sure to share it and please comment to let me know! Thanks, and also check out my other articles in the blog!