"Stamp Expressions"

Revision 12/13/2023

USPS > Pitney-Bowes (licensee)
"Stamp Expressions"

Otto E. Bergman
Douglas B. Quine, PhD.

Illustration 1

         Beginning in 1998, some U.S. private postal companies received approval from the United States Postal Service (USPS) to develop and sell new franking systems. By 2002, vendor Stamps.com was offering labels with designs that consumers could imprint with postage on personal computers, and in 2004, they began offering PhotoStamps, which were supplied to patrons with specific denominations and full color images supplied by customers.

         At the start of the 21st century, multinational USPS licensed provider Pitney Bowes (PB), with a wide experience in the field of mechanical meter franking since 1920, knew there were about 15 million small businesses that typically spent $20 Š $75/month on postage, but the vendor had its meters in about only 800,000 of them. It was felt that if they offered the right product features at a low enough cost, new groups of small business and upper end retail customers would be attracted.

Illustration 2

         Pitney Bowes engineers experimented with various stamp papers during their alpha (in house) testing. One of the rolls of 200 labels was marked as prototype #4, and dated 12/23/04. That was over a year before the beta (by invitation only) test was launched on January 14, 2006.

         Each label had 11 long diagonal slits as a proposed security feature to prevent reuse. Production rolls later had just small slits in the valleys of most of the perforations. The peaks of the perforations were also more rounded than production ones.

Illustration 3

         Various density (all on the white to black monochrome scale) rectangles were printed on the entire roll to check for the dynamic range of the printer and to verify the consistency in printing across the entire roll. That tested the media and the printerÕs ability to manage itself as the printhead warmed up while it printed.

Illustration 4

         Paired timing marks were printed on the bottom of the backing paper under each label to synchronize the rolls with the printer rather than single ones on production rolls. The paired marks ran the full height of the backing paper so that they were visible on the edges of the roll.

         After many years of R & D, along with alpha and beta testing, in June 2006, PB finally received a license from the USPS to commercialize Stamp Expressions. Users could, not only, decide on the face value of each label, but also on an optional design appearing on an adjoining label.

         The system was very simple: Patrons had to have a computer with an Internet connection, create an account in the Stamp Expressions website (http://www.pbstampexpressions.com/), and arrange for payments by credit card. The cost of the service included the price of a thermal printer ($99.00 + $9.49 shipping) that included a roll of 200 thermal self-adhesive labels (a $13.99 plus local sales tax and shipping value), a monthly subscription fee of $7.99 (with a free 30-day trial), a charge of $2.95 for each stock image from the PB Stock Image Library with unlimited use, a charge of $5.95 for each custom image with unlimited use, and the face value of the stamps printed.

Illustration 5

         All of the processes (check the account, print stamps, download images, buy supplies, and create images and send them to PB for authorization) could be done through the software supplied by the provider.

         After creating an account, installing the software in one's computer, and connecting the thermal printer to one's PC, users had to make an initial payment to Stamp Expressions to have a credit in the account. The face value of the denominations downloaded to the printer were deducted from that amount.

Illustration 6

         The software allowed users to decide the face value of the stamp (up to a maximum of $99.99) and the design of the image that would be printed on the label next to the stamp. In the same way, it was possible to assign the 5 buttons on the thermal printer with the most used denominations and images; the 3 upper ones with values ($00.39 - $00.24 - $00.01 in the above illustration), and the 2 lower ones with images.

         As the denominations were stored in the printer memory and not in the provider's or consumer's computer, the user could also print stamps without being connected to the PC or to the Internet, just by pressing one of the 3 upper buttons for the denomination, one of the 2 lower ones for the image, and finally the large button for the printing of the stamp. When a desired denomination was not in the printer or was consumed, patrons could download any amount of that value through the software with the computer connected to the Internet.

Illustration 7

         The final result was an authentic postage stamp composed of one or more square blocks with a linear kiss cut at each end and die cut perforations with security slits at the top and bottom. Typically, the left label contained either a PB stock image or a user custom image printed in grayscale. The right label usually had a variable value stamp printed in black along with the franking value, the meter number (vertical at the left - PB0000005431 in the image), PB's web address at the right (pitneybowes.com/se in the image), and a matrix code 2D that identified and distinguished each one of the stamps printed.

         On the back of the labels (middle of the above illustration) was a preprinted black strip used by the printer to advance the roll and center the impression.

         The system allowed for test printings in order to see the printing options for images on a grayscale (bottom of the above illustration).

         Stamp Expressions was a franking system conceived for small businesses that desired the convenience of a postage meter, but whose mail volume did not justify the cost of a typical postage meter. It was also for consumers wishing to illustrate their correspondence with customized personal or commercial images.

         There were aspirations of offering the system in the European postal market, but that never came to fruition.

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