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E-stamps by printer tested

Hewlett-Packard demonstrates postage output from common ink jet and laser jet printers, as part of Postal Service testing.

Hewlett-Packard (HWP) said it demonstrated computer-based postage today as part of testing for the Postal Service's nascent electronic stamp program.

Using hardware and software from startup E-Stamp, HP stamped digital postage directly onto mailing envelopes using ink jet and laser jet printers. Last month, the Palo Alto, California-based start-up became the first company to receive Postal Service approval for a Net-based system for buying and printing e-stamps.

The new technology represents the first new form of postage approved in 78 years. In 1920, the Postal Service approved postage meters, still commonly used by businesses.

Information to create stamps called SmartStamps is stored in a small piece of hardware that limits access to the postage. Connected to the PC's printer port, the device is the diameter of one dime and the thickness of three.

The stamps, printed on the envelope at the same time as the address, contain two-dimensional, printable bar codes with encrypted information. The stamp cannot be printed on an envelope without an address, but it can be printed on labels.

Test users pay for the electronic stamps online, then download them from a secure Net site to their printer's security device. Trials have already begun in the Washington area and will be extended to the San Francisco Bay Area and Tampa, Florida, according to E-Stamp.

Incorporating both ink jet and laser jet printers, today's round of tests measured the print quality and scanning reliability of the digital postage, a statement released by HP said. Other variables, such as image quality and print permanence using various kinds of envelopes, were also measured.