Royal Mail reveals new everyday stamps with interactive barcodes

Everyday stamps, which are known as “definitive stamps”, have changed very little since the design was introduced in 1967.

Royal Mail has redesigned its definitive stamps, the most commonly used set, which feature the Queen’s profile.

The new versions have an updated colour palette – “plum purple” for first class and “holly green” for second – and now come with a barcode. They are being introduced following a “successful national trial”, explains Royal Mail.

The barcodes match the stamp colour and are positioned alongside the Queen’s head, separated by a perforation line. As well as adding an interactive element, the barcodes will enable further security measures and improve “operational efficiencies”, according to Royal Mail.

The barcode can be scanned by both recipient and sender. The stamps have a “digital twin” which can be connected an app, explains Royal Mail. To launch the new stamps, animation studio Aardman has created a video of Shaun the Sheep.

The inaugural video will be the first in a series, and people will be able to choose which video the recipient can watch once they receive an item of post. There’s no added cost to either party to view the video, which will be available to view for a period of time on the app.

“Introducing unique barcodes on our postage stamps allows us to connect the physical letter with the digital world,” says Royal Mail chief commercial officer Nick Landson. He adds that the update “opens up the possibilities for a range of new innovative services in the future”.

Stamps without barcodes, including Christmas versions, will be valid until 31 January 2023. Royal Mail is encouraging people to use them up before that date, though customers can also swap them for barcoded versions through the network’s “Swap Out” scheme (which begins 31 March 2022).

Large versions of the stamps have also had a makeover; “marine turquoise” for first class, and “pine green” for second. The new stamps are available to buy now.

Royal Mail’s design history

The current profile of the Queen used on definitive stamps was introduced in 1967. It was created by sculptor and stamp designer Arnold Machin. Since then, the image has been reproduced more than 175 billion times, according to Royal Mail.

Royal Mail frequently works with designers on special edition stamps. Its most recent Christmas collection, designed by Supple Studio, also featured barcodes.

One popular interactive element in commemorative stamp design has been the use of hidden layers, only visible with UV light. These include So’s Sherlock Holmes set, Studio Sutherl&’s Agatha Christie designs, and Supple Studio’s video game-themed collection.

To mark the 50th anniversary of the company’s non-Royal-related stamp programme, we spoke to designers about their favourite designs in 2015.

What do you think of the update to Royal Mail’s stamps? Let us know in the comments below.

Hide Comments (39)Show Comments (39)
  • Anthony Fey February 1, 2022 at 3:25 pm

    What will happen to all my mint Commemoratives which my Mother-in-Law diligently collected. Will they be able to be “Swapped Out” I use them for make up postage as I know many collectors do

    • Mrs Lynne Pettit February 20, 2022 at 9:28 am

      Why on earth change the colours? Everyone is used to red for first class and blue for second. This change, especially for the large size envelope stamps, is just confusing, first being blue and second being a slightly different grey/green/blue. Utter waste of money and extra use of paper.

  • Richard Spurgin February 1, 2022 at 7:38 pm

    What is the mechanism to enable customers to ‘swap’ definitives for the barcode versions.Will this be by return to a central depot of by handing in at Post Offices?Does this apply to the High Values-£1-£10 ?

  • Tony Lancaster February 1, 2022 at 11:16 pm

    They are not barcodes by QR codes

  • Christine Ann February 2, 2022 at 10:31 am

    Shall I be able to exchange £118 000 worth of all denominations in one go? This is my pension and I am worried that there will be some hesitation on exchanging so much.

  • E Wilkinson February 2, 2022 at 11:51 am

    What happens with commemorative stamps? Is the swap scheme only needed for definitives and Christmas stamps? The explanation given by Royal Mail is unclear and lots of people who have collected stamps for years and may want to use some of them for postage now are wondering just what is going on and why this is being so rushed.

  • Mrs Joan Norman February 2, 2022 at 2:44 pm

    I and I’m sure most people would prefer cheaper postage for every element of the service.
    Why duplicate what others already provide to those who want it?

  • LOZ FARMER February 6, 2022 at 1:23 pm

    Will these codes enable them to track down some or all of the posted items that they manage to lose every day?

  • Gavin Hardy February 9, 2022 at 5:40 pm

    Is there anyone on the planet that doesn’t think that this is unutterably stupid? What percentage of recipients of post would do anything with the barcode? What happens when the barcode is obliterated by a franking mark?

  • Gillian Paddock February 26, 2022 at 11:35 am

    I’m afraid that having read this piece, I still can’t see what the point of the change is. How many people will want to view a little video when they receive an item of post? By the way, as someone has already said, these are QR codes, not barcodes.

  • Jeffery Eslick March 3, 2022 at 1:18 pm

    What a pity despite my many complaints about the variety of backing paper on the current day to day stamps to the CEO at ROYAL MAIL and a few others. You (ROYAL MAIL) have done exactly the same by reversing the backing paper on the 2nd large stamp already. I ask again is this directed to dealer/printer/ROYALMAIL profitability. or ” Oh! once again we have forgotten about the GB Machin collector fraternity.

  • Sheila March 5, 2022 at 7:21 am

    Will it really improve efficiency and will second class post get to recipient within a few days as opposed to over a week

  • Hilary Milne May 8, 2022 at 11:41 am

    Hate everything about this change. What on Earth is the point? Hate the bigger size too as often I put several stamps on a letter to make up to the next pay point. Complete waste of whatever it cost to make the changes.

  • B Taylor May 13, 2022 at 3:38 pm

    What is the point? I had to wade through interminable guff just to find out if the QR code had to be stuck on the letter. Why put a perforation between the stamp and the code? And who on earth wants yet another app on their phone to enable them to watch an inane video they don’t want to see anyway? There must be a load of overpaid people at Royal Mail coming up with idiotic changes to justify their employment.

  • B Cheeseman May 15, 2022 at 4:29 pm

    They are far too big! Stuck on a small greetings card envelope there will not be enough room for the address!

  • Andrew Emm May 25, 2022 at 11:16 am

    I had to pay £1.50 fee this morning because the sender assumed that a LARGE stamp was signifying that it was for a LARGE letter. I’d have probably done the same.

  • David Brown May 27, 2022 at 10:24 am

    I dislike and object to the larger size. Stamp booklets now contain only 8 stamps instead of 12, and are still too large to fit into the appropriate pocket in my wallet. Are they still valid if I cut off the QR strip?

  • Sue Davies June 1, 2022 at 3:26 am

    Like others have said, what a ridiculous waste of time and money – why change stamp colours and as for the ludicrously large size of the new stamp…words fail me! Who in God’s name thought of this?!

  • Katy June 23, 2022 at 8:20 am

    I have used the purple first class stamps twice and both times the recipients didn’t receive their birthday cards!!

  • Margaret Cox July 10, 2022 at 2:54 pm

    Why are 2nd class stamps bigger now, what a waste of paper.

  • mesandford July 25, 2022 at 2:41 pm

    No mention of the cost of a stamp, which was all I wanted to know. Bar code a good idea but why change the colour? Why make them larger? Unsuitable for small letters.

  • Roy Smith July 25, 2022 at 6:11 pm

    Having read the blurb I am no wiser as to the benefits. Technology for technology’s sake. Waste of money that should be used to improve the deliveries.

  • Eleanor Miller July 31, 2022 at 5:12 pm

    Bought some stamps online, thought I had bought the wrong ones. What was wrong with the old blue ones don’t like the colour either and why so big !

  • David Reeve August 4, 2022 at 8:32 am

    I think the whole idea is rubbish. Talk about making something simple almost incomprehensible. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it. No doubt it’s going to cost us more?

  • Hazel Mac August 11, 2022 at 1:29 am

    These are QR codes NOT barcodes.

  • ISOBEL PATON August 16, 2022 at 12:45 pm

    cannot see the need for this at all and what about people who don’t own mobile
    phones another case of it doesn’t matter about old people and i am sure your workers would have appreciated what this cost in their pay packets i had already stopped using first class stamps a long time ago as things didn’t go any quicker than with a second class so you have a lot to do to make this work if that is at all possible

  • Susie Hayward August 24, 2022 at 3:26 pm

    What a waste of money! I am really shocked at the expense that must have been incurred in updating the ‘colour palette’, changing the size of the stamps and their design, incorporating a barcode and an app. Really really wasteful of resources. Times are hard enough. Your postal services are prohibitively expensive and your postal workers about to strike.

  • P payne August 28, 2022 at 2:37 pm

    What cockbup no one told us about the purpose of new barcode nonsense.I tried to use the new stamps The first one tore when I tried to use it.Thinking the preforation was to tear through I cut it out so that would tesultbon a late payment of my card no doubt.Why do you you clowns all think that keep repeating the word digital makes you clever?It does not.Youkelp keep screwing people around in the name of self satisfied greed.Youbhave cost me money and it could have been worse.Pointless stupidity. No one explained to me or Ang one about the changes So thanks for you mindless arrogant nonsense.Your contempt for the people who pay you is on a level with Gates or Blair.

  • Colin Gordon August 30, 2022 at 4:45 pm

    I object to the larger size. Did anyone on the Design Team consider that on a postcard the stamp fills half the space available for the address ?

  • Margaret Booth October 5, 2022 at 11:05 am

    Stamp “updates”? Utter stupidity and more pointless, expensive nonsense. I agree with the other sentiments in this thread and I would only add, since this is on a site concerned with design, that they are irretrievably ugly. My instinct is to take the scissors and cut off that wretched code ( I know, that would probably generate a fine for the poor recipient) or better still, fold it around the righthand edge thereby losing it on the other side!!) I receive personal post from various places around the world but I have yet to see such changes coming from anywhere else. The “forever” stamps in the States are even round (try adding a code to that!)
    It seems that this is a case of keeping up with the corporate “Joneses”…well, everyone else is using this QR code thing…

    I am unable to find out if the small denomination definitives with their beautiful colours will still be valid, I suspect not. I use those to make up the correct amount on the pictorial special edition stamps if required. Going forward, the best option is for everyone to go online and buy sheets of pictorials, which are exempt from this moronic change. There are more important things to worry about these days but buying those special edition versions is one tiny victory that we have at our disposal. I agree completely with another remark here, if it’s not broken, don’t fix it!! While I’m at it, they could use some of the funds they rake out of us to better maintain the vans that the posties have to drive daily…

  • R collins October 17, 2022 at 5:43 pm

    Why? I shudder to think how much money was made by “designers” and managers, plus the cost of change and indeed the fact that these stamps are actually larger. Wasteful and encouraging use of mobile phones which is environmentally unsound. Could have used the money to keep a post office open.

  • R Oldaker October 24, 2022 at 9:12 am

    Quite a pointless and expensive change. The whole point of us good folks who continue to use the Royal Mail for our letters and communications is that it is separate and different from anything digital

  • Maria McNevin November 25, 2022 at 10:54 am

    I’m creating a postcard for a customer and want to place a stamp outline on the back of the card in the usual way, but cannot find the dimensions anywhere. Can anyone let me know.

  • Dmitriy November 26, 2022 at 8:27 pm

    So the benefits so far are a video and “future features”? Wow…

  • Margaret Mainwaring December 3, 2022 at 9:51 am

    Something else that we don’t need. If it’s such a good idea why not incorporate the QR into the stamp in the first place?

  • Lindy Barbour December 12, 2022 at 10:12 pm

    I don’t understand this. What am I supposed to do with the code? Tear it off at the perforation? Stick it on as an entirety? What app? Just ?????

  • N Cosgrove March 29, 2023 at 9:32 pm

    Hate them. Too big. If you need two or three stamps to make up an amount there isn’t room on a small envelope. What a joke. Change for change sake. Who wants to watch a video for heavens sake!!

  • Julian Holder May 3, 2023 at 3:21 pm

    They’re simply awful. But what is so sad is how UGLY UGLY UGLY they are. Am I really one of the few who think so? And the Monarch approves? I very much doubt it! Had a QR coded gun held at the head I suspect. What happened to the great design tradition of Royal Mail stamps. Some of our leading designers produced memorable works of great beauty seen everyday, or at least every week, when they dropped through the letter box. Inspiring. ‘Blue Peter’ used to excite youngsters about them. Teachers built classes around them. The Post Office even had the temerity to acknowledge this great tradition with its homage to David Gentleman’s designs recently. Surely these awful definitive stamps could have their QR codes merged with, or spread across, the background of the monarch’s head rather than stuck on the side like an after-thought, or looking like the tear-off slip in a competiton where you answer the tie-breaker. ‘I like British stamps beacause… (in not more than ten words. Judges decision will be final. No correspondence will be entered into. Terms and conditions apply).’ Why place the monarch’s head on these things, put a big rash next to it, and make them, and the country, a laughing stock across the world? Even picture stamps have become silly photo whimsy with little or no design input – Flying Scotsman, Royal Marines, the Romans. A bit better as they don’t have QR codes (YET!) but nothing to dazzle, surprise, and delight the sender or recipient. A tragic end to another great British tradition. I genuinely feel too ashamed to use them. In the hopes others do this may well be the end of letter writing, birthday cards, christmas cards etc etc All hail the digital wonderland of everyday impoverishment – with these ‘designs’ the Royal Mail can only be contributing to its own demise.

    SO ugly…

  • Kim Monks May 6, 2023 at 2:59 am

    Absolutely hate these stupid stamps along with too much other digital crap. Three times I’ve had the..Return to Sender..using those pathetic purple stamps left the unsightly code on..but still didn’t get my light as a feather normal letters to their only around 1 mile said a charge of £2 50 each letter required to be posted!! Its ludicrous and so wish life was like the 1980s..70s or 90s again as its sure gone downhill since! Sort it out! Royal is stressful enough for people without this garbage pushed on us all..

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