USPS machinery requires a fraction of a second to cancel the postage on a greeting card or package — but creating the postmark itself can take several months.
Consider this year’s holiday postmarks.
Engineering Systems, which is responsible for the postmarks’ design and distribution, generally tries to have them coincide with each year’s seasonal stamps.
“Some years, however, we decide that even though our stamp designs are very good, as a theme they just won’t translate well into postmarks, so we decide on something else. That’s what happened this year,” said Mike Mclean, an Engineering Systems designer.
For 2017, the department created a national postmark that shows Santa Claus and his reindeer flying over treetops.
In some major cities, customers will see a postmark that shows St. Nick and his sleigh soaring over their local skyline — postmarks that Engineering Systems also created.
The process of creating the postmarks begins in August, when designs are submitted to several departments for approval.
By early October, a design is selected as the national postmark.
The design is then tested on postal equipment to ensure it will function as a cancellation for revenue protection. Finally, hundreds of machines nationwide are updated with the postmark.
“There is a lot of thought that goes into it,” Mclean said.