Similar in some ways to DYMO Stamps Online 2.5 (Free, 4.5 stars), Pitney Bowes pbSmartPostage (Free, $14.99 per month, or $16.99 per month) offers the same basic capability. pbSmartPostage lets you print your own stamps and other postage, eliminating the chore and wasted time of running out to the post office and standing in line. Unlike Dymo Stamps Online, which works with any printer even with the free version, pbSmartPostage limits its free tier to Brother label-printer owners. However its paid versions work with virtually any inkjet or laser printer.
As I pointed out in my review of DYMO Stamps Online, whether you prefer your postage printing software to run completely in the cloud or to run on your computer as a client app that connects to a cloud based server is largely a matter of personal taste. A key argument in favor of an online app like pbSmartPostage is precisely that it runs in the cloud. You don’t have to download or install any software, and you don’t have to worry about updates when postal rates change or Pitney Bowes adds a new feature. The next time you log on to the website, the change will simply be there.
That said, if you tend to print stamps and labels one at a time instead of in batches, you may well consider it annoying to have to enter your user name and password every time you want to print something. If so, you’ll probably prefer a program that runs on your own system, like our current Editors’ Choice, DYMO Stamps and DYMO Printable Postage version 2.5 (Free, 4.5 stars).
If you’re not sure which approach you like better, you should particularly appreciate pbSmartPostage’s 60-day free trial. If you have any doubts about using a cloud-based service, 60 days will give you plenty of time to try it and decide whether you like it.
Setting up an account is straightforward, with three choices for the type of account. If you have one of the Brother label printers that work with pbSmartPostage, including, for example, the Editors’ Choice Brother QL-700, you can sign up at www.pb.com/brother for a free account.
The free account will let you print individual stamps using a Brother label printer or print stamp sheets using any laser or inkjet—although you have to buy the stamp rolls and sheets separately from Pitney Bowes. (More on that in a moment.) It won’t let you print postage directly on envelopes or print labels for packages. For that, you need one of the paid tiers, which you can sign up for whether you have a Brother label printer or not.
If you already have a free account, you can upgrade it to a paid account whenever you like. To start with a paid account, you can go to www.pbsmartpostage.com to register, enter your billing information, and order stamp sheets. The $14.99 per month Standard choice includes unlimited use, except for the cost of postage and stamp sheets or other supplies, and also includes two free stamp sheets.
The $16.99 Preferred choice adds a 5-pound postage scale that connects to your computer by USB cable, to let you weigh your mail or package and automatically set the right amount of postage to print. (At least, it’s supposed to. Pitney Bowes didn’t supply one for testing.) Alternatively, you can also buy any of several scales, at prices ranging from $49.99 to $105.99 (direct) and capacities of 5 to 70 pounds, and not have to pay the extra $2 per month.
Additional Costs and Potential Savings
How much pbSmartPostage will actually cost, or potentially save, depends entirely on how you use it. For the free service, you have to buy stamp rolls or sheets. The price varies with how many rolls or sheets you buy at a time, at $15.29 or $17.99 for a roll of 200 stamp labels, or $6.40 to $7.49 for a pack of five label sheets with 125 stamp labels per pack.
For either of the paid tiers, you can also use the rolls or sheets, but you don’t have to. Instead of printing stamps, you can print postage directly on envelopes. And for packages, you can print labels on plain paper.
In addition to the potential cost of supplies, you also have to pay for postage. However, once you get beyond printing stamps, there’s a possibility of saving money with US Postal Service (USPS) discounted rates. Also worth mention is that although you can get discounted rates for some classes of mail directly from the USPS Web site (take a look at https://www.prioritymail.com/online_discounts.asp for details), there are some classes of mail, including First Class Parcel and Media Mail, for example, that you can’t print labels for from the USPS site, but can print with pbSmartPostage.
Printing Stamps and Labels
For my tests I used several printers, including a Brother label printer and two standard desktop printers that can print on up to legal-size paper. The only problem I ran into was with printing directly on an envelope with one of the standard printers, with pbSmartPostage insisting that the envelope was the wrong size.
According to Pitney Bowes, the real problem is that this particular printer won’t allow printing to the edge of the envelope, which USPS regulations require. The company says this is an issue for only a few printers. Even so, before you sign up with pbSmartPostage, you might want to look at the FAQs on the support section of Pitney Bowes Web site to find out if your printer is on the list of printers that are known to work or known not to work.
Printing is otherwise easy enough and worked as promised in my tests. For stamps, an onscreen wizard with self-explanatory options takes you through the steps of choosing what to print on—a stamp sheet, a roll, or an envelope—setting the postage amount and how many stamps to print, and then printing.
With stamp sheets, you can specify different postage values for each stamp and print a full sheet with up to 25 stamps at a time. With rolls or envelopes you can print only one stamp value at a time, but can print as many as 25 stamps or envelopes. Other useful features for envelopes include optionally adding a mailing address, a return address, and a QR code (a two-dimensional bar code that can translate to plain text, a URL, an email address, or a telephone number). You can also save mailing addresses and QR codes so you can pick them from a list to reuse later.
A separate wizard for labels takes you through a similar series of steps, with choices for defining the box type (including choices like the USPS flat rate box); choices for class of mail;, options to add additional services, including signature confirmation and insurance; and too many other options to even list here. One last feature that demands mention, however, is the option to track a package by picking from a list of labels that you’ve created.
Whether Pitney Bowes pbSmartPostage is worth considering depends partly on whether you’re looking at the free version or one of the tiers with a monthly fee. If you have a Brother label printer, it’s almost certainly worth taking advantage of the free version, no matter how few stamps you print, for the convenience of not having to run out to the post office. Beyond that, you might or might not need labels often enough for the convenience of printing them to be worth the monthly price—or if you might even save money that way. If the answer isn’t clear, it’s certainly worth taking advantage of the 60-day free trial to give pbSmartPostage a test drive and find out.
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|Tech Support||Phone, email, and chat support provided by Pitney Bowes.|
|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8|
|Type||Business, Personal, Professional|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc