Ready to retire that old table-top postage meter your school district uses? The U.S. Postal Service just might have your answer with its new PC Postage, a stamp that can be purchased and printed 24 hours a day without any specialized equipment.

You can buy PC Postage with your computer and any laser or inkjet printer.

The PC Postage program was launched Aug. 9 by two California firms, of Santa Monica and E-Stamp Corp. of San Mateo. The familiar Pitney Bowes and Neopost Inc. are planning to launch their PC Postage efforts in the coming months.

“The digital revolution will change the postage industry forever,” said chief executive officer John Payne. “By using the internet to deliver postage, we have transformed a centuries-old product requiring proprietary machines into a simple service, available 24 hours a day from any PC.”

For a fee of anywhere from $1.99 to $19.99 a month—depending on usage rates—the services will allow you to purchase and print postage for domestic first-class, Priority, and Express Mail and for parcel post envelopes and packages.

With an ordinary laser or inkjet printer, a barcode would be printed on each envelope to indicate mail processing information and postage payment. For packages, you will have to have a scale handy so you can enter the weight, and then print labels with the appropriate amount of postage.

The services are designed to integrate with existing address books, word processors, and other software applications.

To sign up for the service, go to the web site of one of the companies offering the service, then register and download any required software. The software may or may not be free, depending on the service. E-Stamps additionally requires you to purchase a dime-sized piece of hardware; does not. Purchases can be made either by debit or credit card.

The companies offering PC Postage have had to meet stringent Postal Service requirements to ensure proper security of the system, said Pam Gilbert, the agency’s vice president of retail.

But even though these new high-tech stamps could change the way you put postage on your envelopes, Gilbert doesn’t think the traditional stamp is headed for extinction.

“We don’t see that stamps are going away,” she said. “It’s simply another choice.”

E-Stamp Corp.

Neopost Inc.

Pitney Bowes

U.S. Postal Service