What’s in an address – part 2

As you can imagine, addresses are a very important part of a project like this. So much so that we devote a large part of our time and effort to making sure we get it right.


For the most part we rely on the International Postal Union, an interesting organization itself and one of the worlds oldest. Established 144 years ago to co-ordinate postal policies among member countries and currently a specialized agency of the United Nations; it’s still responsible the 194 members in addition to co-ordinating policies world-wide.

This is no small matter. For some time we’ve been trying to get an idea of how much mail is handled every day worldwide. We know for example that the United States processes more than 5,000 pieces of mail per second.  And yes that’s 24 hours a day. Take the relative percentage volumes of the other 194+ countries, multiply this number and the answer you’ll get is ‘a lot’.

Over the past 40 years, many countries have adopted ways to optically and mechanically sort letters to deal with the volume.

In fact, the chances that a human being sees our letter from the time it is posted until it’s in the letter-carriers hand are very, very small.

It’s important to remember that our personal preference for a hand sorted letter has no consequence once it plops into the torrent of mail processed every day.

If our letter is taking an unusually long time to reach it’s destination  …it’s most likely because of the way it we addressed it. Most likely it had to be tossed in a separate bin to be handled by a person.

Some countries with particular necessity, often a unique alphabet, have a division dedicated to hand sorting letters. Japan does this for all letters not addressed in written Japanese . Unfortunately, if our letter doesn’t make it to one of these special divisions, it could languish on it’s own for a very long time.

Most countries, not all, currently use some kind of high speed optical character scanning machinery  to sort and process the mail. Many of them dealing with more than 30,000 pieces an hour or about 10 letters a second. Understanding a few basics about addresses really helps to get our letters where they need to be as quickly as possible.

The first thing is the envelope itself.

One good thing to know is that, when it comes to delivery, the back of the envelope is pretty much a non-entity. That means any information, like a return address, won’t be used. On the other hand, we’re pretty much free to decorate the back of the envelope any way we want.

In contrast, the front of the envelope is a whole different matter.

We’ve come up with a pretty workable picture of what an envelope should look like to get it delivered without problem any where in the world. We considered standards from the Royal Mail, USPS, Deutsche Post, PostNL, Australia Post, NZ Post, Canada Post, Singapore Post, the UPU and several others and found that although they have some subtle differences, they all share common elements on laying out the front of an envelope.

The great thing is, as long as our envelope fits the post office’s size limits for letter mail …this process works.

Keep in mind that the two most important pieces of information on an envelope are a) where it’s going and b) where it should return to if it doesn’t get there.

Because this information is so important, nothing else should appear in the areas reserved for addresses.  The area should (preferably) be plain white and clear of all pattern or design. For this reason, appropriate size labels are often a good choice and investment. If nothing else, it gives your letter the best chance of getting there without incident.

Other than that, there are only a few simple areas that need to be kept clear.

A strip 15mm wide along the sides and bottom of the envelope trigger the machine to look for an address and facilitate printing barcodes or other information the post office needs.

The top 40mm of the envelope needs to be kept clear for recognizing and validating the postage has been paid (our stamps). This also includes an area on the left for a return address.

Stamps should be placed no farther than 75-90mm from the right side of the envelope.

The address space should not be more than 140mm from the right side of the envelope nor more than 70mm from the bottom. (including the 15mm strips we left clear).




* for those of you in Burma, Liberia or the United States

15mm   = 5/8″
40mm   = 1 1/2″
90mm   = 3 1/2″
140mm = 5 1/2″
70mm   = 2 3/4″



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