Definitives with data matrix codes

Royal Mail has declared that Britain is entering ‘a new era for stamps’, as it introduces data matrix codes (also known as 2D barcodes) across the full range of self-adhesive Machin definitives.

Digitally coded 1st class, 2nd class, 1st Large and 2nd Large stamps were issued on February 1, in a new range of colours.

The existing make-up values of 1p, 2p, 5p, 10p, 20p, 50p, £1, £2, £3 and £5 will also be replaced with barcoded stamps on April 4. Values covering specific overseas postage rates are expected to be matrix-coded in future as they are introduced in response to rate changes.

The development follows the trial issue of the 2nd class value in business sheets only in March last year, and four values in the Christmas set in November. The design approach is unchanged, with a printed 'simulated perforation' separating the Queen’s head from the matrix code.

The existing security protocols for overlay text on stamps (including source codes and year codes) are retained, as is underlay text on backing paper.

Phosphor bands (a single band on 2nd class stamps and two on other values) are also retained, positioned over the portrait part of the design and not over the matrix code.

Royal Mail says this innovation is part of an ‘extensive modernisation drive’, and that ‘unique barcodes will facilitate operational efficiencies, enable the introduction of added security features and pave the way for innovative services’. It has not yet elaborated on the precise nature of these services, although the starting point is tracking and tracing items of mail.

The company says it has no plans to introduce  digital coding to special issues. It is unclear what the future holds for Post & Go stamps and country definitives, or indeed for retail booklets containing a mixture of definitives and commemoratives.


The stamps issued on February 1 are a 2nd class holly green, 1st class plum purple, 2nd Large dark pine green and 1st Large marine turquoise.

One reason the colours used for these basic rates have been changed is to distinguish between the stamps for standard letters and Large Letters, as they are now the same size: all definitives will measure 39mm wide x 30mm high.

There is, however, a difference in design: the Large letter stamps retain a larger numeral of denomination, in a different position (top left) and in a different typeface.

All the stamps are printed in gravure by Cartor (formerly ISP) in sheets of 50, divided into two panes of 25. The sheets are about 5cm wider than those of non-coded definitives.

As seen with counter sheets of the Christmas issue, the stamps are printed sideways on the sheet. Most of the printing information, such as the date, cylinder number and (square) traffic lights, appears in the left margin.

All the new stamps carry the year code ‘M22L’ in their security overlay, although the earliest printing dates shown in the sheet margins are in December 2021.


The larger size of standard stamps has necessitated a change in the format of retail booklets. Booklets of twelve or six stamps are replaced by booklets of eight or four, all in a slightly larger size than before.

Five booklets were issued with the first tranche of matrix-coded definitives: 8 x 2nd class, 8 x 1st class, 4 x 2nd Large, 4 x 1st class, and 4 x 1st Large.

Booklet covers match the colours of the stamps inside, and the source codes in the stamps’ security overlay are ‘MEIL’ if they come from books of eight and ‘MFIL’ if they come from books of four.


The new 2nd class, 1st class, 2nd Large and 1st Large values are available in business sheets from February 28.

These comprise 50 stamps, in the same format as the 2nd class trial sheet issued last March.


First day covers were not easy for collectors to arrange privately, because the stamps were not announced until the day of issue, and many post offices said they had none in stock.

Royal Mail’s special handstamp centres offered an extension period of 28 days for first-day postmarks.


Scanning each of the new stamps with a smartphone, using the Royal Mail app, gives access to an exclusive video featuring Shaun the Sheep, created by the Aardman animation studio. 

This is the first in a series of videos planned to be made available during 2022, helping to give positive publicity to the new range of matrix-coded stamps.