White ink addresses on dark envelopes and USPS... Can they be friends?
July 24, 2013 8:34 PM   Subscribe

If I mail invitations addressed with white ink gel pen on dark red paper, will they make it to their destinations?

I just spent nearly all day today meticulously addressing, labeling, stamping, and sealing 63 invitations to a couples' wedding shower barbecue for my friend. The only envelopes I could find that I thought looked good with the invitation were a dark red, and black ink was pretty hard to read on them so I bought a white ink gel pen for writing the addresses which resulted in much more contrast and the addresses are now very easy to read... By a human. Problem is, once I had sealed the last envelope, it occurred to me that perhaps the sorting machines at the Post Office weren't equipped to read white ink. So I frantically searched the internet for info on that topic, and sure enough several people warned against using white ink because the machines can't read it. But other people claimed they had done it and it worked just fine. How worried should I be? I haven't mailed them yet... I'm planning to take them to the PO first thing in the morning to see what they say, but if I end up having to re-address all of these damn things tomorrow and waste the $30 in postage already affixed to them, I'm going to lose my mind. Is this a real problem, and if so, is there any other way around that scenario?
posted by lmpatte2 to Technology (13 answers total)
I've sent mail with silver glitter pen on black envelopes with no problem.
posted by xingcat at 8:40 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I believe they handle items the machines don't work well with separately, and you should be fine.
posted by lathrop at 8:50 PM on July 24, 2013

You can ask that they be "hand cancelled" – you just have to wait in line and ask instead of dropping them into the mailbox – then they will be sorted by hand and not by a machine. I have asked for this to be done on a similar quantity of handmade holiday cards one year at my local post office and they had no problem doing it for me.
posted by blacktshirtandjeans at 8:53 PM on July 24, 2013 [4 favorites]

I believe you'll find that USPS has no problem reading your envelopes. But should your local PO grumble, you can at least save the postage by affixing a white or complementary pastel label over the current address. Readdress by hand and no one will fault your etiquette.
posted by peakcomm at 8:54 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have sent mail with white gel pen ink on dark red envelopes before (Chinese New Year's Cards) without any problem at all. If you take them up to the counter, they will put your envelopes aside to be sorted by hand rather than by machine. It may add an extra day to the delivery time, but that should be it.
posted by gemmy at 8:55 PM on July 24, 2013 [2 favorites]

My wedding invitations were done with silver ink on dark brown envelopes and we had no issues.
posted by makonan at 9:28 PM on July 24, 2013

I once sent someone a jigsaw puzzle, one piece at a time, in black hand-made deliberately envelopes with the addresses written in silver ink. All of the envelopes (slightly over 50) arrived, but one of them was torn and the puzzle piece was missing. I think if it were an envelope-sized paper invitation, that one would have arrived in a readable state as well.

Since my envelopes weren't even quite square, and my contents weren't exactly flat, I think you'll have a much higher success rate than I did. Meaning that the chance of one of your 63 envelopes being lost is quite low. If I were you I wouldn't worry about it, but if you wanted to be extra super paranoid, you could check in via email with any people you haven't heard back from after a while.
posted by aubilenon at 9:34 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'm so relieved to read these answers. Thanks everyone! Now I can actually get some sleep instead of worrying about this.
posted by lmpatte2 at 9:39 PM on July 24, 2013

I sent a bunch of cards in dark blue envelopes with white ink and everyone got them! Wow, I didn't even think of there being a problem and just tossed them in the mailbox.
posted by Aquifer at 9:40 PM on July 24, 2013 [1 favorite]

I do it all the time. I've never asked at the counter if it's okay, though—that seems like inviting a "no". Just drop them in the mailbox and they'll be fine.

I recommend the Uni-Ball Signo for the most opaque white, by the by—this study seems to back it up.
posted by homodachi at 10:02 PM on July 24, 2013 [3 favorites]

There used to be a job a tthe post office where people sit in front of screens and the addresss reading machine would spit out images of envelopes it could not read adn a human would type the address into teh machine after reading. I'm pretty sure this job still exists, but the last person I know who did it quit in the 90s.
posted by WeekendJen at 4:13 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

That job still exists, but is on the decline according to this article at the NY Times. OCR advances have taken care of all but the most illegible envelopes.
posted by jeffjon at 6:39 AM on July 25, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yes! I send all kinds of crazy things in the mail! Crazy envelopes with the address and stamps in the wrong place, all kinds of crazy color combinations! Could be that sometimes the postal workers are irritated by my mail that needs special attention, but so far, all my mail has been delivered. I doubt the postal workers wouldn't even bat an eye if your mail is otherwise normal.
posted by upatree at 8:43 AM on July 25, 2013

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