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How Does a Magnetic Stripe Encoder Work?


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HiCo & LoCo Magnetic Stripe Cards

A magnetic stripe encoder is a hardware device that can write information or data onto a plastic PVC card. Magnetic stripe encoding allows ID badges to serve as more than just simple visual identification.  Also called a “swipe card,” magnetic encoded cards are used in a variety of multi-functional card programs like:

  • access control
  • ticketing
  • time and attendance tracking
  • school lunch programs

The term “magnetic stripe” or “magstripe” refers to the black or brown magnetic stripe on one side of the card. The stripe itself is made of magnetic particles of resin. The amount of resin particle material within the stripe determines the coercivity of the stripe. The higher the coercivity, the harder it is to encode and erase the information on the stripe.

How Does a Magstripe Encoder Work?

There are two different magnetic stripe cards to choose from: high coercivity (“HiCo”) and low coercivity (“LoCo”) cards. Both types of cards can hold the same amount of data; the main difference is the security and durability either offers.

High-Coercivity Stripes
HiCo stripes are encoded at 2750 Oersted (the unit of magnetic coercive force used to define difficulty of erasure of magnetic material) and are generally black in color. They store information on a more secure basis than low-coercivity magnetic stripes because of the higher level of magnetic energy required to encode them.

Information is harder to erase on HiCo cards; therefore, they are most frequently used in applications where cards are swiped often and require a long life (e.g., credit card applications).

Low-Coercivity Stripes
LoCo stripes are encoded at 300 Oersted. Low-coercivity stripes are generally brown and store information less securely than high-coercivity magnetic stripes. LoCo magnetic stripe cards are typically used in applications like metro transit ticketing or hotel room access control.

What Information is Stored on Magnetic Stripe Cards?

If you’re not printing on either of these magnetic PVC cards but you need to add digital information to your cards, I recommend investing in the MSR206-33 Three-Track Magnetic Stripe Reader & Encoder. This full-feature device reads and writes both high- and low-coercivity magnetic stripes (300-4000 Oersted). It can encode up to three tracks of data and is backed by a three-year manufacturer warranty.

For example, the following is the amount of data that can be encoded to a magnetic stripe (per ISO 7811 format):

  • Track 1: 210 bits/inch (BPI), 7 bits/character (MPC), maximum of 79 alpha-numeric characters.Shop Magnetic Stripe Encoders
  • Track 2: 75 bits/inch (BPI), 5 bits/character (MPC), maximum of 40 numeric characters.
  • Track 3: 210 bits/inch (BPI), 5 bits/character (MPC), maximum of 107 numeric characters.

Another benefit is the MSR206-33 magnetic encoder is that it allows you to “read” what’s encoded on the magnetic stripe of a card. It’s ideal for credit card verification and other types of card-related applications which don’t require printing on the actual card.

Additional Considerations When Buying a Magstripe Encoder

If you’re exploring the option of printing and encoding your ID cards, we have several solutions designed for multiple requirements. In addition, most of our ID card printers are upgradeable to a magnetic encoder module.

Finally, it’s very important to select the right software when you’re implementing a magnetic stripe card to your application. Before purchasing software, make sure to confirm it’s compatible with encoding magnetic stripe cards.

If you have questions about selecting the right card, hardware and software for your magnetic encoding application, contact a knowledgeable ID Professional at (800) 321-4405 x2 or chat now. We’re here to help!

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