Print PVC ID cards with magnetic stripes with ID Flow™ photo ID software and encode all three tracks.

Included below are some of the frequently asked questions on magnetic stripes to understand the technology.

FAQ on magnetic stripes:

  1. What is a magnetic stripe?
  2. What information does a magnetic stripe encode?
  3. What is a track?
  4. Are magnetic stripes accurate and reliable?
  5. Are magnetic stripes secure?
  6. How are cards with magnetic stripes printed?
  7. How are cards with magnetic stripes decoded?
  8. What does coercivity mean?
  9. What is the difference between high and low coercivity magnetic stripes?
  10. Are special readers required for high coercivity cards?
  11. What is the cost per card for PVC cards?
  12. Do magnetic stripes have built-in error detection?
  1. What is a magnetic stripe?
    Magnetic stripes are used for storing information relevant to the card holder. Typical applications include credit cards, debit cards, airline tickets, identifications cards, phone cards, and drivers licenses. The stripe allows error free transmission of information stored in the stripe by swiping the card through a magnetic stripe reader.

  2. What information does a magnetic stripe encode?
    A magnetic stripe consists of three tracks. Any combination of the three tracks may be encoded. Standards have been established for specific industries, but if you are looking to use a magnetic stripe for private use such as for a company or for school ID cards, then you do not need to adhere to the predefined standards. PVC card printers and readers may limit the type of data that can be encoded on each track however, so it is best to follow the standards in regards to the format and length of the data you plan to encode. Track density is measured in bits per inch or bpi.

    Track One - The first track to be standardized, track one was developed by the International Air Transportation Association (IATA) and is still reserved for their use. The track is encoded at 210 bpi with a maximum data length of 79 characters. Typically, the track encodes an 18 digit primary account number and up to 26 alphanumeric characters containing a person's name.

    Track Two - Developed by the American Bankers Association (ABA) for online financial transactions, track two is encoded at 75 bpi with a maximum data length of 40 numeric characters. Typically, it encodes a 19 digit account number.

    Track Three - Used by financial institutions to store an encrypted PIN code, country code, currency units, amount authorized, subsidiary account information, and other account restrictions. Track three is encoded at 210 bpi with a maximum data length of 107 numeric digits.

  3. What is a track?
    A magnetic stripe is made up of three tracks, any combination of which may be encoded. Each track has a different encoding format.

    Track One - Encoded at 210 bpi with a maximum data length of 79 alphanumeric characters.

    Track Two - Encoded at 75 bpi with a maximum data length of 40 numeric digits.

    Track Three - Encoded at 210 bpi with a maximum data length of 107 numeric digits.
  4. Are magnetic stripes accurate and reliable?
    Magnetic stripes are extremely accurate and reliable as long as the magnetic field on the stripe is intact. High coercivity magnetic stripes hold their charge longer and are more durable than low coercivity magnetic stripes.

  5. Are magnetic stripes secure?
    A magnetic stripe printed using conventional methods is not that secure. One can duplicate or counterfeit magnetic stripe data using a PVC card printer capable of printing magnetic stripes. Newer technologies are available that prevent fraud by verifying that the card being swiped is the original card and that the data being scanned is the original data.

  6. How are cards with magnetic stripes printed?
    Magnetic stripes are typically printed using a PVC card printer that includes a magnetic stripe programmer. A magnetic stripe is a strip of material that can be magnetized. To write data to the stripe, the card is dragged over a small electromagnet to magnetize the tiny spots on the stripe material, encoding binary data. PVC card printers and software such as ID Flow work together to make printing magnetic stripe cards as simple as printing regular documents.

  7. How are cards with magnetic stripes decoded?
    Cards with magnetic stripes are read by swiping the card through a device containing a tiny coil of wire. The movement of the magnetized spots over the coil causes small electrical voltages to appear in the coil and from these voltages, the stored binary data is decoded. The reader then sends the decoded data to a PC via a USB, parallel port, or serial port cable. There are many low-cost magnetic card readers available in the market today.

  8. What does coercivity mean?
    Coercivity refers to the strength of the magnetic field of the stripe material used on the card.

  9. What is the difference between high and low coercivity magnetic stripes?
    High coercivity cards are hold their charge longer, and therefore are more durable than low coercivity cards. High coercivity cards are made of a material that cannot easily be altered when exposed to magnetic fields such as a magnetic screw, while low coercivity cards may be damaged when exposed to such fields. Low coercivity stripes are typically printed on cheaper, disposable cards such as public transportation and airline tickets.

  10. Are special readers required for high coercivity cards?
    No, all magnetic stripe card readers can read either type.

  11. What is the cost per card for PVC cards?
    Based on a lot of 1000, the cost per card for a full color card ranges from $0.50 to $1.00 depending on the printer, while the cost per card for a monochrome card is typically around $0.10.

  12. Do magnetic stripes have built-in error detection?
    Yes, cards that are printed using the ISO standard methodology include a parity bit in each data character and every track has a checksum character, called LRC, that insures the track is encoded correctly. Most PVC card printers read the track after it is written to verify that it was programmed correctly. Most card readers verify both parity and the LRC before transmitting the data.


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