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Plastic Cards

Plastic Cards with Magnetic Stripes Custom Printed at - America's Printing Factory

Purpose of Magnetic Stripes

Plastic cards offer a great advantage to businesses because they can be encoded with magnetic stripes which enable companies to track consumer information. With magnetic stripes, businesses can utilize their plastic cards to capture and analyze information regarding purchasing behavior and buying history. Plastic cards with magnetic stripes allow this data to be pulled together during the actual transaction when it matters the most. Magnetic stripes are commonly found on credit cards, plastic gift cards, and plastic identity cards or ID badges. Click here for examples of these types of plastic cards.

Plastic cards: Magnetic StripeTypes of Magnetic Stripes

A plastic card with a magnetic stripe is capable of storing data by modifying the magnetism of the iron based particles that are found on the band of magnetic material on the plastic card. This magnetic stripe is able to be read by physical contact and swiping past a reading head. There are a number of standards which are used to define the physical properties of a plastic card determined by the International Organization for Standardization. These guidelines include the size, flexibility, location of the magnetic stripe, and magnetic characteristics. These standards regulate that the magnetic stripe is located 0.223 inches or 5.66mm from the edge of the plastic card and that the magnetic stripe is 0.375 inches or 9.52mm in width. Most plastic cards with magnetic stripes have the magnetic stripe contained in a plastic-like film and the magnetic stripe contains three tracks where each track is 0.110 inches or 2.79mm wide. Tracks one and three are usually recorded at 210 bits per inch or 8.27 bits per mm. Track two is typically recorded using a density of 75 bits per inch or 2.95 bits per mm. Tracks one and three can contain 5-bit numeric characters or 7-bit alphanumeric characters. Plastic cards which utilize these guidelines for their plastic cards can typically be read by most point of sale hardware. The types of plastic cards that adhere to these standards normally include bank cards, ATM cards, credit cards, membership cards, gift cards, loyalty cards, EBT cards (food stamps), and any application where the value or secure information is not stored on the plastic card itself. Plastic cards that do not need to follow these guidelines when formatting their magnetic stripes are plastic cards in which the balance or information is stored directly on the card such as hotel key cards, subway or bus cards, and prepaid calling cards.

Magnetic stripes fall into two main categories which are high-coercivity (HiCo) at 4000 Oe and low-coercivity (LoCo) at 300 Oe. However, it is possible and not infrequent to find magnetic stripes with the intermediate values at 2750 Oe as well. High Coercivity magnetic stripes are harder to erase and are well suited for use on plastic cards that are used frequently or that need to have a long life. Low Coercivity magnetic stripes on the other hand require a less amount of magnetic energy to record which means the card writers are much more cost efficient than that of machines which are capable of recording high-coercivity magnetic stripes. Low-coercivity magnetic stripes are almost always light brown in color while high-coercivity magnetic stripes are nearly black. High-coercivity stripes are more resistant to damage from most magnets that a consumer would be likely to own while low-coercivity magnetic stripes are easily damaged.


While there are three tracks on magnetic stripes that can have information encoded onto them, Track three is virtually unused by any major worldwide network and sometimes it is even left off the magnetic stripe completely. Point of sale card readers will usually read track one and track two and sometimes they will even read both in case there has been damage to one of the tracks. Usually the minimum cardholder information is encoded onto both tracks, however, since track one is the only one of the two tracks that can contain alphanumeric numbers, it is the only track that can hold the cardholder's name.

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