Anatomy of a drivers license

Back of an ID - PDF417 barcode

Last updated on April 9th, 2024 at 12:34 pm

Driver’s licenses contain a plethora of information on a 2 ⅛ x 3 ⅜ card. Each ID is a finely crafted masterpiece in design (jurisdictions love to show off the unique elements of their state). In North America, each drivers license adheres to the design standards set forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), ensuring uniformity and interoperability across borders. But with 50 states, and each state issuing multiple types of drivers licenses and IDs, it can be challenging to understand what every field or piece of data means.

But IDs designs also have a secondary purpose: security. Hundreds of thousands of fake IDs are created every year, both for minors looking to gain access to age restricted products like alcohol and cannabis, and for fraudsters looking to conceal their identity. Every drivers license produced now must contain a multitude of security features to make the ID more difficult to fake, and make it easier for ID scanning software to differentiate legitimate IDs from fake IDs.

In this blog we’ll review all the data typically contained on an ID, and its purpose.

Information on the front of an ID

The front of a drivers license provides all the information on an individual in a visual format, readable by humans. The front of the ID also contains information about the state itself, such as the name of the state, the Secretary of State for the state at the time when the ID was issued.

Illinois sample driver's license

The following personal information can be found on the front of a drivers license:

  • License number
  • Date of birth
  • Issue date
  • Expiration date (of the license)
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Middle name (or middle initial, depending on the state)
  • Street address (including city, state, and zip code)
  • License class
  • License restrictions
  • Sex
  • Weight
  • Height
  • Eye color
  • Hair color
  • DD number – this is the “Document Discriminator” which is a unique number on your license that can be used to determine its authenticity. It is generated based on when and where the license was issued, as well as other factors, which vary by state.
  • Photo (typically there are 2 photos on a drivers license)
  • Signature
  • Organ donor status (this varies – sometimes it is indicated by a heart, some older IDs use a sticker, and some states use an abbreviation)
  • Real ID symbol

Most licenses incorporate security features like holograms, UV marks (readable only when examined under ultraviolet light during ID authentication) or special printing techniques to deter counterfeiting and make the ID more difficult to fake. The front side of a driver’s license serves as a comprehensive identification document, essential for verifying the holder’s identity and driving privileges at a glance, with the naked eye.

The entire format of the front of the ID is considered in our AI-powered ID scanning technology. Our software matches the ID against the known template in multiple light wavelengths, ensuring that each text or design element is in the expected location, and uses optical character recognition (OCR) to ensure all data on the front of the ID conforms to known formatting for that jurisdiction.

Information on the back of an ID

The back of the ID has a fundamentally different purpose. It is intended to contain information that can be read by an ID scanner.

Back of Colorado driver's license

PDF417 barcode (also called a 2D barcode)

Back of an ID - PDF417 barcode
PDF417 (2D) barcode

The barcode on the back of the ID contains is a symbology that contains all of the information on the front of the ID, including name, date of birth (for age verification), license number, expiration date, etc. The vertical lines on either side of this barcode help the ID scanner focus and understand where to begin and end reading data.

Magnetic stripe (magstripe)

Although many states are phasing out magstripes in favor of 2D barcodes, some states do still include the magstripe on the back of the ID. The magstripe contains some of the information on the front of the license, but the format cannot contain nearly as many characters as a 2D barcode. Most commercially available ID scanners produced after 2017 do not contain magstripe capabilities, simply due to the decline in popularity of the magstripe as a symbology.

1D barcode

Back of ID - 1D barcode

Some older IDs still contain a 1D barcode, which is a series of vertical lines. They are sometimes on the top of the ID, between the magstripe and the edge of the ID, or sometimes along the side of the ID. The 1D barcode contains even less data than the magstripe and typically only contains the state code and the ID number.

Photo ID mirrored image

Back of an ID photo

Some states include a third ID photo on the back of the ID. This can be used as a reference for front/back matching. Many states apply a filter or an watermark overlay on top of the image on the back of the ID.

License class data

Back of an ID license class information

Typically more information around the type of license is included on the back of the ID. In some states this includes details about what is “in scope” of a standard drivers license, motorcycle license, or commercial drivers license (CDL).

Restriction details

Some states include details on restrictions such as “corrective lenses” on the front of the ID, while others include these details on the back. Sometimes Restrictions are indicated on the front of the ID with a code, and then more details are provided on the back of the ID.

Fillable fields

The back of an ID often contains several fillable areas, which are intended to be completed by the ID holder. These may include:

  • Blood type
  • Emergency contact information
  • Change of address information

Informational design elements

Back of an ID design elements

Most IDs contain information about how to replace a license, the website of the state’s DMV, and phone numbers, on the back. They may also have features such as the state seal, DMV logo, other other white-light visual elements.

Security features on both sides of the ID

Both sides of every ID contain multiple security features meant to help differentiate fake IDs from legitimate IDs. These may include microprint, watermarks, ultraviolet markings (only visible under UV light), infrared marketings (only visible under infrared light), raised or textured areas, or printed windowpanes. Every year, states release new ID formats that contain additional security features in a bid to stay against fraudsters and counterfeiters.

Most security features require an ID authentication device to validate, as many of them are not visible to the naked eye.

The barcode on an ID also contains security features – each state formats their data in a specific way. If you are using AI-powered tools such as VeriScan or DIVE, the software compares the barcode data to the barcode’s known format, and can easily tell when an uneducated counterfeiter has attempted to create a fake barcode.


The anatomy of a drivers license is quite complex for such a small card. It contains a wealth of data on the ID holder, in both visual (text-based) formats, and multiple types of symbology which can only be decoded by an ID reader. Drivers licenses also contain design elements that are specifically created to make the ID harder to forge, and provide secret cues to those examining the ID that the ID is legitimate.

Contact us today to learn more about how your business can detect fake IDs.