What is a magnetic stripe reader?

washington DC drivers license

Last updated on January 22nd, 2024 at 01:48 pm

How magstripe readers work and are beneficial

Magnetic stripes are widely used on many different IDs, gift cards, library cards and membership cards. Despite their decreasing popularity as a symbology, magstripes are still integral to many businesses today. To better understand what a magnetic stripe reader is, you need to know about the magnetic stripe it is reading.

What is a magnetic stripe?

A magnetic stripe is the black stripe you see on the back of most cards in your wallet. It is a type of symbology. This stripe’s main purpose is to store data. A magstripe maximizes the amount of data which can be stored in a small area, and provides a level of security beyond printing the information on the card itself. That way if a card is photographed, or viewed by a bad actor they are unable to capture or steal the data on the card.

Within a magnetic stripe, there are three stacked lines of data stored. While they may not all be used, the magstripe typically contains data such as the card number, user information (name, date of birth, etc.), access privileges, and more. The data within the magnetic stripe cannot be seen by the eye, and in order to get the data from the magnetic stripe, you will need a magnetic stripe reader.

IDT MiniMag magnetic strip reader

What is the difference between high and low coercivity on a magstripe?

There are both high coercivity and low coercivity ways to store data in a magnetic stripe. High coercivity normally appears as a black strip. This kind can store more information and they require more magnetic energy to code them. This makes them harder to erase, making them more common on cards that need to be swiped often and last a longer time. Low coercivity appears as a brown stripe. This version of a magnetic stripe is not as secure and can more easily be erased. You will often see low coercivity cards for information that can change frequently such as hotel key cards, and transit cards.

What types of cards have magstripes?

Student IDs, government IDs, employee IDs, payment cards such as credit cards, access cards, gift cards, public transit cards, hotel keys, membership cards, and more. Many cards contain magstripes.

What is a magnetic stripe reader?

Magnetic stripe readers are more common than you may think. They are sometimes also referred to as a magstripe reader. These readers are exactly what they call themselves; they ‘read’ the information encoded on the magnetic stripe. Since the information cannot be seen with the naked eye, these readers are needed to pull the data from the symbology into the system. They can read the magnetic strips on:

  • ID cards
  • Access control applications
  • Processing debit and credit transactions
  • Gift cards
  • Time and attendance
  • Membership cards
  • Library cards

The magstripe reader is much more complex than a person reading the information on the card.

How do magstripe readers work?

Magnetic stripe ID scanners use a magnet to extract the raw information stored in a card’s magstripe, this would be a string of 0’s and 1’s. The magstripe reader will then send that information to a software system like VeriScan. The software system can then decode the string of numbers into the actual information stored on the magstripe.

The magnetic stripes on government-issued IDs and student IDs typically do not contain as much data as PDF417 barcodes.

What businesses can use magnetic stripe readers?

Many businesses can benefit from magnetic stripe readers.

  • Bars and Nightclubs
  • Hotels
  • Casino’s
  • Retail Stores
  • Banks
  • Car Dealerships
  • Schools
  • Hospitals
  • Property Management

Which ID scanners can also scan magstripes?

Currently there are two ID scanners which can scan magstripes in addition to PDF417 barcodes. There are no commercially-available scanners that allow for magstripe scanning, PDF417 scanning, and MRZ scanning.

Why are magstripes falling out of favor?

Magstripes are losing popularity as a symbology for ID cards for three main reasons:

  • PDF417 barcodes can contain much more data than a magstripe
  • PDF417 barcodes can be read remotely, since they can be read visually and don’t require physical proximity to be decoded
  • PDF417 barcodes are less susceptible to damage or tampering

Many states have removed the magstripe from their IDs in favor of PDF417 barcodes. However, they are still popular for use with hotel keycards, access cards, and other uses, so many businesses choose a scanner that can do double-duty and allow them to accept multiple symbology types.