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magentic stripe card
Apr 18, 2018

WHAT IS MAGNETIC STRIPE CARDS?

Magnetic stripes or mag stripes, are the dark strip of magnetic material often seen on the back of gift cards, loyalty cards and membership cards, which are used in conjunction with a membership system. 

Mag stripe cards are also used in access control as key cards, as well as on ID cards.  They come in two main varieties: high-coercivity (HiCo) and low-coercivity (LoCo).

High-coercivity magstrips are harder to erase, and are more appropriate for cards that are frequently used or require extended life. Low-coercivity magstrips require a lower amount of magnetic energy to record, reducing their cost. Gift cards, loyalty cards, fundraising cards and membership cards typically utilize a LoCo magstrip. A magnetic stripe card reader can read either type of magnetic stripe.

WHAT IS MAGNETIC STRIPE ENCODING?

When magnetic stripes are encoded, a unique serial number is stored on the strip. This serial number is recognized by the POS system or access control lock device, providing access to funds stored on the POS system or opening a locked door.

For magnetic stripe encoding, please note the following:

  • Acceptable File Types: Comma separated values (CSV), Excel (Format as text to prevent leading zeros from being eliminated)

  • Layout: Record data should be formatted in columns (see example)

  • Labeling: Columns should be clearly labeled indicating the type of data the column contains (see example)

  • Format: Track 1 – Alphanumeric. Upper case only; Track 2 – Numbers only

  • Record Count: Please ensure that the number of records contained in your data file matches the number of cards ordered or specified for encoding or variable data printing

HOW DOES MAGNETIC STRIPE CARD WORK?

Using a gift card as an example, a customer purchases a gift card, which is swiped by the cashier to obtain the serial number stored on its magnetic stripe. The cashier then asks the customer how much money they would like to be “placed” on the gift card. That amount is entered into the membership system by the cashier.

The next time the gift card is swiped, the software system uses the serial number stored on the magnetic stripe to look up the customer’s card balance, which is stored on the software system using the same serial number. Sometimes, the membership system may fail to read a magnetic stripe. That’s why we also recommend printing the same serial number directly onto the card’s surface. the serial number could be shown as sequence number or barcode, the same as the magnetic stipe encoded.

WHAT DO WE NEED TO CONFIRM IF WE WANT MAGNETIC STRIPES ON THE CARDS?

To ensure your custom magnetic stripe cards will function properly, there are a few things you will need to know. Your POS or lock system provider will be able to assist you in obtaining this information.

  1. Does your POS or lock system require magnetic stripes to be HiCo or LoCo? Or, is either option okay?

  2. There are three available “tracks” or areas on your magnetic stripe. Which track or tracks should be used to encode your serial numbers onto your cards? 

  3. There are two types of serial number formats: random and sequential. Which format is required by your POS or lock system? If random, are specific characters or a specific number of characters required? If possible, it’s best to obtain a random number file from your POS or lock system provider. If your serial numbers are sequential, what number should we start with?