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Demystifying the Technologies Behind Your ID Cards

5 Technologies That Go Into Your ID Cards

ID cards have evolved from single-function laminated paper identification cards into multiuse credentials that can do everything from gain access to secure buildings to pay for transactions.

While most people don’t really give too much thought to the technologies that go into ID cards, that piece of plastic safely tucked inside your wallet is actually a product of complex engineering and design.

Keep reading to discover more about the most popular types of card technologies used in today’s modern ID cards.

Barcodes. One of the easiest and cheapest technologies to add to ID cards, barcodes are among the most popular card technology used today. They are used to add ID information onto ID cards that can be only read by a dedicated scanner. Because they can be reproduced using optical scanners and photocopiers, barcodes are usually used in conjunction with other card technologies. Special opaque films that make the barcode legible only by ultraviolet barcode readers are also available for added security.

Magnetic Stripes. Commonly found on credit cards, magnetic stripes are also used on ID cards to store information and to increase the card’s security. To read the data encoded on a magnetic stripe card, the card must be swiped through a magnetic stripe reader. There are two types of magnetic stripe cards. The ones with darker stripes are referred to in the ID industry as high-coercivity (HiCo) cards. They are more durable and are able to retain information more reliably, making them ideal for most applications. Magnetic stripe cards with brown stripes, referred to as low-coercivity (LoCo) cards, are very affordable but tend to lose their encoded data when exposed to magnets. They are perfect, however, for applications with one-time or limited use like prepaid cards and gift cards.

Proximity Cards. Used in schools, warehouses and secure buildings, proximity cards are popular for access control because they work even without touching the card to the reader, virtually eliminating the wear and tear factor. Proximity cards contain an antenna that is attached to a microchip that activates when the card in range of a proximity card reader.

Contact Smart Cards. Capable of storing more information including encryption certificates, contact smart cards are a popular choice for multifunction cards. They contain embedded memory and a microprocessor that activate when the metal pads on the surface of the card come in contact with the reader, hence the name.

Contactless Smart Cards. Popular in the payments industry for their speed, convenience and security, contactless smart cards have embedded memory and a microprocessor just like contact smart cards, but they also include a built-in antenna that allows the card to securely communicate with a card reader without the card coming into contact with the reader. It works through a technology called radio frequency (RF).

All of these card technologies enable ID issuers to expand the applications of their ID cards. But beyond extra functionality, these ID innovations make ID cards secure and easy to use, which is a testament to the genius of their inventors. After all, the best technologies are the ones that make our lives easier without getting in the way.


To know how you can integrate these ID card technologies into your ID cards, speak with our experienced ID professionals at 1-800-667-1772. You can also reach us through this contact page.

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