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What's a Magnetic Stripe, and How Do I Encode Data On It?

If you are in charge of doing research for your company’s ID card system, you may have come across the term “magnetic stripe” or “magstripe.” These words may sound technical, but believe it or not, you have probably been using one for quite a while now.

Magnetic stripes are actually the black or brown strips you see on the back of your credit card. Magstripes are also found on the reverse side of identification cards, driver’s licenses, library cards, gift cards, and membership cards.

These black or brown stripes store a range of cardholder information. The data these stripes hold are often used for access control, time and attendance tracking, and financial transactions, among others.

There are two types of magnetic stripes:

  • The black ones are called HiCo, which is short for high-coercivity
  • The brown variety are labeled LoCo, for low-coercivity

Simply put, coercivity refers to how difficult it is to encode or erase data on the magnetic stripes. The amount of information that can be written onto a magnetic stripe is the same for both HiCo and Loco stripes. However, a stronger electrical current is needed to write on HiCo stripes, making them durable and ideal for heavy use.

Common applications for HiCo stripe cards include access control, time and attendance tracking, credit and debit cards, and employee identification.

LoCo stripe cards, on the other hand, are typically used as hotel room keys and season passes.

All ID Card Printers, regardless of brand, are capable of encoding data to a blank magnetic stripe card. Some models come with magnetic encoders built-in, while others offer them as optional upgrades.

To encode data to a magnetic stripe, you will need to install the magnetic stripe card encoding software that came with your magnetic card reader and writer.  The bundled software, when launched, will have several text fields where card information can be entered. These text boxes usually correspond to a specific track on the magnetic stripe.

When appropriate information has been entered, the card is now ready to be written. All you need to do next is to click on the button that says, “Write” or “Encode” and then quickly swipe a blank magstripecard through the slot in the encoder. The card should now contain the encoded information.


If you need help with your magnetic stripe encoding requirements, our experienced ID professionals will be happy to assist you. Talk to one now at 1-800-667-1772. You may also contact our team via e-mail.

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