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How to Use and Create Magnetic Stripe ID Cards

You have at least two magnetic stripes in your pocket or purse right now, but do you know how they actually work?

So let's talk about magnetic stripes and how you can use them for you ID cards... 

“What can I use a magnetic stripe for?”

Other than payments, magnetic stripes are commonly used for unlocking doors, clocking in and out at work, libraries, loyalty programs and cafeteria lunch programs to name a few. Hundreds of customers utilize magnetic stripes in many ways beyond the usual so if you have a specific question talk to one of our system specialists and they will help determine if you can accomplish what you are thinking.

How Magnetic Stripes Work:

A mag stripe is made up of three ‘tracks’ which allows you to encode and store three pieces of information. What you need to know is that tracks 1 and 3 can store up to 85 characters while track 2 can only store up to 30 characters. When the card is swiped, the data is read and passed to the system, which then performs a defined action based on the data collected.

Before we get to an example we need to clarify what data can be stored on the magnetic stripe.

Your methods of payment, things like account number and bank routing number are encoded. For other use cases like college students, student ID number and pre-paid cafeteria account number are encoded. When these pieces of data are swiped into a computer that can understand the data, a defined action will occur. That’s why no one can take a student ID and use it to pay at their favorite clothing store. The system will not understand a student ID number.

TMI: Here is an example of what the card data looks like when it’s swiped!



Example Time:

Ashley gets to work in the morning and before she can grab her beloved coffee, she needs to swipe her ID badge to unlock the employee access door. Her magnetic stripe card held her employee number or some other unique identifier and when it was swiped, that data was matched back to an internal database of employee numbers that are allowed access. Open Sesame!


“How do I encode a magnetic stripe ID card?”

Here is everything you’re going to need:

1.       Blank cards with the magnetic stripe on them.

2.       The mag stripe upgrade on your ID card printer.

3.       A card design software that has mag stripe encoding functionality.

ID card printers can’t print the magnetic stripe onto a blank card but you can purchase blank cards with a magnetic stripe included. What a printer can do is encode the data you want included. While this is often a needed upgrade, the good news is the upgrade can often be purchased and installed on site.

Speak to your ID card printer provider to find out more about pricing and if your printer is upgradable. Starting from scratch? Request a detailed printer information pack. This will provide pricing and help you find exactly what you need.

Make A Request!

Software is the brains of your whole operation. Many software options offer mag stripe encoding functionality but if yours does not, I would encourage you to consider ID Maker 3.0. It’s extremely easy to use and provides other features and benefits along with magstripe encoding that you can take advantage of.

ID Maker Tutorial: How to Encode a Magnetic Stripe Card with ID Maker 3.0


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