Magstripes to microns: Just what do they mean anyway?

 

Know your onions when it comes to plastic cards

Plastic card terminology
Plastic card terminology explained

There’s a fair bit of jargon when it comes to printed plastic cards. Here’s how to know your LoCo from your HiCo (and whether you need them at all).

Microns
You’ll notice that plastic cards are measured in microns rather than mm’s. This refers to the thickness of the card. A standard bank cards is 760 microns. Some discount cards or appointment cards can be thinner, often 680 or 420 microns.

Always check the microns so you know what you’re getting. The higher the microns, the thicker and better quality the card will be.

Magnetic stripe (often referred to as mag stripe)
Whether or not you need plastic cards with magnetic stripes depends on what you want them to do, and whether you have the system that works with them.

For example, if you have the technology that allows members to ‘swipe’ through a turnstile, access lockers or buy their lunch, you’ll need a magnetic stripe on the back of the card.

Mag stripes come encoded or unencoded. If you want them to be supplied already encoded (i.e. programmed to work with your system), you’ll need to provide the relevant information to the card supplier. Or they can be sent unencoded, for you to ‘match up’ at your end. Consult the user manual that came with your system for more information.

HiCo or LoCo?
Next you’ll need to decide if you need a HiCo or LoCo mag stripe. HiCo are typically black, whereas LoCo are usually brown.

HiCo magstripes are more secure and stable. They are commonly used in situations where cards are frequently swiped and the need for security is higher  (for example in accessing a building).

LoCo magstripes are fine in situations where security is less important and the need for the card to hold information is temporary; for example gift cards or hotel key cards.

Mifare cards/smart cards
Smart cards or Mifare cards are capable of many functions, thanks the chip contained within them. They are commonly used for access control, transport, ticketing, smart wallets etc. The Oyster Card is a well-known example of a smart card – capable of being ‘loaded’ with money and scanned by readers.

Smart cards can be printed on and branded in the same way that regular cards can. They’re more expensive than a regular plastic card, because they’re capable of so much more.

Other features to personalise cards
You can also choose to include a range of features on your printed plastic cards, for example signature panels, bar codes or QR codes. These usually cost extra, so consider whether you actually need them before ordering.

One other thing – check what the card is made of

Don’t just assume that the plastic cards are 100% plastic. Some printed plastic cards have a cardboard inner core, particularly if sourced from the Far East, which results in a much lower quality card.  It impacts on colour definition and vibrancy – you’ll often see a border around the card where the cardboard ends, and they aren’t as durable.

If you need any help on ordering printed plastic cards, our friendly team are happy to answer any questions.